Flying on the Cheap

You Pay, Airlines Don’t

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The past few weeks we’ve been reporting on how airlines cut corners to save a buck and asking is it worth it?  

Unknown to the passengers, Malaysian Airlines did not use modern tracking technology to send a signal to a satellite system every few minutes.

Embraer E175
The airline was unwilling to pay $10 or $15 per flight for the service, on the order of a hundredth of one percent of the revenue.

The signal does more than just locate the plane. Data would have been sent to the Rolls Royce engine manufacturer, Boeing, and the airline. The main users would be the ground maintenance crew where the plane lands. 
“We’re using 1970s technologies instead of the data streaming that’s been available for nearly a decade now,” said Paul Hudson, president of to The Washington Post. “The fact that airplanes can basically disappear over water is not only troubling to passengers, but it also gives a heads-up to those who would do a terrorist act or a murder-suicide. They would be virtually undetected. These planes can fly to almost any place on Earth nonstop.”

The loss of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has also emphasized how critical the pilot is to your survival. The pilots of MH370 are being investigated as part of the government probe. Authorities believe that someone with flying experience disabled the plane’s communication systems and flew the jet on a different flight path. It illustrates how much control one individual can have over hundreds of people. 

Yet, here in the U.S. more than half of the major airline flying is outsourced to the lowest regional jet bidder.

You may book a flight with a major carrier through their web site such as United, American or Delta.  But when you get to the airport, you discover that you’re actually flying on a small, virtually unknown carrier such as Skywest or Republic Airways.  What happened?
Bait-and-switch advertising and marketing made you think you were flying on a mainline carrier, especially with names like “American Eagle”, “United Express” or “Delta Connection”.


However, these regional airline pilots that are responsible for your safety are often making no more than minimum wage, are frequently sleep deprived and flying multi-million dollar aircraft contracted out to them by the major carriers.

The final insult is the discounted labor costs are certainly not being passed on to the consumer. Next time you fly on a regional partner, compare your ticket price to that of flying on mainline service.

Poverty Wages

Newbie commuter pilots living four to an apartment because they get paid so little, near LaGuardia Airport
A first-year co-pilot at Republic Airlines averages a gross weekly pay of $495 per week. For a pilot with 10 years’ experience at SkyWest, the weekly gross paycheck might be around $1,312.
But these wages don’t nearly reflect the hours that regional airline pilots have to put into the job.
Although they may only be on the clock 21.5 hours per week or 85 hours per month, pilots typically are away from base, and from their families, about 240 to 300 hours per month (or about 60 to 75 hours a week),” according to the Airline Pilots Association.
For the lowest paid co-pilot on Mesa Airlines earning about $22 per hour, this imbalance works out to $6.80 an hour for a 60-hour work week.
What other professional takes hundreds of lives in their hands every day and is worth only $6.80 an hour? Would you go to a doctor who charges $6.80 an hour?  Are you willingly to risk your life knowing that the person who’s in charge of your safety can’t even make a decent living? 
And a commuter pilot may have the lowest pay-to-training ratio of any major profession. What other career incurs $150,000+ in tuition costs for a career that pays minimum wage and carries with it incredible personal liability and safety issues?   
Although the amount of money you make does not necessarily reflect an individual’s competence or sense of responsibility, the airlines, in compensating their pilots, have sunk to new lows in their multiyear industry task of cost-cutting at the passenger’s expense.
The question becomes, why do major airlines contract with these regional carriers to begin with? This never happened 20 or 30 years ago.
These regional jets are being used for the major carriers to fly to cities where they feel they can’t make money, in part because the pilots and the flight attendants are paid a lot less than the pilots and the flight attendants on the major airlines, reported a Conde Nast article.

Michael Moore documentary - Pilots on Food Stamps
2010 documentary, Pilots on Food Stamps
Today airlines tend to take the cheapest way out of anything, training included.
Hiring skilled pilots costs money the regionals aren’t going to spend. Coincidentally, last month Republic Airways announced it will ground 27 of its planes due to a “shortage of qualified pilots.”

It’s dishonest to hear complaints about a mythical “pilot shortage”. There would be no shortage if the regional or major airlines would offer pay commensurate with the costs of becoming, and the life-and-death responsibilities of being, an airline pilot.  

As of Aug. 1, 2013, Congress mandated that all U.S. airline first officers are required to meet much more rigorous minimum qualifications. The new rules require 1,500 hours pilot experience. This stems from a regional jet crash in Buffalo, and the belief that the rules will lead to greater safety in the cockpit.
But Congress needs to take the next step and draw the line at paying our pilots poverty wages. These are lives we are talking about. It’s a miracle we don’t have more pilot safety issues already. 
To their credit, these pilots, despite their slave labor, have consistently given their utmost to carry their passengers to safety, time and again in every kind of weather.
In reality The Person They Are Outsourcing To, Is You
Passengers don’t have the ability to evaluate the nuances of airline economics and outsourcing every time they buy a ticket; they simply want to know that the system is safe. 
With the advent of the 70+ seat regional jets, more and more people are traveling entirely on regional carriers. You can fly A to B to C and never actually fly on the real carrier.  
With consultants thinking up more ways to farm out more to vendors, perhaps the future is to outsource everything and have the major airlines be nothing more than a brand, with contractors operating all the flights.  

With boarding passes on your smart phone, self-checked bags, self-boarding, it may soon reach the point where you won’t interact with anyone. Good luck rebooking your own flights due to weather cancellations, etc.

Try not to think about how much your pilot is getting paid when you are on your next small, regional airline flight.


Sleep well. 

Read More:

Kate Hanni, founder emeritus of FlyersRights with Paul Hudson, president

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