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.
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?