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United Considers Requiring Employees to Get Vaccinated

CEO Scott Kirby is reportedly mulling the idea, but for now, getting a COVID-19 vaccine is still voluntary

January 26, 2021

United Airline is considering making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for its entire workforce, according to reports from CNBC.

During a virtual town hall, the airline’s CEO Scott Kirby reportedly told employees, “Because I have confidence in the safety of the vaccine – and I recognize it’s controversial – I think the right thing to do is for United Airlines, and for other companies, to require the vaccines and to make them mandatory.”

Mandatory vaccinations are not yet policy, according to a statement from United. A spokesperson added that there were “logistical challenges that we need to work through before we can make it mandatory.”

Requiring employees to be vaccinated might prove to be a contentious step, one some other carriers are already grappling with. Delta Air Lines said it has encouraged employees to get vaccinated. The carrier said it is “actively working with all of the states to understand how Delta employees will be prioritized in the initial distribution of vaccines.”

Southwest Airlines said while it strongly encourages employees to get COVID-19 vaccination, it does not “currently” require it. Similarly American Airlines told employees last week that “We do not plan to require our team members to receive the vaccine unless vaccinations are ultimately mandated for entry to certain destinations.”

Meanwhile, Singapore Airlines has launched an internal campaign with the goal of becoming the first airline globally to see 100 percent of its employees receive the COVID-19 vaccine. However vaccination remains voluntary among the carrier’s staff.

Last November Qantas CEO Alan Joyce was quoted as saying vaccinations will be required to board the Australian carrier’s international flights. Air Asia’s Tony Fernandes has said he anticipates vaccinations to be a requirement for travel across Asia, although its likely be on governments instead of airlines to establish the rules.

In a staff note, United told employees to get vaccinated as soon as possible and not to wait for guidance from the airline. The Star Alliance carrier reportedly had 60,000 employees in the US with another 17,000 who had been furloughed set to return to work.

“I don’t think United will get away with and can realistically be the only company that requires vaccines and makes them mandatory,” Kirby told employees in the virtual town hall. However, he added. “If others go along and are willing to start to mandate vaccines, you should probably expect United to be amongst the first wave of companies that do it.”