Airlines at Odds Over Employee Vaccination Mandates
American, Southwest and Delta will not order workers to have the vaccine, while Frontier and Hawaiian Air join United in requiring it
August 11, 2021
The leadership of three major airlines – American, Southwest and Delta – have made it clear that they will not make getting the COVID-19 vaccine a condition of employment for their current workers. The news comes in response to a move by United Airlines to mandate the vaccine for its workforce.
Citing what they called “incredibly compelling” evidence of the effectiveness of the vaccines, United CEO Scott Kirby and president Brett Hart said in note to employees that the airline is requiring virtually all of its 67,000 US employees to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 by no later than Oct. 25, or risk termination.
Low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines has also announced its own mandatory employee vaccination policy which will go into effect on Oct. 1. Workers who either cannot or will not get the vaccine will be required to show negative coronavirus test results on a regular basis.
And the Honolulu Star-Advertiser is reporting that Hawaiian Airlines will require all its US-based employees to be vaccinated by of Nov. 1. The airlines says workers can seek exemptions for medical or religious reasons, but will need to undergo regular tests.
Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly told employees in an internal memo obtained by CNN that the airline is encouraging employees to be vaccinated, but the company policy not mandating the vaccine remains the same.
“Obviously, I am very concerned about the latest delta variant, and the effect on the health and safety of our employees and our operation,” Kelly said in the memo. “But nothing has changed.”
In an interview, Delta Airlines CEO Ed Bastion pointed out that three-quarters of the company’s workforce is already vaccinated, so a mandate for the vaccine is rapidly becoming unnecessary. “What we’re seeing is every day, those numbers continue to grow. I’m really proud of our team.”
In addition, Bastion argued, “It’s very difficult for us to come in and mandate a vaccine that isn’t even federally approved yet.”
However, both Delta and United have started requiring newly hired employees to show proof of vaccination.
Meanwhile, American Airlines has also announced it would not force its workers to be vaccinated. CEO Doug Parker told listeners of a New York Times podcast, “We certainly encourage it everywhere we can, encourage it for our customers and our employees, but we’re not putting mandates in place.”
However although the airline is not requiring vaccinations, the company is offering incentives for their workers to get the shot, such as an extra vacation day or gift cards.