Pilots working for airlines that transport packages for Amazon are not happy — and many are considering quitting, a survey found


Prime Air plane
Some pilots feel
“disenfranchised,” according to one captain.

Stephen Brashear / Stringer / Getty

  • Amazon Air relies upon cargo
    airliners like Atlas Air, Southern Air, and ABX Air to
    transport its packages.
  • But pilots from those airlines say they’re getting fed up
    with pay and benefits that they say are below industry standards.
  • A survey of pilots at those carriers, conducted by the
    Teamsters Local 1224 union of the Airline Professionals
    Association, found that 60% of respondents said they plan to
    leave their current airline.

Pilots working for the group of airlines responsible for making
Amazon Air deliveries aren’t
happy, a recent union survey found.

And a lot of them are considering leaving the airlines that
Amazon Air relies upon, according to a recent survey from the
Teamsters Local 1224 union of the Airline Professionals

The survey, which wrapped up on Monday and featured responses
from more than 1,200 pilots, found that 60% said they plan to
leave their current airline. The survey was sent out to all 2,170
crew members at Atlas Air, Southern Air, and ABX Air, via email.

These pilots don’t work for Amazon directly.

Amazon Air is a brand that operates through cargo airline
subsidiaries of Atlas Air Worldwide and the Air Transport
Services Group, including Atlas Air, Southern Air, and ABX Air.
As part of the arrangement between these companies and the tech
giant, pilots from these airlines operate Amazon Air’s branded
aircraft in order to make deliveries. Those airlines also cater
to DHL, a division of the German logistics company Deutsche Post

prime air
“They have to start all
over again at the carrier they go to,” Captain Robert Kirchner
told Business Insider.

Ted S. Warren /
AP Images

Switching airlines can set back a pilot’s career

This isn’t the first rumble from the pilots, though. There have
been a number of strikes and protests. But the fact that so
many pilots are considering quitting is still striking, according
to Captain Robert Kirchner, Atlas pilot and executive council
chairman of Teamsters Local 1224.

That’s because the airline industry operates on a seniority-based
system, he said.

“When a captain leaves here after 10 or 15 years, he or she is
leaving 15 years behind,” Kirchner told Business Insider. “They
have to start all over again at the carrier they go to.”

Kirchner said that even though a captain “may be the most
experienced person at the airline,” they must start from the
bottom when they join a new carrier. Moving around can therefore
be detrimental to a pilot’s career.

Kirchner said that quitting an airline could amount to a “big
sacrifice” and that he’s seen captains with 18 years of
experience walk away from Atlas.

“If you’re a doctor or a business person, then you can go to
another company and get your current job or higher,” he said. “In
the airline industry, you can’t do that. There’s less pay, you
don’t get the schedules you want, you don’t get the vacation you
want, until you start getting higher up.”

atlas air
The survey indicated that
morale is low among pilots at ABX Air, Atlas Air, and Southern

Michael Sohn / AP

Pilots are feeling ‘disenfranchised’

He said that Atlas’ partnership with Amazon brought about an
expansion that the airline couldn’t keep up with. Amazon, which

owns a 20% stake in Atlas
and is one of its most important
clients, could fix the problem by telling the airline to up its
standards, according to Kirchner.

A spokesperson for Amazon Air told Business Insider referred
questions about the working environment at Atlas Air, Southern
Air, and ABX Air to the airlines themselves, and said that the
company was pleased with the carriers’ performance and ability to

But Kirchner described an atmosphere of frustration and apathy
among pilots.

“A lot of the pilots coming in here, because of that, feel
disenfranchised and aren’t committed to the business or to the
company,” Kirchner told Business Insider. “They say, ‘I’m only
going to stay for a couple of years until I get my qualifications
up. And then I’m going on to FedEx, UPS, United.'”

He said that Atlas currently has a “tremendous turnover rate”
because the airline offers salaries and benefits that pilots say
are beneath the industry standard. He said that 72% of Atlas
pilots have been with the carrier for less than five years.

When asked in the survey if they felt that morale was high among
their fellow pilots, 86% of ABX pilots, 76% of Atlas pilots, and
51% of Southern pilots said they “strongly disagreed.”

“I’ve had crew members on my flights, and they’ll just come out
and tell me that they really don’t care,” Kirchner said. “‘I
don’t care about this company. I don’t care if it survives. I
don’t care if Amazon’s packages get to where they’re supposed to
go. I just don’t care.’ And that’s a sad situation.”

A spokesperson at Atlas Air Worldwide said that the company
valued its pilots right to express their opinions.

“The commentary from the pilot union, however, is part of an
overall campaign to put public pressure on the company with
respect to our next labor contract,” the spokesperson said. “The
union’s campaign has included the dissemination of false and/or
misleading statements.”

A spokesperson for Air Transport Services did not immediately
return Business Insider’s request for comment. 

amazon air
“There’s nothing like
experienced employees,” Kirchner said.

Ted S. Warren / AP Images

Pilots worry about their airlines’ ability to recruit and retain

The survey also found that 80% of the pilots strongly disagreed
when asked if they were happy with their pay and benefits, while
91% said they felt their airline’s pay and benefits didn’t meet
industry standards.

Kirchner said that in 2015, about 100 pilots quit Atlas. That
number jumped to 198 in 2017. This year, Kirchner estimated that
the number would approach 300.

“They tried to hire 379 pilots in 2018,” he said. “They only got
285 to show up to class, which is unheard of in the industry.”

At ABX, Atlas, and Southern, 81% to 87% of pilots reported that
they strongly agreed that they were worried about their carrier
“being able to recruit and retain experienced pilots.”

In the survey, 65% of respondents said they’d been asked to fly
on their off-days in the past year. And Kirchner said that Atlas
pilots receive fewer vacations than pilots at their competitors
to start with.

“We’ve never seen this much flying on days off at the airline,
which is further proof of how short they are in the pilot ranks,”
Kirchner said.

Kirchner said that he didn’t believe that the situation at Atlas
Air or Air Transport Services would erode industry standards
across the board. He singled out UPS and FedEx for providing
their pilots with appropriate compensation and time off. And in
the survey, 83% to 74% of respondents said they’d like to fly for
FedEx or UPS.

“There’s nothing like experienced employees,” Kirchner said.
“Companies like Amazon and DHL need on-time, reliable service —
and we’re already seeing that deteriorate. As long as they keep
turning a blind eye to this, the problem is going to get worse
and worse and worse.”

Here’s the full statement from Atlas Air Worldwide:

“We value the service of our pilots and appreciate their right
to express their opinions. The commentary from the pilot union,
however, is part of an overall campaign to put public pressure
on the company with respect to our next labor contract.

The union’s campaign has included the dissemination of false
and/or misleading statements. It also included an illegal
slowdown that the union was ordered to stop a year ago by the
U.S. federal court in Washington, D.C. That injunction remains
in place today.

As background, our business has grown substantially over the
past several years, during which we have not only created
hundreds of new pilot jobs but have also met our customer
demands with highly reliable service. As our business continues
to grow and develop, with opportunities to expand in existing
and new markets, we continue to provide pilots opportunities
for ongoing career growth and advancement.

We will continue to address work rules, pay and time off with
our pilots as we work through our contract negotiations. We
remain committed to negotiating one competitive
collective-bargaining agreement for all of our pilots in
accordance with the terms of our existing labor agreements,
which recognizes our pilots’ valued contributions.”

Are you a pilot working at Atlas Air, Southern, Air, ABX Air,
or another airline that counts Amazon as a client? Email