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How Southwest’s Pilot TA Compares to Other Contracts

The airline and its pilots inked a long-awaited tentative agreement on Wednesday, which would see 50% pay increases over five years.

A Southwest 737 in Las Vegas (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

This past Wednesday, Southwest and the Southwest Airlines Pilot Association (SWAPA) came together producing a long-awaited tentative agreement. The agreement follows other major U.S. carriers Delta, American, and United which all renegotiated contracts with their respective pilot groups earlier this year. The tentative agreement boasts advancements in pay and quality-of-life provisions for the pilot group. 

The major three carriers operate diverse fleet types consisting of Airbus and Boeing aircraft from narrow-body short-haul to wide-body long-haul jets. Southwest, on the other hand, operates a singular fleet type, the Boeing 737. In 1971, the Dallas-based carrier began operating solely within the confines of Texas between Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. The carrier started operations with Boeing 737-200 aircraft and has operated the type for over 51 years. Southwest’s current fleet consists of 823 aircraft spread across Boeing 737-700, 737-800, and 737 MAX 8 aircraft.

Southwest 737 aircraft at SFO (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

The pilot group TA has been long awaited by the carrier’s labor group. The $12 billion deal includes quality-of-life improvements across the board for the pilot group. Notably, pay rates will be bumped by 29% initially and 50% over the course of the proposed contract.

Pilot Pay

Pilots at the three major carriers and Alaska are paid hourly rates based on the hours they fly. Minimum monthly values vary between carriers, however, are typically around 70-75 hours. Southwest pays pilots based on a trip-for-pay concept. SWAPA estimates that a conversion rate of 1.149 trip-for-pay per hour gives a good benchmark to compare monthly earnings between airlines. The minimum guarantee for pilots at Southwest is 89 trips-for-pay per month. Using the 1.149 conversion, this equates to 77.45 hours per month, slightly higher than the other carriers. 

Based on information gathered by Aero Crew News, first-year first officer (FO) pay will be higher than Alaska Airlines and the three major carriers, at a proposed $116.41. However, year two at $161.32 will be a couple of dollars short of what Alaska, American, Delta, and United currently pay their first officers on their respective 737 fleets.

At the top range of the FO scale, Southwest pilots will be paid $222.08 per hour, between $6 to $13 short per hour of their counterparts at the other major carriers. The highest top-of-scale rate goes to Alaska at $235.21 per hour. United is currently paying captains the most per hour to operate 737 aircraft at $341.87 per hour. Southwest will pay captains on the new contract at a top-of-scale rate of $317.25 per hour. 

Each carrier has different formulas for holiday pay, overtime pay, and other overrides. These factors can increase pay for the pilot to an amount higher than what is seen at face value on scales. 401k contributions tie into this as well. The major carriers increased the 401k direct contribution for pilots, meaning the company contributes a percentage of what the pilot made without the pilot funding their respective 401k.

The three major carriers will contribute 17% directly across the board. Alaska is currently contributing 15.5% directly and Southwest 15% currently. However, the new agreement is suspected to have an increase in 401k contributions. 

Qaulity-of-Life

Pay is focused on heavily when looking at pilot contracts, however, quality-of-life improvements are just as important. Southwest pilots, reserves or line holders, are required to work 15 days a month, any additional days are up to the individual pilot based on Aero Crew News information. The other carriers allow for a minimum of 12 days off per month for reservists and line holders. 

Hotel language for Southwest has also been updated, with long-stay hotels being in an area downtown or by a beach for any longer than 14 hours 45 minutes. Shorter than 13 will be by the airport. This is on par with other carriers, except Delta having pilots stay downtown on overnights longer than 12 hours. 

The agreement for Southwest’s pilot group has many more updated provisions that haven’t been covered in this article as well. Many address quality-of-life improvements which will benefit the pilot group outside of the heavily focused on pay scale comparisons. The over 11,000-strong labor group will vote on the TA within the next month, accepting or rejecting it. The proposed TA will go into effect if passed and remain that way until its amendable date in 2028.

Editor’s Note: This article was corrected on Dec. 24, 2023 at 3:30 p.m. ET to better reflect that Southwest pilots are not paid by the hour. 

AirlineGeeks.com Staff

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  • AirlineGeeks.com Staff

    AirlineGeeks.com was founded in February 2013 as a one-person blog in Washington D.C. Since then, we’ve grown to have 25+ active team members scattered across the globe. We are all here for the same reason: we love deep-diving into the fascinating realm of the airline industry.

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