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United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby replaced Delta's Ed Bastian as the highest-paid U.S. airline chief in 2022. Here's how much the industry's leading executives took home — as well as how their pay was calculated.

United Airlines’ Scott Kirby traded spots with Delta Air Lines chief Ed Bastian to become the highest-paid U.S. airline CEO in 2022, both in terms of his total pay package and a new methodology for calculating executive salaries. Kirby took the top spot in a year that United turned a full-year net profit of $737 million — its first since 2019.

There’s a twist to how CEO pay was calculated in 2022. A new rule from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) required major, public companies to disclose a figure called “compensation actually paid” for top executives.

Though the new measure with the straightforward name doesn’t truly show how much an executive walked away with, it does reflect the changing value of company shares, which typically constitute a large chunk of airline CEOs’ compensation.

Out of all the U.S. airline CEOs, Kirby is the only one who earned more under the new disclosure method.

Based on the traditional reporting methods, Kirby’s total compensation was $9.8 million. That included stock awards of $8.7 million, a base salary of $1 million and a small amount of other compensation.

Using the new SEC methodology, his ”compensation actually paid” was slightly higher, at $10.06 million. 

For United, “compensation actually paid” reflects stock performance as well as how well executives met certain performance goals, such as its adjusted cost per available seat mile excluding fuel.

“The point of the rule change is to provide a different valuation as of the end of the year, which essentially reflects how the stock value changed from the grant date (up or down),” a United spokesperson said. “You can see that reflected here.”

 In other words, many airline executives could have been awarded compensation worth millions more if their stocks had performed better. That’s not necessarily surprising, considering all major U.S. airline stocks were worse off at the end of 2022 than a year earlier. Airlines struggled with a host of issues, including pilot shortages and disruptions caused by inclement weather

Bastian, the number-two highest-paid airline CEO in 2022, was awarded total compensation of $9.6 million. That included a base salary of $950,000, plus $5.7 million in stock awards and $2.7 million in awards received under the company’s management incentive plan.

“Compensation actually paid” for Bastian was $7.61 million.

Delta’s plan links pay with performance based on short-term goals during the year, including pre-tax income.

Though Kirby was the top paid airline exec in 2022, his total pay was more than $2 million lower than what Bastian made in 2021 ($12.4 million) using the same metric.

Airline Executive Compensation in 2022

CEO Airline2022 Pay (all in) Compensation Actually Paid
Scott KirbyUnited Airlines$9.8 million$10.06 million
Ed BastianDelta Air Lines$9.6 million$7.61 million
John Redmond*Allegiant Air*$8.55 million $5.96 million
Doug Parker **American Airlines$6.54 million$3.88 million
Ben MinicucciAlaska Airlines$6.49 million$3 million
Bob Jordan Southwest Airlines$5.33 million$4.76 million
Gary Kelly ***Southwest Airlines$5.07 million $4.17 million
Robert IsomAmerican Airlines$4.89 million$3.51 million
Barry BiffleFrontier Airlines$3.75 million$2.55 million
Robin HayesJetBlue Airways$3.46 million $1.86 million
Ted ChristieSpirit Airlines$3.17 million$2.45 million
Maurice Gallagher, Jr.Allegiant Air$3 million $1.75 million
Peter IngramHawaiian Airlines$3 million$1.04 million
Jude BrickerSun Country Airlines$794,000n/a****

* Started as Allegiant CEO June 1, 2022. 

**  Robert Isom replaced Doug Parker as CEO on March 31, 2022. 

*** Bob Jordan replaced Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly in February 2022. 

**** Sun Country said it does not need to provide this figure as an SEC emerging growth company.

CEO Reshuffling

Three airlines welcomed new CEOs in 2022, and their salaries are listed in the table above the executives they replaced.

Allegiant Air’s John Redmond, who became CEO on June 1, 2022, saw an all-in pay figure of $8.55 million in 2022. Outgoing CEO Maurice Gallagher Jr. received a $3 million bonus in 2022 — $1.75 million in “compensation actually paid” — after waiving his salary in 2020 and 2021 in response to the pandemic downturn.

Surprisingly, Redmond snagged the third spot from outgoing American Airlines CEO Doug Parker, who made a total of $6.54 million. Robert Isom, who replaced Parker on March 31, made $4.89 million in 2022. 

Bob Jordan, who became Southwest Airlines’ CEO in February 2022, was awarded $5.33 million in all-in pay and made $4.76 million in “compensation actually paid.” His total pay included a base salary of nearly $677,000, a nearly $196,000 bonus and $3.6 million in stock awards. Jordan’s salary, which increased from about $3 million in 2021, has been the subject of media scrutiny after the airline promised to cut executive bonuses following its holiday meltdown at the end of the year.

Budget and Mid-Tier Airlines

One of the most notable increases in all-in pay was Alaska Airlines’ Ben Minicucci, whose total compensation was $6.49 million in 2022 — about double the $3.21 million total from 2021. However, the total figure he received based on the new SEC methodology was only about $3 million. 

Minicucci was named CEO in March 2021, and a spokesperson for Alaska said the airline was unable to raise his pay at the time due to restrictions in the CARES Act. Those restrictions were lifted in April 2023 and the airline lifted Minicucci’s pay to “the market level for his role.”

The increase came as Alaska reported a record $9.6 billion in operating revenue in 2022. The carrier also said it paid out $257 million in incentives to staff during the year for meeting goals related to profitability, safety and emissions.

The rest of the budget carriers’ CEO salaries were more or less in line with the previous year. Frontier Airlines’ Barry Biffle made slightly more, Spirit Airlines’ Ted Christie made less and JetBlue Airways’ Robin Hayes recorded about the same salary. Sun Country’s Jude Bricker made about $227,000 more than he did in 2021. 

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Tags: alaska airlines, allegiant air, american airlines, ceo pay, ceos, delta air lines, frontier airlines, hawaiian airlines, jetblue, labor, southwest airlines, sun country airlines, united

Photo credit: United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby was the highest U.S. airline CEO in 2022. United Airlines

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