I was watching this SWISS video. It's a flight from Zurich to Shanghai. Shortly after take off they have high engine oil temp in engine 3 and end up shutting it down. They declare a pan-pan-pan, dump fuel and return to Zurich. It's pretty uneventful, engine shut down aside.

Now, as I understand it, an air crew's pay begins upon push-back, and ends at gate arrival. At the very end the PIC states that for the passengers, SWISS has another plane which will be departing in two hours, but with a new crew. Assuming this crew gets no other flights for the day, did they just get only 1 - 1.5 hours pay for the day?

NOTE: even though this is a SWISS flight, I am not concentrating on that one airline. I'm curious if there are general rules for flight pay that all/most airlines follow.


2 Answers 2


How the Swiss pilots got paid would, of course, depend on Swiss policy. I suspect pay policies vary greatly between airlines and countries, but for what it's worth below are the pay policies for the four airlines I worked for in the 1980s and 1990s. At all four I would have been credited with only the time from push back until the parking brake was set on return insofar as flight time was concerned, but as you will see that wouldn't have made any significant difference in my pay.

commuter #1 no union -- a straight salary but with an hourly addition if your flight time went over a minimum, which it never did.

commuter #2 no union -- a straight salary regardless of the number of hours flown, but they never abused that.

747 freight carrier no union -- a straight salary plus an hourly addition if your flight time went over a minimum, which it occasionally did.

747 passenger carrier in-house union -- flight time hourly pay with a guaranteed minimum. You always went substantially over the minimum. They tried to get you as close as possible to the regulatory max of 1000 hours a year. Additionally, they had a policy that whenever your duty time (as opposed to flight time) went over 16 consecutive hours, you got paid for each hour over that at a rate of 1.5 times your regular hourly flight time rate. Also, you were paid half your regular hourly flight rate while deadheading. Then, if you had less than 8 hours (I might not be remembering that number correctly) between assignments, your duty time continued. My first assignment for this airline was a 32-hour duty day. I operated from JFK to AMS (Amsterdam), so my duty time started at show time, 2 hours before departure. At Amsterdam 5 hours on the ground then commercialling (riding in the back on another airline) to SIN (Singapore) and then to CGK (Jakarta) positioning for a Hajj flight. Crew scheduling regularly abused pilots, but nobody complained because you were being so well paid when they did abuse you.

The breakdown for hours at the flight time rate for that trip was approximately:

  • 7.5 hours operating time JFK-AMS

  • 8 hours deadheading pay AMS-SIN-CGK (half of 16 hours riding in the back)

  • 24 hours extended duty pay (32 hours duty time minus 16 hour threshold times 1.5)

So, 39.5 pay hours at the regular new first officer rate of 55 per hour = 2,172.50, which looked pretty good to me since I had come from a carrier than paid me a straight 4500 per month salary as a 747 captain.

I can't remember all the flight time/duty time details, but back then at least the international rules were much less restrictive than the domestic rules.

Also, back then it was common practice to do things like scheduling a flight for, say, 11:59 for regulatory purposes, when everyone knew it would go slightly over the 12-hour international rule of the time.

It may be worth noting here, that the mind-set of the crew, at least the cockpit crew, is totally different from that of passengers. The passenger wants to get from point A to point B, whereas the crew is simply 'at work' regardless of whether they go anyplace or not. Consequently, at least in my experience and opinion, delays aren't nearly as frustrating to crew as they are to passengers.

  • $\begingroup$ So for #4 you weren't being paid for duty time, just flight time, and duty time just mattered for increasing how much you made per flight hour? $\endgroup$
    – cpast
    Jan 26, 2015 at 2:47
  • $\begingroup$ @cpast I'll edit the answer to make it clearer. $\endgroup$
    – Terry
    Jan 26, 2015 at 4:03

A common pay scenario for US pilot unions is known as "block or better". In the case of an aborted flight like you example, you would be credited the scheduled block time toward your monthly pay guarantee under those rules.

The specifics of any pay questions will fall under the collective bargaining agreement (union) or company policy (non-union) of the specific company involved.

  • $\begingroup$ Your and Terry's answers were what I was looking for. Seeing this concerned me a might, because if the pilots were going to be 'stuck' with a no pay due (or very little, due to the short duration of their aborted flight) that could play into the thought processes of the pilots, vice pure safety. $\endgroup$
    – CGCampbell
    Jan 26, 2015 at 3:00

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