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How Much Do You Make Working in Travel?

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Dreaming of a career in travel? Well, look no further than the airport. But how much do you make? Turns out there’s a big gap between the starting salary and what the top 10 percent take home. Here’s a complete look at what you can earn working as a pilot, flight attendant, air traffic controller, or TSA officer.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, airline pilots make more than other airport employees. The mean wage is $128,760 and the top ten percent take home more than $187,000.

However, the lowest ten percent earn just $67,000.  According to the Air Line Pilots Association International, the average starting salary for new first officers in regional airlines is $22,400. Once there, pilots go through a year of probation. Afterward, there is a chance for a salary around $75,000 and better routes.

It’s not easy to begin your career as a pilot.  After going to flight school and getting both a private and a commercial license, pilots need 1,500 hours of flight time before they can fly regional airplanes. This often means pilots must first work as a flight instructor or fly private or corporate planes.

Given the high starting costs and time required, many pilots choose not to follow the traditional track. Regional airlines have been recently complaining about a pilot shortage. But the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently conducted a study to determine if there will be a pilot shortage. The GAO interviewed pilot schools who said they are getting fewer students due to their concerns of high starting costs and low entry-level pay. But, overall the study concluded that “there is adequate supply” of pilots. However those pilots may be working abroad, in the military, or for a corporation.

Flight Attendants

The median pay for flight attendants is $37,240. The lowest ten percent receive $27,240, and the highest ten percent receive $66,460. Most employees need only a high school diploma or GED and some customer service experience to get hired. Other airlines require some college experience, and multilingual skills are very important.

New hires receive a month of training for a specific aircraft type and become certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). For the first year, flight attendants are put on reserve status and wait for understaffed flights. Once they gain some experience, hours and flight schedules depend heavily upon seniority. Once flight attendants have gained seniority,  they can advance into recruiting, instructing, and scheduling positions.

Air Traffic Controllers

Air traffic controllers have a similar pay range to pilots: the average wage is $118,430. The top 10 percent are paid $171,340, while the lowest 10 percent earn $65,000. Both pilots and air traffic controllers require periodical physical and mental exams. To train to be an air traffic controller, you only need three years of work experience or a bachelor’s degree to apply. But it’s not a simple process. Here’s what it takes to become an air traffic controller.

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Employees

Transportation Security Officers receive a base salary of anywhere from $25,518 to $44,007. There’s a wide salary range because, as  federal workers, TSA employees get locality pay, and that adds a percentage to their salary, based on location. For example, in 2014, workers in San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland received an additional 35.15 percent.

In a management position—such as the Transportation Security Manager—employees make anywhere from $48,007 to $90,717. The highest paying jobs in the TSA are senior management and director positions, which come with a maximum salary of $157,100.

Gate Agents

Gate agents start off at about $10 an hour or an annual salary of $20,800. This includes jobs such as ramp employees, ground workers, and information staff. These positions can move up to about $23 an hour, or $47,840 a year. The prerequisites for these jobs are not high—typically a high school diploma or GED.

By Cody Brooks for