Where do major US carriers stand on COVID-19 vaccination mandates for employees?

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In September 2021, the Biden administration unveiled a detailed national strategy to combat COVID-19.

Included in that plan was a vaccination requirement for federal workers and contractors that do business with the federal government.

Most, if not all, US carriers provide special flights, transport government employees, provide cargo hauling and other services for the government, meaning they are considered government contractors. And this means these carriers are covered by the Biden administration’s requirements to have employees be vaccinated by December 8, 2021. 

Over the last three months, carriers have  laid out respective vaccination policies. Here’s a summary of the major US carriers’ current policies regarding vaccination requirements for  employees. 

United Airlines 

Among all the carriers, United Airlines has taken the hardest stance from the beginning, requiring all its employees to be vaccinated or face termination.

In September 2021, the airline said that employees who were granted exemptions from getting vaccinations against COVID-19 for religious reasons will be put on unpaid leave.

United gave its employees a deadline of September 27, 2021 to upload proof of vaccination, or face termination. United Airlines reported on September 30, 2021 that the number of unvaccinated staff then dropped from 593 to 320. According to the airline, 97% of their employees have followed the mandate.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines started off with positive reinforcement, announcing in September 2021 that vaccinated employees of Alaska and Horizon Air will be rewarded with a $200 bonus.

By October 2021, the airline shifted its policy, telling its 22,000 Alaska and Horizon Air employees that they are required to get a COVID-19 vaccination as per the administration’s new rules. 

American Airlines (A1G) (AAL)

American Airlines (A1G) (AAL) employees have been given until November 24, 2021 to get themselves vaccinated if they wish to continue working for the airline. 

The airline accepts two exceptions from the policy though: religious and medical exemptions, which employees must apply and be approved for. 

To encourage vaccinations, the airline is giving newly vaccinated employees an extra paid vacation day and $50 in Nonstop Thanks points to U.S. employees who submit their vaccine paperwork by the deadline.  

Delta Air Lines

Among all major US carriers, Delta Air Lines is the only one remaining that has not made it mandatory for its employees to get vaccinated. 

In August 2021, the airline advised its employees that beginning November 2021, employees who are unvaccinated will be charged a $200 monthly fee to help maintain costs associated with preventing the spread of Coronavirus among its workforce.

Delta has not changed its policy nor introduced a new one that has made vaccination mandatory. 

When asked whether the company may consider a mandatory vaccination policy for its employees, a Delta Air Lines spokesperson said to AeroTime Hub via email that, “Delta’s approach to encourage a high rate of employee vaccinations continues to work, with an 84% workforce vaccination rate and climbing daily.”

Southwest Airlines (LUV)

Southwest was another airline that rewarded its employees for getting jabbed. 

In September 2021, the airline introduced new incentives for employees who can show proof of vaccination against COVID-19. Through a company memo, Southwest said that staff who can upload their proof of vaccination by November 15, 2021 will get 16 hours of pay. Pilots and flight attendants on the other hand, will receive pay for 13 trip segments. 

In October 2021, however, Southwest announced that it is now requiring its 56,000 employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 if they wish to continue working for the airline. The staff have been given a deadline of December 8, 2021 to provide proof of vaccination.

Hawaiian Airlines

In August 2021, Hawaiian Airlines sent a memo to its employees, announcing that it requires its US-based staff to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

Employees will need to be vaccinated by November 1, 2021. Those who apply for medical and religious exemptions, if eligible, will have to be tested regularly. 

Regional carriers

While these major US carriers are racing against the deadline of December 8, 2021 to get all their employees vaccinated, some of the smaller, regional carriers that fly under the names of major US airlines still have not made the call to make vaccination a requirement for their staff.

“I’m concerned that if in the hypothetical we were to mandate a vaccination and there were other job opportunities that didn’t mandate vaccines [some employees] would leave,” commented Jonathan Ornstein, CEO of Mesa Air Group (which flies for American and United), expressing his concerns to CNBC. 

While Ornstein describes the rules as “somewhat murky” he also said that executives are awaiting more clarity on the rules from federal officials and lawyers, and that the carrier will comply with federal mandates.

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