This certainly won't come as news to airline pilots. But for the general flying public—still nodding to those sharply-dressed pilots in the airport with their hats and their shiny wing pins, thoughtlessly assuming that such professional-looking types must be comfortably upper middle class, at least—it may be enlightening to read today's Wall Street Journal story on the pay grades of pilots, particularly at the lower end of the spectrum:
Starting pilot salaries at 14 U.S. regional carriers average $22,400 a year, according to the largest U.S. pilots union. Some smaller carriers pay as little as $15,000 a year. The latter is about what a full-time worker would earn annually at the $7.25-an-hour federal minimum wage.
Even the high end of pay for experienced pilots at major airlines is only into the very low six figures. There's not a hell of a lot of incentive for young pilots to endure the lengthy training and multiple years of paltry pay in order to climb the ladder. So the big airlines can suck up all the experienced pilots, and the smaller regional airlines with shitty pay have trouble finding replacements, because who wants to do all that without a big pot of gold at the end? Why go to aviation school when you could make the same money retrieving carts at Home Depot?
Try not to think about how much your pilot is getting paid when you are on your next small, regional airline flight.