The Best-Paid US Airline CEO in 2018 Was …

May 29, 2019

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Delta Air Lines Ed Bastian was the highest-paid US airline CEO in 2018.

His total compensation for the year, including base pay and bonuses, came in at about $15 million, according to an annual review in Skift tracking CEO compensation for the US airline industry.

Bastian’s overall earnings came despite a base pay of less than $900,000, meaning the rest of his compensation stemmed from “big bonuses for reaching short-term and long-term incentives,” according to Skift.

At least one analyst thought the compensation was in-line for the top executive at Delta, which by most accounts is currently the USA’s top-performing carrier.

“Delta’s results seem to justify the CEO’s $15M all-in compensation,” Wolfe Research analyst Hunter Keay wrote in a research note quoted by Skift. “Delta pays its people generously, but they hunt in packs and deliver results.”

Bastian’s compensation for 2018 was a 13.45% increase from his earnings in 2017.

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Coming in at No. 2 was American Airlines CEO Doug Parker. His 2018 compensation of about $12 million represented a 1.45% decline in earnings from 2017, making him just one of two big US airline CEOs to earn less in 2018 than in 2017. (Alaska Air Group’s Brad Tilden was the other, according to Skift.)

Skift’s Brian Sumers writes Parker “is unique among (airline) CEOs, as he takes no salary, and all of his bonus is paid in stock.”

At United, the total 2018 compensation for CEO Oscar Munoz came in at about $10.5 million, Skift calculated. That was about $1 million more than his total in 2017.

Munoz’s increase in pay came as United as a whole continued on a trajectory of improvement after a long rocky patch earlier this decade. Munoz’s compensation was a mix of base pay and bonuses, though he did miss earning a bonus for one customer-service metric that was put in place by the company’s board following the Dr. Dao incident in 2017.

“While progress has been made, the Company had not yet achieved the desired levels of customer satisfaction,” United said about that metric in an April 11 proxy filing.

For Southwest, Skift noted CEO Gary Kelly “continues to make less than his peers, even as his company continues to report solid results.” For 2018, Kelly’s total compensation was $7.7 million, an increase of about 2% from the year prior.

Featured image: Saul Loeb, AFP/Getty Images.

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