Breeze Airways Wants To Pay Pilots How Much?!

Filed Under: Other Airlines

Breeze Airways is a new airline that’s expected to launch in the US in early 2021. The founder of the airline is David Neeleman, the same guy behind JetBlue. Breeze will initially fly 118-seat Embraer 195s, but eventually plans to operate a fleet consisting exclusively of Airbus A220s.

The airline is hiring both pilots and flight attendants, given that it’s close to launching operations. This hasn’t been without controversy, though. For example, I recently wrote about how Breeze is only hiring flight attendants if they enroll full time in college, and live in company housing.

While perhaps not quite as controversial, Breeze’s approach to hiring pilots is also raising some eyebrows, as flagged by @StringAndRuder and @AirlineFlyer.

Breeze hiring pilots with uncompetitive pay

Breeze has started hiring pilots, and it’s making pay at some regional airlines look lucrative by comparison (and keep in mind pilots often work at regional airlines to gain experience, and eventually get a job at one of the major carriers).

Before we get into the details of Breeze’s pilot pay, and compare it to pay at other airlines, note that:

  • Pilots generally get paid for flight hours; the hourly rate might seems high, but pilots aren’t getting paid for anywhere close to 40 hours per week of work
  • Pay varies depending on whether you’re captain or first officer, and each year your pay typically increases, up to a certain cap
  • Other than hourly pay, one other important metric is minimum guaranteed monthly hours, since guaranteed hours multiplied by hourly pay guarantees your minimum monthly pay

Here’s Breeze Airways’ pilot pay scale:

  • First officers will be paid $55 per hour in year one, and $94 per hour in year six
  • Captains will be paid $117 per hour in year one, and $143 per hour in year six
  • Pilots are only guaranteed pay for 55 hours per month of flying (this is really the worst part, since pilots at most airlines are guaranteed 75+ hours per month)

In other words:

  • A first officer is looking at earning $36,300 in the first year, and $62,040 in the sixth year
  • A captain is looking at earning $77,220 in the first year, and $94,380 in the sixth year

First year Breeze pilots will make $36,300

To be clear:

  • In absolute terms these are above average salaries in the US
  • However, pilot training is expensive, and an Embraer 195 has nearly 120 seats, so it’s bigger than your typical regional jet; also, the airline will eventually fly A220s, and presumably pay won’t be much better
  • Breeze is expecting more from pilots than regional airlines, as applicants already need a type rating for Embraer aircraft, and also need more experience

How does this compare to other airlines?

Let’s compare Breeze’s pilot pay to that of a couple of other airlines:

  • Let’s compare Breeze pilot pay to JetBlue pilot pay, since JetBlue is the only other major US airline to fly Embraer 190/195s
  • Let’s compare Breeze pilot pay to SkyWest pilot pay; pilots often go to regional airlines to gain experience early on, and this typically represents the lowest pay you’ll find in the airline industry

Breeze vs. JetBlue pilot pay

Here’s JetBlue’s Embraer 190 pilot pay scale:

  • First officers are paid $89 per hour in year one, and $130 per hour in year six
  • Captains are paid $192 per hour in year one, and $203 per hour in year six
  • Pilots are guaranteed pay for 75 hours per month of flying

In other words:

  • A JetBlue Embraer 190 first officer is looking at earning $80,100 in the first year, and $117,000 in the sixth year
  • A JetBlue Embraer 190 captain is looking at earning $172,800 in the first year, and $182,700 in the sixth year

JetBlue Embraer 190 pilots get paid way more

Breeze vs. SkyWest pilot pay

Here’s SkyWest’s Embraer 170 pilot pay scale (this is a significantly smaller plane):

  • First officers are paid $45 per hour in year one, and $59 per hour in year six
  • Captains are paid $79 per hour in year one, and $91 per hour in year six
  • Pilots are guaranteed pay for  76 hours per month of flying

In other words:

  • A first officer is looking at earning $41,040 in the first year, and $53,808 in the sixth year
  • A captain is looking at earning $72,048 in the first year, and $82,992 in the sixth year

Again, the catch with regional airlines is that pilots typically work here for a few years before applying for a job with one of the “major” airlines.

First year SkyWest pilots make more than Breeze pilots

Is Breeze Airways’ pilot pay unreasonable?

Some will likely say that Breeze Airways’ proposed pilot pay is the free market at work, with so many pilots furloughed or laid off. Others might say it’s borderline exploitative.

A few things stand out to me:

  • The most unreasonable part of Breeze’s pay arrangement is the minimum guaranteed hours, rather than the hourly rate as such; everyone needs a certain amount of money to cover their bills, and the minimum monthly amount sure is low
  • Breeze is essentially trying to pay like a regional airline, while requiring more experience to get hired (pilots need to be type rated on Embraer aircraft, and need 1,000 hours of fixed-wing turbine time)
  • Between the flight attendant employment arrangement and the pilot pay, it doesn’t seems like Breeze is trying to build a culture that encourages employees to stay with the company long term
  • It takes years (and a lot of money) to get to the point where you can get this job, you’re flying a plane that retails for tens of millions of dollars per year, and you have the lives of nearly 120 people at a time in your hands, and you’re potentially being paid ~16% above a $15 minimum wage (which we have in many cities nowadays)

What’s my take? Frankly I’m somewhere in the middle here. Sure, there’s the free market, but this also seems borderline exploitative.

I suppose if there has ever been a time where airlines can get away with hiring pilots for cheap, this is it. This might work in the short-term, but the moment that demand recovers, the airline is going to have to significantly increase pay, or it will risk having pilots leave in droves.

Or perhaps that’s actually the goal — that Breeze wants a revolving door of pilots — so that it can keep pilots towards the bottom of the pay scale.

Bottom line

I’m a bit confused. Neeleman is known for building airlines with great cultures, but I kind of have a hard time getting behind this whole concept at Breeze.

Anyone with a college degree need not apply to be a flight attendant, while the only reason to become a pilot at Breeze is if you have no other options — pay is roughly on par with regionals, while requirements are significantly higher. So there’s not much benefit to jumping ship and resetting your seniority at another airline.

I suppose they could be selling the dream of having high seniority at the airline as it grows, with hope of better pay in the future, but…

This might work at Breeze for now given the state of the airline industry, but something’s gotta give over time here.

What do you make of Breeze’s approach to hiring? To airline pilots — is there anything I’m missing here that would make Breeze an attractive employer?

  1. It does sound like not much at the moment, but I think the idea behind it, that for a starting Airline and in the pandamic, to only offer 55h minium is understandable. The wont to have pilots on there books, but wont have at the beginnig a lot of flights…So from a business point it makes sence to have more pilots who only fligh 55h instead of having less pilots with 75h. Because expanding the monthly rate to 75+ is done so much easier and instant, than hirring another 200 pilots or so. And I think at the moment there are a lot of pilots looking for work. Here in Switzerland some pilots are becomming train driver, because there’s not work otherwise…

    I think a lot of Airlines would be happy to have the pilots at 55 instead of 75.

  2. Seems like they could be taking advantage of this particular moment in time, and the situation the industry is in. There could be plenty of pilots typed and timed in the E-jets who’d be willing to take this awhile waiting to get (back) to the majors.

  3. I don’t think any new business venture in a competitive feel can be termed “exploitative.” They have no employees right now and are relying upon applicants to look at the pay and say “Sounds good enough to me.” There is no coercion, there is no exploitation – if the pay is too little, pilots won’t join and they’ll have to revamp their compensation structure to entice people to join.

  4. It seems their target is laid off pilots from Regionals that either furloughed them or the regionals that went under outright.

    Makes sense, and given right now there is a surplus of supply of pilots in the market they are able to lower wages to increase profits and thus be more likely to succeed.

    Its crappy but its understandable.

  5. Those rates and minimums will almost certainly guarantee an ALPA swooping-in to negotiate better terms for their members.

  6. I’m assuming Breeze knows there’s going to be a number of unemployed pilots and $77K+ a year is better than unemployment benefits. However, if there’s a recovery in airlines and given there was a shortage of pilots before I’m not sure this pay scale is going to last full time. Again, a lot will depend upon the future demand for air travel.

  7. David Neeleman has always been a skinflint. He learned his trade at the knee of Mitt Romney. The LDS coming from the Beehive State have, at the end of the day, always thought of it’s “team members” really as “worker bees”.

  8. We live in a free market economy. No one is forcing applicants to accept pay they don’t like. If not enough apply because the pay is too low, then the company can decide if they want to raise their pay. In the meantime, if you don’t like the pay, go see if another airline is hiring.

  9. How often is the minimum guaranteed hours exceeded in a given month? Second, the amount of flights they’ll even have to offer in their first year or two is relatively small but not surprising for the type of flying they’re doing…ie. less than daily to leisure/small markets. They can’t profitably or even just realistically offer higher minimums than that at this point because they won’t have the volume of flights. I have no doubts in my mind that they’ll increase it in time, but they need a few years of profitability under their belt first so they can justifiably offer higher hours/pay. Are they taking advantage of the pilot supply right now…probably so, because they can, but to claim they’re being “exploitative” is a stretch in my opinion.

  10. Given that long haul truckers can make that and more, with additional signing bonuses, you must really love to fly and be desperate. Of course, I will never forget Herb Kelleher walking into a pintos union negotiation and exclaiming to them all, “Let’s start by saying that I know you guys would do this nothing if you had to!”

  11. The most important sentence in this article is this “ the only reason to become a pilot at Breeze is if you have no other options”.
    That sums up who you’ll be flying behind if you choose to fly on this completely unproven carrier.
    You get what you pay for folks!

  12. I’m a retired AA captain. American would attempt to get the lowest pay rates in the industry on comparable equipment. Failing that, they were determined to not pay one dime more than their competition.

  13. I know that Breeze is hiring for captain right seat flying, aka the pilot has captain qualifications, but will be flying as first officers until there is enough flying for them to be moved to the left seat. I have no idea if they will be paid CA or FO rate while flying the right seat though.

  14. I’m a retired AA captain. American would attempt to get the lowest pay rates in the industry on comparable equipment. Failing that, they were determined to not pay one dime more than their competition.

  15. This article mentions and quotes minimum monthly guarantee, but fails to show the pay for picking up extra flying. The article also fails to factor in per diem amounts and the tax advantage that goes with that. Finally, Breeze needs to get its financial footing or their employees could all be forced out on the street. If a pilot gets into a successful start up, the long term benefit to quality of life could be substantial and shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. Bottom line: Supply and Demand principles are at play. There have been several regionals that have gone under recently which have temporarily flooded the market with pilots.

  16. Our fares are low! We pay the least to all our staff!

    Not a selling point to me.

    Seems oppressive, so they won’t be seeing my business. I have worked with underpaid and undermotivated staff, and it s not pretty: for the staff, the management, the investors and the customers.

  17. Well your also comparing companies that have been in business for a substantial time period. so yes their work force has negotiated rates based on the companies success. Either talk about what JBs starting rates were when they launched or write this article in 5 years and I’ll think differently. For now it’s all supply and demand compounded with an industry in the toilet. Lots of opinion injected here but believe me they do not have a shortage of applications.

  18. At 55 min, it seems like a part time job. At this point, offset the difference by instructing or other commercial needs.

  19. Hopefully professional pilots will take a hard look at other careers before accepting garbage like this. Flying for these rates sets a bad precedent for the rest of the industry.

  20. At those rates, retention will be a huge problem. Considering that airlines pay for very expensive training twice a year, this tactic may prove more expensive in the long run.
    This year is unique in pilots employment, but when the majors start hiring again, they will love poaching all the pilots from Breeeze!

  21. There are almost 1000 E175/E190 type rated pilots from ExpressJet and Compass. Breeze knows this. They are taking advantage of a market surplus. Once the market rebounds they will have to adjust the MMG to remain competitive

  22. Breeze’s schedule is likely to have heavy seasonal flex. It’s quite likely that Breeze wants the low minimum guarantee of 55 so that they can shrink their capacity in the low-demand months without paying pilots to sit. I suspect the *average* monthly paid hours across the whole year will be a lot higher.

  23. Do you really want to get on an airplane flown by people with financial problems and no better options? Do you want your pilots to be the bottom of the barrel? Is this how people select doctors?

  24. As far as “part-time”, pilots are “at work” 300 to 400 hours per month in order to fly 80 hours. Lots of waiting around and prep time.

  25. Pilots from Compass and Expressjet will flock to Breeze to maintain currency. Then, when mainline hiring picks-up (as it inevitably will) they’ll dump Breeze like a cheap date. What follows then is a vast amount of turnover which, in itself, compromises safety. This has been the business model of little outfits like this for 30 years. It’s capitalism in it’s most raw form.

  26. Not discussed here is the difference between flight hours and duty day. My airline had a trip that left LGA early in the morning to CMH. Upon arrival, you sat for 5 hours, then returned to LGA. Actual flight time? Maybe 3 hours. Time away from home and on duty? Eight hours plus. You could sit around half a day, everyday, and not get paid for it.

  27. This is absolutely exploitive. As a pilot with one of the aforementioned regionals, this is an ongoing conversation. Most of the comments are/were regarding the MMG and hourly pay, but the key factor is the requirements to actually get the job. They know how lousy the job market is right now, and I’m sure they have a very good idea of what the “numbers” are going to look like, not only now, but in the coming months and years when it comes to out-of-work pilots. So they’re going to get experienced pilots (somewhat), that are already typed, with 1K hrs of 121 time (most likely), not have to pay initial or differences training for them, then pay them sh. Will they get pilots? Of course, I know plenty of poor souls that won’t have a choice. But it’s gross. And it’s an immediate “tip-of-the-hat” to what their culture will be based on…money is king, you don’t matter. And before some smart guy points out to me that money is the reason for business, think back to business 101 golden rule…treat your employees the way you’d like to be treated, and they will go above and beyond to make YOU more money.
    Of course this won’t last as the market rebounds, but the die will have been cast for what they think of their employees. And to survive afterwards, once pilots leave in droves, they’ll have to drop their requirements to the lowest legal, AND pay a more than competitive wage…they’re shooting themselves in the left main.

  28. Pilots are incredibly overpaid as it is. This seems more in line with what they should be receiving for compensation.

  29. Everyone should apply. And in the interview say no thanks pay to low and walk out. They are exploiting pilots.

  30. Go there to get flight time and then move on. Right now I believe there are more pilots than are needed. pilots from the majors who took retirement might jump at the chance to fly again

  31. At the end of the day your skill set is only worth what the market will pay. I worked for the now defunct Bar Harbor Airlines in the 80s. I applied for a ticket/ramp/gate/baggage handler position and got the job. At 5 bucks an hour. They had over a hundred applicants. I felt fortunate. I could have worked for the also defunct Pilgrim Airlines. They paid $3.50 an hour.
    My point is: Why pay more if you don’t have to?

  32. These numbers are minimums. The average pilot will make more than this.

    Also even the numbers you quote put them right in line (if not slightly above) the regional peers like SkyWest.

    Also, let’s be honest: COVID is a new reality for pilots. Generous contracts of yesteryear reflect a pre-COVID world that is nothing like the current situation. Tons of excess pilot supply at the moment.

    I’m not sure anything this post really supports the hypothesis that they’re underpaid.

  33. I’m a flight attendant for JetBlue Airways and I make $56 per hour, that is, after 15 years but still…. And that doesn’t include per diem.
    Sounds awfully low especially with a 55-hour minimum pay. I’m curious how many days on-call per month they have.

  34. I think the best way for this airline to implement their business model is to pay for its pilot’s training from 0 hrs to 1500 hrs and then these pilots can work for them at their pay scale that will make more sense

  35. This says to me that the quality of pilot they will be recruiting will be far from the best and hence, an airline to swerve.

  36. I wonder if it’s plausible he could bring some pilots up from Azul to fill gaps if US pilots aren’t too interested? I’m sure they’d leap at the chance to earn USD given the depreciation of the R$.

  37. The comments about this airline attracting the bottom of the barrel are unfair considering the circumstances. My regional airline was a casualty of covid and Breeze seems like a great fit for someone like myself. My only other option right now is to start all over at another regional where the pay, seniority, and quality of life will be much lower. That minimum guarantee is just that, a minimum. If you fly anywhere close to a normal schedule, the numbers look brighter. For those who get hired by Breeze in this first round, I would imagine they’d be happy campers in a few years.

  38. Ben — one thing that seems to be missing from your calculus and the comments: equity. If Breeze employees get stock (I’m no insider but assume they will), and Breeze succeeds, they stand to make up later in capital gains potentially much more than they forego today in ordinary income.

  39. Neeleman is begging for a pilot union to quickly form on his new airline, whether he knows it or not.
    I’m a ‘union guy’ for sure. 28 years represented by ALPA, walked the picket line 29 days in 1985 and was ready to do it again several times during my career to entice management to come to the negotiating table with a better contract for pilots. The Breeze pilots, once hired, will see the minimum hour guarantee as a point of shame and quickly set up union representation.
    All that said, I’m currently COO for a NON-union airline, and we will make sure we pay our pilots (and all employees) fairly with work conditions and benefits that will never have them needing a union to ask for more.

  40. The pay scale offered is not “borderline exploitative”, it IS exploitative. And they likely will try to launch with no union, am I right? Only Skyworst has no union in the regional game, and they continue to get guys to sign up by force feeding the kool-aid by the tankful.
    This is a prime example of how capitalism is at the cancer stage in the United States, and rapidly approaching stage 4. No other large country trains and hires their airline pilots the way we do. Not Germany, France, the UK, Japan, no one.
    LSS, the “free market” (which doesn’t really exist) isn’t designed to change fast enough for a volatile industry like the airlines.
    Here’s to hoping for an actual pilot shortage in the next few years, and then we’ll all be laughing at this ridiculous pay. Of course, what’s needed is a severe pilot shortage to really change up the whole industry. Could happen.

  41. FO Adam absolutely nailed it. Would you pay your doctor, lawyer, nurse, even architect, engineer, electrician, plumber, welder etc. anything less than market rate? Not if you wanted good work done. Why are we encouraging a race to the bottom? Unfortunately flying is something easy to be passionate about, and the industry takes advantage. Add to that COVID and these poor guys will have NO CHOICE but to fly for these asshats. It’s that, or these guys and their families starve. That’s open, unabashed exploitation of skilled labor in an (only temporary) downtown.

    This is not to fault or say any of my peers who’s airlines have gone defunct (through no doing of their own) are underskilled pilots – they are well seasoned vets of an industry that was finally recovering from 9/11, the recession, age 65 rule and now COVID. Four major career destroying events in 20 years. But after all these furloughed guys get hired, who then? The old adage “Skilled labor isn’t cheap – Cheap labor isn’t skilled” still applies.

    Breeze will hire the lowest time, least skilled pilots begging for their first “jet job”, just like all the regionals do. The race to the bottom continues. Such a shame. I will never fly them, nor will I encourage anyone to work for them or fly them, until they pay real, market rates. ALPA should be all over this…

  42. I’m surprised David Neeleman would set such low rates for pay. In the past, he has always favored taking care of his employees. This is a disappointment in many ways.

  43. This same thing happened in Brazil with Azul.
    Hire new, low hours FO with a salary that is 30% lower than the market on the promise that they will be promoted to captain in 1 year. 10 years have passed, the salary for new FO’s are basically the same but now you need at least 10 year as FO to become a captain. Today the average annual income for A320 FO’s are at incredible $20k. Captain will make 3 times this…

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