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Southwest Airlines Pilot Salary – How to Become a Southwest Pilot





Few airlines have the cult-like following that Southwest Airlines enjoys. Though many newer carriers have attempted to emulate their success, Southwest remains singular in the airline industry. Passengers love to fly with them, and flight crews love working for them. 

Here’s a look at Southwest’s operations, pilot salaries, and how to get a job with the legendary company.

Where are Southwest Pilot Bases?

Southwest Airlines (SWA) is headquartered in Dallas, Texas, and its primary operating airport is Dallas Love Field.

Southwest operates a point-to-point network, unlike most major carriers that fly hub-and-spoke networks. Southwest does not have major hubs but rather a more distributed system with many more bases and domiciles. 

Pilot bases include:

  • Dallas (DAL)
  • Houston (HOU)
  • Orlando (MCO)
  • Atlanta (ATL)
  • Baltimore (BWI)
  • Chicago (MDW)
  • Denver (DEN)
  • Phoenix (PHX)
  • Las Vegas (LAS)
  • Los Angeles (LAX)
  • Oakland (OAK)
Southwest airlines pilot pay

What airplanes are in the Southwest Airlines Fleet?

Southwest famously flies a fleet made up of one make and model: the Boeing 737. This fleet commonality allows Southwest to save on crew training and maintenance costs since all crews are trained to work on all planes. 

Southwest took delivery of its 1,000th 737 in October 2023. The Southwest fleet of 737s currently includes -700, -800, MAX7, and MAX8 variants of the twin-engine Boeing. In all, they operate just over 800 planes, with orders for more than 250 more on the books.

What are the Hiring Requirements for Southwest Pilots?

To be considered for a first officer position at Southwest, you must possess the following:

  • FAA Airline Transport Pilot certificate with Airplane Multiengine Land rating and English Proficiency limitation
  • FAA First Class Medical, along with any Special Issuance of Medical Certificate authorizations or Statement of Demonstrated Ability (SODA), if required
  • 500 hours of fixed-wing turbine time, or successful completion of the Destination 225º pathway program

Preference is given to candidates who have been actively flying for at least two of the previous five years.

For hiring purposes, Southwest only counts fixed-wing time. This excludes all simulator, rotorcraft, or other times that might be in your logbook.

Southwest is a career destination for many pilots, and pilot slots are competitive. According to Airline Pilot Careers, to be competitive for a slot at SWA, you should have between 2,500 and 7,000 hours total time, with more than 1,000 hours of turbine PIC. Previous Part 121 experience, or military flying, also gives you a leg up.

If you are just starting flying, you may be interested in the Destination 225º Pathway Program.

Southwest airlines flight

Southwest Airlines Pilot Salary

Southwest pilots are paid per flight segment. A standard segment is 243 miles, and pilots make 10 percent more for every 40 miles additional they fly. 

The monthly reserve guarantee is 89.0 flight segments per 31-day bid or 87.0 per 30-day bid.

Southwest First Officer Pay

The first officer pay scale starts at $75.77 for the first year and increases to $121.98 by year three. A 12-year FO makes $171.95 per flight segment.
A first-year FO flying the minimum reserve would have a total annual salary of $79,104. A 12th-year FO, also flying the minimum, would take home $179,516.

Southwest Airlines Captain Pay

First-year captains at Southwest make $216.49 per flight segment. Year three captains make $221.79, and 12-year captains make $245.64. 

A senior captain, flying the minimum reserve compensation, would make $256,448 annually.

Is a Job at Southwest Right For You?

Flying for Southwest is a dream shared by many pilots. The company has a legendary corporate culture that values employees and makes them feel like part of a supportive family. At Southwest, employees come first, and customers come second.

To that end, the company has never furloughed an employee in its 56-year history. The company is commonly featured on ‘Best Places to Work’ lists and Forbes Magazines’ ‘Most Admired Companies’ list.

On a larger scale, the company, its rise in the airline industry, and its long-term success have been widely studied and admired throughout the business world. Southwest created the Low-Cost Carrier (LCC) airline in the 1970s when airline regulation made such a thing unimaginable. 

All in all, SWA has a vastly different corporate culture than nearly every other airline. Whether it’s the right place for you depends greatly on what you value as an employee and how you feel about the company. Either way, to succeed at Southwest, you’ll want to ensure you’re the right “fit” in the company. 

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Southwest employees are represented by their own union, the Southwest Airline Pilots’ Association

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How Do I Apply for a Southwest Airlines Pilot Job?

For experienced aviators who meet the requirements, you can apply directly for First Officer positions on the Southwest Careers website

Pilots building hours toward an airline career who dream of flying for Southwest one day will want to research and consider the Southwest Destination 225º Pathway Program.

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One response to “Southwest Airlines Pilot Salary – How to Become a Southwest Pilot”

  1. Emanuel Butler

    Great article. I sent it to my nephew. He is a Freshman at University of Maryland Eastern Shore and his goal is to become an airline pilot. Hopefully this article will keep him motivated to reach his goal.