Factors affecting pilot pay: ~ Time with the company (seniority) ~ Aircraft flown ~ Whether they are a Captain or First Officer (seat) ~ The hours in their monthly schedule ~ The pay scale at their specific airline
A pilots pay is figured upon the hourly rate for their seat and their equipment based upon the pay grade for their seniority. Each company also has a set 'minimum guarantee' flight hour pay in their pilot contract. This is generally about 75 hours per month but varies slightly by airline. (A few majors guarantee is only 65!) However, in no case will the pilot earn less than the 'minimum guarantee'. They may fly less than 75 actual flight hours, but they will still be paid for the 75 per their guarantee. If they get a flight schedule that is blocked for more flight hours than the minimum guarantee, they will then get paid for the greater amount of time flown instead, plus per Diem Flight crew make from $1-3 per hour in 'per Diem for every hour they are away from their domicile on a trip to cover expenses. This generally adds a few hundred dollars to their pay check.
A general comparison of starting monthly First Officer pay by airline*: ~ AMERICAN - $2,240 ~ CONTINENTAL - $2,500 ~ DELTA - $3,640 ~ FED EX - $3,700 ~ NORTHWEST - $2,574 ~ SOUTHWEST - $3,744 ~ UNITED - $1,950 ~ US AIRWAYS - $1,875 ~ UPS - $2,187 (* all without per Diem based on minimum monthly guarantee, first year pay in smallest fleet type.)
Here is a Captain pay comparison* at 12 years of seniority, by the largest type in fleet (best paying): ~ American 777 - $12,352 ~ Continental 777 - $14,688 ~ Delta 777 - $14,040 ~ Fed EX wide body $14,874 ~ Northwest 747 - $14,586 ~ Southwest 737 - $14,196 ~ United 747 - $11,570 ~ US Airways A330 $11,520 ~ UPS (all a/c) $15,390
In the civilian career path progression, a pilot will usually work at a regional carrier before moving on to a major airline. Regional new hires make close to $20K a year to start! While some regional pay close to $30K after 3 years or so, it takes several years at other to make that much. Starting out in this career one must expect to make some very low wages until they begin to build seniority with their airline and move up the pay scale Largest connection carrier, "Express" or regional affiliate airlines starting gross monthly pay: ~ American Eagle $1,725 ~ Comair - $1,72 ~ Chautauqua - $1,650 ~ Mesa - $1,596 ~ Mesaba - $1,800 ~ Pinnacle $1,575 ~ Skywest $1,425 ~ Trans States $1,628 (*all without per diem, based on minimum monthly guarantee, 12 pay in largest fleet type)