United Airlines pilots reached agreement with the company on Saturday on a contract valued at $10 billion that would increase pay up to 40 percent over four years.
The proposed contract offers another big wage victory for pilots in the United States after a deal with Delta Air Lines was approved in March. The substantial raises are a reflection of a shortage of pilots in the United States and the strong recovery in demand for air travel.
In addition to the higher compensation, the agreement provides better job security, work rules, vacation, retirement and other benefits.
At a major airline like United, pilots easily earn six-figure salaries. The most senior pilots, who typically fly larger planes on international routes, can earn several hundred thousand dollars a year.
In a statement, United, which is based in Chicago, said the deal would help its “United Next” strategy, an expansion plan that includes the purchase of larger planes to increase in the number of seats per flight in North America by almost 30 percent and the number of premium seats per flight by 75 percent by 2026.
“We promised our world-class pilots the industry-leading contract they deserve, and we’re pleased to have reached an agreement,” Scott Kirby, chief executive at United Airlines, wrote on the social media network LinkedIn.
Union officials said the agreement was the result of four years of negotiations and represented a “landmark” deal in the airline industry as travel demand rises after the steep drop during the height of the pandemic.
“The tireless dedication demonstrated by United pilots over the past several years ensured our solidarity, which was instrumental in achieving this historic agreement,” Capt. Garth Thompson, chairman of the Master Executive Council of the United Air Line Pilots Association International, said in a statement.
The Air Line Pilots Association, the largest airline pilot union in the world, represents 74,000 pilots at 42 airlines in the United States and Canada, including 16,000 pilots at United Airlines.
The union and management will now complete the final language of the deal. The agreement must then be approved by a vote of the members of the pilots association, which is expected in the next several weeks.
In March, Delta approved a contract that increases wages 34 percent by 2026 and includes improvements to scheduling, retirement and other benefits. Delta’s deal raised the standard for pilot compensation and benefits.
The shortage of pilots is the result of the airlines reducing the number of pilots through buyouts and retirements when air travel was significantly curtailed early in the pandemic. But with rapidly growing demand for airline flights over the last year, the carriers have been increasing pilot pay and benefits as they hire thousands to fill the depleted ranks.
Niraj Chokshi contributed reporting.