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What is a Delta pilot salary?

Delta Pilots Approve New Contract With Huge Pay Raises

At the moment we’re seeing pilots at most major US airlines trying to negotiate new contracts. They didn’t have much leverage to negotiate during the first two years of the pandemic, and with pilots now being in such high demand, this is obviously a great time to try to get a new contract.

Back in October 2022, Alaska Airlines became the first major US airline where pilots ratified a new contract. In December 2022, Delta Air Lines pilots reached a new agreement in principle with its 15,000 pilots. That has now been formally approved, and that has implications for the airline and for the industry overall.

The basics of Delta’s new contract for pilots

Delta pilots have officially ratified a new contract, with 78% of pilots voting in favor of it. With this contract, we’ll see pilots at the Atlanta-based airline getting a huge pay bump. This new contract is worth $7.2 billion in value over the course of four years.

This new contract includes significant pay increases, both retroactively and going forward:

  • Pilots will immediately receive an 18% pay increase, as of the day the contract is signed
  • Pilots will then receive a 5% pay increase one year after that
  • Pilots will then receive two 4% pay increases in the two years that follow
  • Pilots will receive a one-time payment of 4% of 2020 and 2021 pay, plus a 14% payment of 2022 pay
  • In the event that American or United negotiate a contract with better pay, Delta will get that pay matched, plus 1%

On top of that, pilots will get quality-of-life improvements, which will make up roughly one-quarter of the value of the overall agreement. This includes things like 10 weeks of paid maternity leave, two weeks of paid paternal leave, significantly improved crew meals, improved health insurance, and more. Interestingly this contract also includes a provision that “establishes medical freedom protections.” Oh my…

While this is an expensive contract, it’s good to see that these negotiations are now behind the carrier. In October 2022, Delta pilots voted to authorized a strike — 96% of pilots cast votes, and 99% of those pilots voted in favor of authorizing a strike.

Admittedly this was more about sending a message to management than anything else, since authorizing a strike is only the first of many steps to a strike actually happening. We haven’t seen a strike among pilots at a US airline for more than 15 years.

How much will Delta pilots be paid with this new contract?

I’ve written in the past about how much airline pilots are paid, and the general math that goes into that. Airline Pilot Central publishes pay rates of all the major airlines, including Delta.

Delta first officer pay ranges from $92 to $242 per hour, while Delta captain pay ranges from $238 to $334 per hour. You can generally just add three zeroes to the end of that to roughly figure out annual pay, though with Delta it’s usually even a bit higher than that, thanks to profit sharing. With this contract now being ratified, Delta pilots will be looking at pay raises of 34% over the next four years.

In other words, Delta’s most senior captains will be earning roughly $440 per hour, or around $440K per year (and probably even more than that).

With American and United both currently negotiating contracts, you can bet that pilots at both airlines will be looking to Delta as a benchmark. For that matter, even with Delta pilots having approved this new contract, they’ll be looking at the contracts of American and United, as they can potentially get those contracts matched, plus 1%.

Also keep in mind that even though Alaska has finalized its contract, there’s a provision that if pilots at other airlines get a better contract, Alaska will match it. Alaska pilots are entitled to the average of the top of the pay scales of American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, and United, so these pilots could be looking at some additional raises as well.

Bottom line

Delta management and the union representing pilots have agreed to a new contract. The contract is worth $7.2 billion to pilots over the next four years, and includes an immediate 18% pay raise, a further 13% in pay raises in the next three years, retroactive pay raises, and quality of life improvements.

You can bet that both executives and unions at American and United are watching this closely, because it probably gives them a sense of what they can expect to pay.

I’m happy for Delta pilots, though there’s also no denying that labor costs in the airline industry (and so many other industries) are increasing considerably, further leading to inflation. With most airlines introducing lucrative new contracts for employees, that will be reflected in our ticket costs in the long run. I guess that’s how the cycle of inflation works, though.

What do you make of Delta’s new pilot agreement?

Delta Offers Pilots Hefty Pay Raises as Unions Flex Power

A Delta Air Lines pilot on the ramp inspecting a plane in early 2022. Source: Delta Air Lines.

Keeping pilots happy may be critical. Carrier’s planes are quite full, so U.S. airline growth depends on expanding routes and schedules. If Delta’s labor pact happens, and JetBlue’s merger with Spirit happens (leading to a boost in Spirit crew pay), labor wage (and fare) inflation is next.


Delta Air Lines has offered a 34% cumulative pay increase to its pilots over three years in a new contract, demonstrating the bargaining power aviators are enjoying in a short-staffed industry with booming travel demand.

If the deal is approved by Delta pilots, it is widely expected to act as a benchmark for contract negotiations at rivals United Airlines and American Airlines.

Delta pilots will get a raise of at least 18% on the date the contract is signed, another 5% after one year, 4% after two years and 4% after three years, according to a draft contract seen by Reuters.

They will also get a one-time payment equivalent to a cumulative 22% of their earnings between 2020 and 2022 after the deal is ratified.

The Atlanta-based carrier’s pilots have been working without a new contract for nearly three years after their old contract became amendable in December 2019, fueling frustration.

They voted overwhelmingly in October to authorize a strike if negotiators could not reach an agreement on the new contract.


The hefty pay raises are expected to further worsen cost pressures for carriers just as concerns over a U.S. recession spark worries about consumer spending.

Although ticket sales remain strong, investors fear travel demand could slip, making it harder for a debt-laden industry to repair its balance sheet. They fear carriers might be forced to borrow even more money to fund operations.

A scramble, however, among carriers to staff up to capitalize on booming consumer demand has enhanced the bargaining power of pilots. With the industry returning to profitability, pilots argue airlines can pay them more to cover their increased costs of living.

Airlines, thus far, have been relying on strong demand and higher fares to mitigate inflationary pressure. Any increase in their labor costs is expected to be passed along to customers through higher ticket prices.

In the draft agreement, Delta promises that pay rates of its pilots will exceed those at United and American by at least 1%.

In a memo to its members, the union representing Delta pilots said the deal represents more than $7.2 billion of cumulative value increases over the next four years.

Delta said it is “pleased to have reached an agreement in principle for a new pilot contract, one that recognizes the contributions of our pilots to Delta’s success.”

In a year of protests for the industry, pilots at all major U.S. carriers have been demanding higher wages and a better work-life balance.

Hundreds of United pilots picketed outside Chicago’s O’Hare airport on Thursday, asking for an “industry-leading” contract. Last month, they turned down an offer that included more than 14.5% cumulative wage increases and enhanced overtime and training pay.

American pilots also rejected a proposed 19% pay hike over two years that would have cost the Texas-based carrier about $2 billion.

Pilots are also demanding a better quality of life. They say staffing and operational issues at carriers are driving up overtime, leaving them exhausted.

In its memo, Delta’s pilot union said more than 25% of the value of the contract agreement is dedicated to quality-of-life related items.

The proposed deal also provides for 10 weeks of paid maternity leave, two weeks of paid parental leave and reduced health insurance premiums.

(Reporting by Rajesh Kumar Singh and David Shepardson; Editing by William Mallard)

This article was written by David Shepardson and Rajesh Kumar Singh from Reuters and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive Content Marketplace. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected] .

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