2019 was dotted with airline crew strikes. While the most widely covered cases involved major European airlines employees of smaller carriers, those from outside The Old Continent seemed to follow suit.
And while observing one strike announcement following the other – from British Airways pilots grievances in September to Lufthansa cabin crew strike in November – people representing all kinds of travelers across the globe obviously were about to ask themselves: is it really worth it? What kind of insufficient salaries or poor working conditions is causing such extreme moves?
So when some find present salaries as well as working conditions of the airplane pilots and cabin crew extremely substandard to their stressful and responsible job, on the other side we see people who simply can not understand how anybody working as a pilot or a stewardess for a well-known Western airline can even complain about anything. That’s why we decided to clear some things up – by presenting a little bit of basic information about the duties and responsibilities of the airplane crew, their usual working conditions and – last but not least – their salaries.
The indefinite set of variables
To begin with, it is worth mentioning that the crew of a modern commercial airliner consists of the cockpit crew, which occupies the flight deck positions and the cabin crew, responsible for the passenger section of the aircraft. The flight deck positions include the flight captain – the pilot in command (the highest-ranking member of the entire crew), the first officer (the co-pilot) and, sometimes, the second officer, who historically used to serve as a flight engineer – the person responsible for handling the engine controls and such things as navigation systems or fuel management – but presently usually acting as a ‘cruise relief’ on some long-haul flights. The cabin crew of an aircraft usually consists of an in-flight service manager (also known as the cabin services director) and flight attendants, who all are subordinate to a cabin services director.
The salary of the cockpit crew member is determined by many factors and primarily depends on the pilot’s rank – which, in turn, corresponds to their experience, flying hours and other factors like time spent with the airline and additional bonuses it pays for the employees. A commuting Captain flying with the same European airline usually earns precisely two times more than the First Officer while the Second Officer earn 20-30 percent less than the First Officer. The difference could be even bigger when it comes to air carriers, registered in the United States, where the salary of an experienced Captain is very often three times higher than the one of the First Officer.
On the other hand, this difference would not be that big if we’d try to compare how much cockpit crew members earn in other markets. For example, some South American air carriers pay the First Officer almost as much as they pay the Captain operating the same flight, and some Asian carriers, notably Chinese and Indonesian ones also seem to follow that trend.
And the exact figures? Well, to be honest, it could start with literally… nothing. While such practice seems to become obsolete, in the times of economic crisis, entry-level airline employees, namely pilots, paying for their own training wasn’t such an uncommon thing. As bizarre as it sounds, think of the dream of becoming a pilot as an investment-hungry circumstance. Any questions? Let’s see how this eventually could pay off.
Hitting the skies… as a pilot
The main factor that could explain the salary differences of two equally experienced pilots of the same type of aircraft – both the same rank and age – is, of course, the market they are working in.
While no official statistics about pilot salaries were ever made public, according to some first-hand accounts, the lowest salary of the cockpit crew member can be as little as a two-digit figure in euro or US-dollars when it comes to a fixed monthly wage. Such wage-setting allegedly applies to some of the so-called third-world-countries’ airlines or state-owned air carriers of the modern communist countries such as or Air Koryo of North Korea or Cubana de Aviación of the Pearl of the Antilles.
When it comes to the highest pilot salaries, surprisingly, the name of another communist country appears. Chinese carriers are the ones who most likely will top any list with an average salary of the First Officer being about €20 000 a month. The average yearly net income of Air China or Hainan Airline cockpit crew members is something around €300 000. European airlines are strong runners-up here with an average yearly salary of, for instance, a pilot employed by Dutch flag carrier KLM, being €218,500. The Captain operating a Ryanair flight, for example, can earn the same amount in a year, while the annual salary of the First Officer of the same airline can be as little as €15 000.
The salary of cabin crew can also vary widely
What are figures when it comes to the salaries of those who take care of you as a passenger on every flight you take? Well, even if we consider the fact that the job of a flight attendant can be no less stressful, dangerous and exhausting as it is for their colleagues in a cockpit, an average Western stewardess can compare her salary only to those operating the cockpit of an Ilyushin of Air Koryo.
While the majority of factors affecting the salary of a flight attendant are almost identical to those of pilots, the difference between the salary of a stewardess working aboard Boeing 737 and Airbus A380 usually do not vary very widely – considering they are making the same flight hours while employed by the same airline. But it can differ drastically when it comes to employees with different contract types, seniority levels or layover and transportation allowances.
For example, a flight attendant, working at United States’ regional airline for the first year can make as little as 10 dollars per hour (which is something around 21,000 a year), while the flight purser employed by the same air carrier earns triple as that. Major American airlines usually tend to pay no less than 25 dollars per hour for long-haul international flights. The latter figure can be at least two times higher when it comes to doing such a job on private or corporate jets.
European low-cost carriers usually pay an entry-level flight attendant €900 a month (which makes €10 800 a year), while a flight purser employed by the major British or German airline can earn four times more while working on intercontinental flights. And when it comes to Asia, Chinese airlines again seem to be the most generous ones: flight attendants here can earn as much as € 60 000 per year – or even more.
So, considering the conditions under which most airplane crew members usually work, sometimes going on strike can really seem worth it. Of course, almost every airline at some point in its operating history faces a lack of personnel, which in turn can cause flight disruptions. And if your flight was cancelled, delayed or overbooked due to the airlines’ fault, you can be entitled to flight compensation from the air carrier in an amount up to €600. Do not wait to do so and claim your flight compensation via Skycop! It won’t cost you anything if we will not get you compensation from the airline.