Airlines are starting to crack down on unvaccinated employees, with American Airlines becoming the latest major carrier to announce a COVID-19 vaccine mandate ahead of the holiday travel season.
“While we are still working through the details of the federal requirements, it is clear that team members who choose to remain unvaccinated will not be able to work at American Airlines,” executives wrote in a memo to employees announcing a vaccination mandate on Friday. (Exceptions will be made for those who cannot be vaccinated due to religious beliefs or medical concerns.)
Pressure from the White House likely gave the company the push it needed to tell workers they must receive the jab. Reuters reported that White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeffrey Zients checked in with major airline CEOs last week, asking them to require vaccines for employees before Dec. 8.
Why Dec. 8? That's the date by which federal contractors must be vaccinated. Many airlines do contracting work for the federal government and have specified that as a reason for issuing mandates for their own employees.
So far, no one has mandated vaccines for airline passengers, although a bill proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., would change that. Feinstein's U.S. Air Travel Public Safety Act aims to require everyone on domestic flights to prove they’re vaccinated against the coronavirus or provide negative COVID-19 test results.
If you’re planning to travel domestically over the holiday season, here’s what executives at the following major airlines have said about their vaccination policies for employees:
Workers must be vaccinated by Dec. 8, executives say. “This means all of our employees, including certain contractors and vendors, will be required to be fully vaccinated, or be approved for a reasonable accommodation such as medical conditions or religious beliefs that prevent them from being vaccinated,” said a memo to staff issued last week. Up until Dec. 1, the company is also giving $200 to employees if they show proof of vaccination.
The company announced a vaccine mandate for all employees last week, although a memo announcing the requirement didn’t say when it would go into effect. It’s also unclear whether there will be a testing option for employees who refuse to be vaccinated.
Any unvaccinated staff will have to pay a $200 penalty starting next month. As of now, Delta hasn’t required its employees to be vaccinated, and CEO Ed Bastian says 84% of employees have gotten the jab so far.
In a memo announcing a vaccine mandate, the company’s CEO and COO said all workers, “regardless of working in the operation, a support center, or at home – will be required by the government to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 to continue performing their role.”
As of now, Southwest is offering pay incentives for workers who show proof of vaccination but has stopped short of requiring the vaccine. The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association warned pilots may retire or take time off if the company issues a vaccination mandate; the union that represents pilots at American Airlines also said mandates could bring “mass terminations of unvaccinated pilots.”
The airline plans to fire around 600 workers who have not been vaccinated despite the company’s mandate. It’s been nearly two months since United asked all employees to get vaccinated or risk termination, and the company now says 99% of the 67,000 people who work for the airline in the U.S. have been vaccinated.
In general, the ways that refusing a COVID-19 vaccine can cost employees money are mounting. And more zero-tolerance policies are likely on their way after President Joe Biden ordered the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to write a rule requiring all companies with more than 100 workers to mandate vaccines or demand employees get tested on a weekly basis.
If you're still not vaccinated against COVID-19 and you're interested in getting the shot, find a site here.