When a pilot flies a trip, they are issued a credit toward their “minimum monthly guarantee” based on how many hours were flown on that trip. When the credits for the monthly trip totals exceed the number of hours paid for the guarantee, the pilot receives pay for the amount of trip credit flown.
Trip credit is usually based on the number of hours of actual flight time blocked for the trip. So if the pilot flies a 4-day trip with 20 hours of scheduled block time, then the planned compensation for that trip would be the 20-hour value. At the end of the month, all of the pilot’s trip credit values are added together and they are paid the minimum monthly guarantee or the trip credit value, whichever is higher.
When discussing trip credit there are a couple of different factors to consider.
EXAMPLE: Since the actual time flown seldom matches the planned time exactly, pilots must also consider actual block time, sometimes called credit time. If the planned block time was 20 hours for the trip (or 2.0 for the specific leg) but the actual flight time was slightly lower due to operational factors (19.5 hours for the trip, or 1.9 for the specific leg) then the actual pay could depend on the specific airline’s contract.
If Airline A pays the trip at planned block or better, then the trip in the example above will be paid at 20 hours, since the planned block value is greater than the actual trip value.
If Airline B’s contract allows the airline to pay the actual block time of the trip, then the trip would be paid at 19.5 hours since that is the value of time actually flown.
There can be a significant difference in pay if the trip values are over-blocked or there is significant variance in the planned time versus the actual time. Both contracts will pay the same way if the actual time is over the blocked time (25 hours actual vs 20 hours blocked), but in the instances where the time is lower, the loss over a year could be significant.
In addition to block or better vs block or actual, the other big thing to be considered is trip protection or cancellation pay.
EXAMPLE: On a 4-day trip, one entire day of flying must be canceled at an outstation due to bad weather at the hub. The total value of the day was 5 hours and the total trip value was 20 hours. The adjusted actual flight time after the cancellation of the day was 15 hours for the trip and 0 hours for the day that was canceled.
If Airline A provides trip protection, then the pilot will still get the full 20 hours of credit on the trip, despite the cancellations.
If Airline B does not provide trip protection, then the pilot will get credit for the 15 hours of actual block time on the trip.
In this case, the difference in credit is 5 hours which can have a significant impact on total pay over the course of a year. Dependent on the contract, some airlines may pay cancellations at a ratio, or may only pay for cancellations under certain conditions. Some will pay for cancellations no matter what the cause, which is why it is important to try and determine how the specific airline pays for these changes to a pilot’s schedule.
The final thing to consider is whether or not there is a minimum value for any specific trip as far as pay goes.
EXAMPLE: Due to a slow flying month, a junior line, or any other number of factors, the total value for the trip on the pilot’s schedule is 12 hours for 4 days of flying.
Airline A has a minimum trip value guarantee of 15 hours regardless of the actual planned value of the trip and Airline B does not.
In this case, the pilot at Airline A will be paid for 15 hours even though the trip is only worth 12 because the contract has a provision for a minimum trip guarantee of 15 hours. However, the pilot at Airline B will be compensated for the 12 hours of planned credit or the actual credit based on the terms of their contract. This can also have a significant effect on pay, but the more likely scenario is that it encourages the company to produce more productive pairings to avoid having to pay extra for time that the pilot didn’t work. In both cases, if the trip exceeds the minimum value for pay protection, then the pilot will simply be paid for the actual trip. If the company is unable to produce more productive pairings due to the flying available, then the pilot still has some assurances that they will be paid a minimum amount for their trip no matter how productive their time is.
The way trips are credited to the pilot’s monthly bank and the way the airline compensates for things like cancellation pay will probably have the single biggest effect on the actual income of the pilot, which is why it is important to understand the way a company pays when choosing which fit is best. In many cases, the difference in pay between Airline A and Airline B could end up being in the tens of thousands of dollars per year for an average Captain and not far off of that for an average First Officer.