As America’s yearning for travel reawakens post-pandemic, United Airlines pilots are flying high with a $10 billion pay boost agreement. This significant development comes after over four tumultuous years of bargaining, complete with picketing and the looming threat of a strike.
The skyrocketing pay raise highlights the advantageous position that labor groups, particularly pilots, find themselves in. As travel recovery gains momentum, airline revenues are soaring, strengthening the bargaining power of these labor unions.
According to the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the agreement – currently subject to a ratification vote – levels the playing field for United pilots with their counterparts at Delta Air Lines, who nodded through a pay-boosting deal earlier in the year.
The deal boasts impressive enhancements in pay, retirement benefits, and job security for pilots. In fact, when compared to the agreement that United pilots turned down last November, this one paints a significantly brighter picture.
Post-approval, pilots are set to receive immediate wage-rate increases ranging from 13.8% to 18.7%, based on the aircraft they operate. These instant raises will be followed by four successive, albeit smaller, annual pay bumps. Over the lifespan of the contract, pilot pay is projected to climb 34.5% to 40.2%.
Garth Thompson, the chair of the United pilots’ union, lauded it as an “historic agreement,” crediting the determination of the 16,000-strong pilot force for its realization. United’s CEO, Scott Kirby, shared his satisfaction with the agreement on LinkedIn, stating, “We promised our world-class pilots the industry-leading contract they deserve, and we’re pleased to have reached an agreement with ALPA on it.”
American Airlines pilots are next in line, with voting on an offer starting July 24, promising average cumulative pay raises of 41.5% over four years. Southwest Airlines pilots, meanwhile, continue their negotiations.
Union bodies appear confident about their bargaining position as airlines ride the wave of a travel resurgence and benefit from the $54 billion federal aid they received to weather the pandemic storm. With U.S. air travel numbers nearly bouncing back to pre-pandemic levels, the unions’ optimism isn’t baseless.
Highlighting the revival, Delta reported a record quarterly profit exceeding $1.8 billion, alongside record revenue for the April-through-June period, which covers the initial part of the summer travel season. Meanwhile, United Airlines is expected to announce a profit north of $1.3 billion, according to a FactSet survey, further solidifying the airlines’ flight back to profitability and underlining the reasoning behind such substantial pay raises.