Frontier Pilots Sound the Alarm: 40% Pay Gap and ‘Incredible Stress’

by Sam Roecker

Image result for Frontier Airlines Logo

As pilots, we know that if you run an airplane too hard, for too long, it breaks. Wishful thinking will not make an airplane run harder or longer or faster. The same holds true for airlines.
– Capt. Tracy Smith, chairperson for Frontier pilot group

Depending on your hometown airport, you may or may not have noticed Frontier’s massive growth over the last few years. Frontier ordered 134 new Airbus aircraft in November 2017 – tripling the airline’s size over the next decade. Just last month, Frontier announced 15 new routes and welcomed a new class of flight attendants.

The dramatic growth has led to unprecedented fleet utilization, with Frontier operating its aircraft for 14.5 hours per day, according to the Frontier pilot group. The airline claims it’s fleet utilization is 14.2 hours per day – which is still quite high compared to U.S. airline industry average of 9.72 hours per day for narrowbody aircraft.

The Frontier pilot group sent a July 2 communication warning management’s cost cuts will lead to operational challenges:

Our management devised a plan that has pushed the operation too hard and has cut costs and necessary infrastructure too deeply. Based on our own analysis, we’re concerned that serious operational challenges will get even worse in the near future.

For passengers, that means more delays and canceled flights.

Frontier’s (Very) Low Pilot Wages

The pilot group also warns industry-low wages are hurting recruiting efforts and barely keeping up with current demand with new routes. According to the pilot group, Frontier has among the lowest pay rates in the country, earning 40 percent less than pilots flying similar narrowbody airplanes.

According to Glassdoor, Frontier’s average total pay for pilots is $68K (note the small sample size). A first-year Airbus A319 captain at Spirit Airlines makes about $86K and a first-year Allegiant pilot makes over $100K according to aviation career websites.

It’s impossible to make exact comparisons in pilot salaries (compensation structures differ among airlines), but regardless of how you slice the numbers, Frontier’s pilot salaries are lower than even some of the regional carriers.

Frontier’s Pilots Voted Unanimously to Authorize a Strike

Pilots voted unanimously to authorize a strike if the airline cannot reach a deal with its pilots. Last December, about 350 pilots marched in front of Denver’s city hall to raise public awareness on pay conditions. Pilots are still under a 10-year “bankruptcy-era” contract signed in 2011.

Here’s what the group has to say about wages:

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WR July 8, 2018 - 12:17 am

If they are being paid so little, and they are in such high demand, then they can easily go find another job, correct? So why the need for union thuggery tactics?

Sam Roecker July 8, 2018 - 3:06 pm

Please be respectful and avoid labels like ‘union thuggery’ – I provided multiple sources for readers to learn more about pilot’s wages. This story isn’t about unions…it’s about industry-low wages.

Jimmy Douglas April 21, 2020 - 6:19 pm

Your pay analysis isn’t even close for a F9 pilot, even in 2018. The new contract was achieved in 2019. Your average Captain is making 250,000-350000, with some making half a million or more with the work rules and new pay scale.

Christopher Gomes July 8, 2018 - 2:59 am

Yes, they could find other employment. At the bottom of the seniority list at starting wages on probation at entry level wages on reserve scheduling.
The need for action by Frontiers Union is obvious. If you don’t like it, too damn bad.

Sam Roecker July 8, 2018 - 3:08 pm

Thanks for your comment, Christopher. We’re in an era where we’re finally seeing regionals offer decent wages ($60K+ at some) – I do think this will become a major issue for F9 in the near future. Something will have to change.


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