In some ways, it was almost inevitable that Mr. Sullenbeger would damage his image, at least in my eyes. Fox News has this story where the US Airways captain claims he has to work a 2nd job and 7 days a week to maintain a “middle class” lifestyle.
Now, it is well known that US Airways (East) pilots have taken several cuts in pay and a hit on their pension over the past several years. There is no argument that being a captain at US Airways no longer is quite the lucrative job it once was. However, a senior pilot, a senior captain such as Chesley Sullenberger is only struggling to be “middle class” if he’s a fool with his money.
Let’s take a look at the pay for a senior (such as Captain Sullenberger) captain at US Airways under the “EAST” (or original US Air) contract. Captain Sullenberger is earning well in excess of $120 / hour as an A320 captain. Taking a look at United Airlines, their compensation is just over $130 / hour for the same senior captain flying the same aircraft.
The captain would argue that while that hourly seems high, there are many hours worked for which they don’t get paid. And I agree. Let’s say Captain Sullenberger has 6 flight hours on a particular day. That works out to $750 for that day’s work. If he flew 6 flight hours, he probably has about 10 hours of what we would consider real work time. So, $750 / 10 is equal to $75 / hour in “real” pay. If Captain Sullenberger is working 85 flight hours per month (and about 120 hours of “real” time per month), then he’s earning a base annual salary of about $127, 500 not including health and other benefits. The truth is, Captain Sullenberger is probably earning a bit more than that annually if he schedules himself for good trips. Call it about $140,000 / year not including health and other benefits.
So, Captain Sullenberger is probably flying about 1080 flight hours per year and experiencing about 1512 “real work hours” per year. The average full time employee in the United States works about 2000 hours per year and has a medium income of less than half of Captain Sullenberger’s salary, enjoys no pension although perhaps a 401(k) and medical insurance that wouldn’t approach Captain Sullenberger’s medical benefits.
Somehow, I don’t feel sorry for Captain Sullenberger’s misery in maintaining his “middle class” lifestyle. We all have been hurt in our retirements. We all make investments in our education and career and few of us experience the kind of job security that a senior US Airways captain enjoys even today. And to portray oneself as “struggling” with such pay and a need to have a 2nd job is a bit insulting to a great majority of Americans who are truly struggling to maintain any lifestyle.