How Much Do Southwest Airlines Pilots Make?

Ken Hyde

By Ken Hyde

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Southwest pilots are known for their friendly service. Many wonder what rewards come with steering the 737s across the skies for one of America’s most beloved airlines.

Let’s just say their pilots enjoy some of the best pay and quality of life in the industry. If you don’t believe this and want to learn more about Southwest Airlines pilot salary, read on!

Southwest Airlines Pilot Pay

The pilot salary at Southwest Airlines varies depending on the year of experience and position. An FO’s salary in the first year is about $110/hour and increases to more than $200/hour after 12 years. Meanwhile, a captain can make approximately $291/hour at first and up to $317 in his 12th year.

Pilot career

Southwest Airlines pilot pay structures are unique in some ways. For one, the carrier operates only one type of aircraft. There’s no average salary differentiation by aircraft like at other airlines.

Southwest also uses a trip-for-pay system where pilots are paid per flight segment instead of hourly. The standard segment is 243 miles, with pilots making 10% more for every 40 miles above that they fly.

Southwest pilots have a monthly reserve guarantee to ensure a minimum number of flight segments per month. This ranges from 89.0 segments for a 31-day schedule down to 85.0 for a 28/29-day schedule.

Most Southwest pilots are represented by the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA). It negotiates pilot contracts with Southwest every few years.

In January 2024, this pilots union and Southwest hammered out a new 5-year deal covering nearly 11,000 pilots. It brought an immediate 29.15% raise. There are also annual increases in average salary afterward with total raises of about 50% over the 5 years.

Here’s a high-level look at the first officer and captain pay scales in the tentative agreement.


Say a first officer with 5 years under the belt flies a standard segment in 2024. They’d make around $201.28. If they’re on reserve, they’re guaranteed to make at least 89.0 TFP in a 31-day month. This translates to roughly $18,000 a month as a base Southwest first officer salary before any additional segments or overtime.

Southwest captain salary with the same tenure is $300.42 per segment. Their minimum core compensation would be around $26,700 per month, not to mention other monthly or annual bonuses like flight experience. At $317.25 per segment, a 12-year captain is expected to earn higher than that number.

Southwest Airlines at a Glance

Southwest is headquartered in Dallas and serves over 100 destinations across North America and the Caribbean.

Remember, this is a carrier that’s always done things a bit differently. Instead of the airline industry’s traditional hub-and-spoke system, Southwest uses more of a point-to-point route network combined with a rolling hub model. Basically, they connect cities directly, with layovers usually limited to crew changes instead of funneling passengers through giant airports.

While they don’t have official hubs, cities like Denver and Chicago see a ton of Southwest flights. Pilots are based at one of 11 “domiciles” across the United States. According to company policies, They bid for their preferred location based on opportunities and seniority. Denver takes the crown for the most popular destination, but variety is definitely on the menu.

Pilot training

As of 2024, Southwest has a huge fleet of 817 Boeing 737 aircraft. In fact, it’s the largest carrier of this trusty workhorse in the world.

Flying only 737s allows Southwest to maximize efficiencies in maintenance, training, and operations. The airline utilizes several 737 variants like the 737-700, 737-800, 737 MAX 7, and 737 MAX 8.

Southwest Pilot Hiring Requirements

First things first, gotta be legal to work in the United States; that’s a given. Southwest is also looking for candidates who hold a US FAA Airline Transport Pilot Certificate. While a four-year college degree isn’t a deal-breaker, it’ll definitely put some wind beneath your wings in the selection process.

Health-wise, you must have a current FAA Class 1 Medical Certificate in hand, and you can’t skirt around the FAA’s drug test—it’s a must-pass. Actively flying within the last 2 of the past 5 years is also preferred.

At the same time, Southwest recognizes there’s a pilot shortage in the United States. That’s why they’ve been able to relax some of the pilot requirements to compete with talented people from other major and regional airlines. In addition to better cash compensation, they’ve recently trimmed the required hours in fixed-wing turbine aircraft from 1,000 to a more accessible 500 hours.

Applying to Be a Pilot with Southwest Airlines

The most direct way is to hit up their website during one of those hiring windows. They pop up occasionally, and applying during one is your direct shot at becoming a Southwest pilot.

However, this carrier rarely opens up general hiring. If you’re new to the commercial airline pilot career, your best bet is to get on one of their career paths made for aspiring aviators.

Southwest’s Destination 225° Program contains a few options:

  • Cadet Pathway: No prior experience? No problem. The flight schools in this program train you from scratch. They can get you the skills to become a First Officer in as little as four years. Unlike other major carriers like American Airlines or United Airlines, hopping through regional airlines first is unnecessary. Southwest typically takes you straight to the big leagues.
  • University Pathway: Already enrolled in a four-year aviation program? This pathway partners with select universities, offering guidance, financial aid, and a direct path to Southwest after graduation. This can reduce the time spent to two years instead of the usual four.
  • Military Pathway: This program helps current or former military pilots with turbine experience transition smoothly to civilian life at Southwest.

You can head to Southwest’s website to find out the details of each program and how to send your application.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Are the Costs of Southwest Pathway Programs?

It varies. The price tag on Southwest’s Cadet Program typically ranges between $90,000 to $115,000 for tuition and training fees. On the flip side, the University Program won’t cost you a dime in program participation fees.

How do you convert flight segments to hour rates?

This major airline’s rule of thumb is simple. One trip for pay (TFP) equals 1.16 block hours. This conversion helps pilots and management speak the same language regarding flying time.

How Competitive Is the Hiring Process for Southwest Pilots?

Landing a pilot gig at Southwest is like scoring a golden ticket. This is a very competitive process with infrequent hiring windows. But once you’ve made it onto Southwest’s roster, it can be a real boost if you aim for a seat at a larger airline later on.

View more pilot guides:


Whether you’re a seasoned pilot eyeing a switch or a wide-eyed rookie taking flight, we hope we’ve helped you learn more about how much Southwest pilots get paid for their work.

Remember, becoming a pilot at this commercial airline takes dedication and hard work. But with the right information and a can-do attitude, you could be soaring high with the Southwest family in no time.

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Ken W Hyde

Ken W Hyde

Ken W Hyde is the founder of The Wright Experience™. He is passionate about antique airplanes and has restored many of the Wright brothers' planes, including the 1918 Curtiss Jenny and the 1903 Wright Flyer. He is also a pilot and mechanic who has worked for Capital Airlines, Bendix Corporation, and American Airlines.

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