Pay and Quality of Life – Why Widebody Jobs Matter to Pilot Careers

As was outlined in the previous section, Why Scope matters to Delta Pilots, Delta pilot careers are intrinsically linked to the Delta fleet. Unlike carriers with an all narrowbody fleet, pilots at Delta can choose where to “spend” their seniority currency.

Delta’s widebody aircraft are typically more senior, and widebody positions are opportunities to advance. When a pilot bids a widebody category, they advance their career. In addition to better pay, widebody flying offers better QOL since most trips feature one leg a day, an augmented crew, and a dedicated crew rest.

When one Delta pilot advances to a widebody category in an AE, all pilots on the seniority list below that pilot also advance their career. Even the pilots not bidding into widebody categories benefit and gain seniority as more senior pilots leave those fleets for widebody flying. Sometimes advancing one number is all it takes to have a holiday off, not missing an important event, or getting that extra-pay green slip.

Delta Pilot Career Opportunities vs. Peers

Delta Pilot Career Opportunities Compared to UAL & AA

The pinnacle of an airline pilot’s career is marked by reaching the greatest QOL and the highest pay rate. More opportunities at the top mean more opportunities for all pilots on the seniority list.

At United, there are 175 widebody aircraft that pay the top rate out of a fleet of 213 total widebody aircraft.

At American Airlines, all 113 widebody aircraft in the fleet pay the top rate.

In comparison, only 21 of Delta’s widebody aircraft have the highest pay rate out of a fleet of 140 widebody aircraft total. Compared to United or American Airlines, only a small fraction of Delta pilots have the opportunity to reach the top of the payscales, reducing the opportunities for all Delta pilots to advance.

While the career opportunities to reach the top at other airlines are broad, the career chances for a Delta pilot represent a steep spire with little room at the top.

Future Delta Widebody Fleet Ratio

How Soon Will the Delta Widebody Ratio Recover From a 15 Year Low?

In December 2021, there were 134 widebodies in the Delta fleet, and Delta has orders for 55 new and used A350s and A339s, some dating back to 2014. To date, Delta has announced five additional used A350s, above the four announced in 2019, for a total of nine used A350-900s. In addition to the nine used A350s, two more new A350s have been delivered from Airbus in early 2022. While the additional aircraft orders are welcome, they come in the context of having just recently retired 29 widebody aircraft, including the entire fleet of 18 top-paying Boeing 777s. The length of time the remaining 45 Boeing 767-300ERs stay in the fleet remains fluid.

Delta Widebody Fleet Changes Over The Past Decade

In the decade pre-COVID, while the total fleet grew, the number of Delta widebody aircraft declined. In December 2009, with a total fleet of 770, there were 170 widebody aircraft representing 22% of the fleet. In December 2021 there are 134 widebodies on a fleet of 830 mainline aircraft making the Delta widebody ratio 16%.

In recent Base “roadshow” visits, Delta has shown fleet growth plans with a mainline fleet of 956 total aircraft, including 164 widebody aircraft by summer of 2024. That represents 10 additional widebody aircraft above 2019 levels. Should Delta take all projected aircraft and grow the fleet, the ratio of widebodies to narrowbody aircraft would increase to 17%.




2009 170 22% 600 78%
2013 161 22% 582 78%
2019 154 17% 756 83%
2021 134 16% 686 84%
2024 164 17% 956 83%

Part Three:

Read more about Delta’s stakes in Delta’s Foreign Carrier Partners…