American Airlines Pilot Explains Why He Doesn’t Want To Get Vaccinated

At an internal American Airlines employee question and answer session last week, airline President Robert Isom outlined President Biden’s executive orders on vaccination as they apply to employers like American, as well as other vaccination rules.

The airline is both a government contractor (CRAF, Essential Air Service, postal contracts) which requires 100% vaccination, and an employer with over 100 employees (where employees could test out of vaccination). They aren’t sure whether they’ll be treated as a government contractor for vaccination. Some other governments require crew members to be vaccinated in order to enter, including for air crew.

One pilot asked a question to the airline President about his reluctance to get vaccinated, saying he’s neither an anti-vaxxer nor a conspiracy theorist he just doesn’t know the long term effects and already has had Covid-19. Those who talk about the ‘unknowns’ of long-term effects never seem to pair that with a scientific theory of how there might be such effects.

He continued, asking about exceptions to a mandate for those with natural immunity from prior infection.

Isom offered that American is “following what the CDC guidelines are, following then how that is interpreted and pushed to us” in regulation. American didn’t get out ahead of the government with vaccine requirements (like United) or penalties for not being vaccinated (Delta). But if the government says require vaccination, that’s the end of the matter.

They’re doing what the government says, and so far the government has shown little willingness to recognize immunity from prior infection – except that documented recovery within the past 90 days exempts an air traveler from testing when returning to the U.S. even while vaccination does not.

The pilot sort of has a point, the CDC and federal regulations need to do a better job:

  1. recognizing natural immunity, and
  2. offering comparative advice.

Isn’t natural immunity is better than J&J? And the data on immunity from prior infection and one shot of an mRNA vaccine is amazing, generally better than two shots of vaccine yet isn’t generally considered satisfying requirements.

Indeed there is no reason to do two shots if you’ve recovered from Covid > 90 days ago. The FDA won’t let Biden do boosters for all, but insists that those who have essentially gotten a shot recovering from Covid still need two doses. That’s not good science. Yet this pilot should get one shot of an mRNA vaccine.

Oddly FDA committee critics of booster shots want behavioral restrictions on the vaccinated. Either no boosters are needed because mild cases aren’t a big deal, or we need to restrict peoples’ behavior even when they’re vaccinated because they might get mild cases and that’s a problem. If the restrictions are to prevent them from getting infected and spread the disease, you’d want them to have boosters to reduce the chance of their getting infected and spreading the disease.

Here’s Paul Romer on the data games being played to avoid making boosters available.

Of course over a year ago I wrote that we don’t know how long vaccine effectiveness will last, and this complicates vaccine passport regimes (including the President’s pending OSHA requirement for vaccination of employees working at companies with 100+ workers).

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. There definitely hasn’t been great studies done on people who have had Covid and what they should do. My neighbor has had Covid twice. Obviously, his natural immunity from the first case didn’t prevent the second. But, is two cases of Covid as good as one or two shots? Does the natural immunity decay over time, and is that decay more or less/faster or slower than the vaccine? So many questions and so few answers. If the vaccine is needed, how long after the last Covid case? My brother-in-law took the vaccine not long after recovering from Covid, and had such a high temperature after the vaccination that he started hallucinating. And then there is the question of how long vaccination immunity lasts, certainly it has limits for international travel to avoid some testing.

  2. “Obviously, his natural immunity from the first case didn’t prevent the second. ” looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooool

  3. Unfortunately natural immunity doesn’t have lobbyists or friends in the FDA/CDC. The drug companies do.

  4. Pilot does not want to follow employer/national/international mandate. He does not have to.
    He can get terminated and work elsewhere. I’m sure that there are airlines that employ less than 100 people. Sometimes doing things for your employer aren’t what you want to do. Life is hard.

  5. ” so far the government has shown little willingness to recognize immunity from prior infection”

    Because every covidiot will simply claim they already had it.

    “Indeed there is no reason to do two shots if you’ve recovered from Covid > 90 days ago. The FDA won’t let Biden do boosters for all, but insists that those who have essentially gotten a shot recovering from Covid still need two doses.”

    False. I had Covid in December and got J&J in May for exactly this reason. No one is forcing two shots.

  6. Like anything else that’s analog, “natural immunity” is going to be highly variable. Large numbers of people get the flu every year, sometimes more than once. Children sometimes get the chickenpox twice.

    Just because someone has had COVID does not mean that they have natural immunity at all on par with a vaccine. They might have a better response, or they might have a worse one, and at the point where you’re trying to sort them… you really just want everyone to get the vaccine. Honestly, doing the bloodwork to validate immunity is at least as invasive.

  7. I still do not understand this pilot’s (or anyone else’s) objection to being vaccinated. The risk of significant side effect from the vaccine is less than .05%. The risk of getting significant illness from COVID is several orders of magnitude larger. The risk of death from the vaccine is zero. The risk of death from COVID is significant.

    And, it isn’t just the risk to the individual. It is the risk of transmission to the other people whom he may contact. As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said: “Your right to swing your fist ends where the tip of my nose begins.” No one has the right to knowingly put others in physical jeopardy.

  8. Just sounds like another snowflake scared of getting a shot. He’ll earn his r/HermanCainAward soon enough.

  9. He probably thinks that because he’s flown planes before he no longer needs continued training and testing.

  10. For whatever reason, in Hong Kong a person can get all the rights and privileges of being fully vaccinated either 14 days after the second dose of vaccine or 14 days after the first vaccine if previously recovered from COVID (no single dose vaccines in the market). Suggesting that even after COVID recovery, at least a single dose of vaccine is needed for “sufficient” protection.

  11. I had about a six week bout of Covid in spring of ’20. When I was too weak to get out of bed for two weeks I did think “Maybe this is it. I won’t luck out this time.” I got two vax in early ’21 as soon as I had a chance. I still get out of breath quickly. I’ll take any booster I can get. Don’t have to get theoretical about it. I’m not done living yet and have nothing to prove.

  12. I’m sure everyone “junior” to him will be extremely grateful when it becomes mandatory and he is out of a job and his union kicks him to the curb. Good luck buddy!

  13. What’s not to understand?

    Purely from a personal standpoint: I’m not vaccinated, because myself and my entire family already had Covid in early 2020. I was sick for a total of 2 days. Three of my kids were sick for maybe 3-4 days, with the youngest not being sick at all. (We know now she had it, just wasn’t outwardly sick) My wife had it the worst and was sick for roughly a month. No hospital stays were required, no medication, and all of us have antibodies. We all continued to function like it was a really bad cold.

    So I don’t really see a need for ME to get the vaccine. If the vaccine prevented Covid from spreading – I’d see a reason. However, it spreads the same, vaccine or not. So in my particular case – I don’t see a need to receive it. I will likely get no benefit, other then to become one of the “good people” from a virtue signaling standpoint. Something I’m just not concerned with.

    You can disagree with me of course, but as they say – “My body, my choice.” And to clarify: I don’t think the vaccine is bad. My mom and in-laws all have gotten it, and I’m very glad they did. I’m not anti-vaccine. However, I look at this as akin to the yearly Flu Shot(and with the boosters, it seems it will be more like that) and I also never got that. (And also never get the Flu)

  14. Mangar, no worries, you’re just going to be denied entry to anywhere that matters, and F you at the same time if you whine about it. Get the shot and stop whining.

  15. I have to agree with Fred about Mr. Mangar. One thing to keep in mind is that he and his family’s bout with COVID in early 2020 was a DIFFERENT variant than is circulating now (the Delta variant). How good is your immunity from one variant to the next? We know for sure that people sometimes catch COVID twice. Now there’s a “Mu” variant on the way. And likely several others in the future too. Mangar’s family immunity is likely (1) waning now, and (2) even if still viable, was for that different variant. Science shows the vaccines prevent serious hospitalization, or any hospitalization, for the current variants. Moderna, Pfizer, and others are watching the new variants arising, and will likely tailor their vaccines to cover future variants. So…Mangar…would you really want to risk your and your family’s safety on just your “old” maybe decreased immunity from early 2020, or instead would you simply all get vaccinated? Also, are you rich? I ask because insurance companies are out of the “grace period” of covering hospitalizations. Average COVID hospitalization costs are running $24,300 – $40,000 (the latter was cited by Delta Airlines internal health plan as an average cost of ICU hospitalization, etc.) If you have health insurance covering your family, how much is your deductible and out-of-pocket maximum for your family? Maybe the latter is $10,000, or worse? Or maybe you uninsured or have a very week policy. So Mr. Mangar, wouldn’t the wiser choice be to get the free and proven safe vaccine for you and all your family members instead of facing a huge financial hit for health costs or bankruptcy? Seems like a no-brainer. Many millions of people have gotten the mRNA vaccines, worldwide.

  16. @Mangar Wait until you do get a case of the flu, a real case. It’s inevitable. You’ll wish you had gotten the shot. People blow it off as just a bad cold. It’s not.

    Both sides are being disingenuous here. Biden has no authority to order vaccinations through OSHA. He knows it, he’s doing it anyway. He should be impeached or censured over that and ordering the eviction ban and a dozen other things – knowingly violating Article II. And I’d say that about a Republican president as well. It’s time to reel in the Imperial Presidency.

    The evidence for boosters is thin at best. It makes no sense to push them except to the most vulnerable.

    Natural immunity may be better than the vaccine, but it’s difficult to document. And if it’s to be considered the equivalent to vaccination, you’re going to need to prove immunity, not just someone’s word.

    If there were adequate ways to demonstrate immunity from whatever source, the way forward would be obvious – allow businesses to deny service to those without demonstrated immunity, those with demonstrated immunity can carry on their business as normal. It’s not mandatory, but businesses would have the right to do so, as well as charge those employees who refuse to get immunized extra for health insurance. After they recover from Covid and the business has recouped their healthcare costs, they can pay the normal premium.

    No one is required by the government to do anything, but choices should have consequences. It’s time to stop fence-straddling and letting those who refuse the vaccine to not have to face those consequences.

  17. “No one is required by the Government to do anything….” What horse manure! OF COURSE the government, at many levels, can require you to do MANY things. Stop at a stop sign (or get a fine). Not drink and drive (or lose your driving privelege). Get vaccinated for numerous things to attend school (or force your parents to teach you). Get a prescription to obtain opioids (or go to jail).

    You and the rest of the covidiots simply don’t want to knuckle under to what our properly constituted government requires as a part of civil society to protect us ALL, as a sort of game. As was said last week by a certain shock-jock, “Well, fsck your ‘rights’!” You have no legal rights in this regard other than to risk the consequences society and our government will (hopefully) levy upon you if you fail to protect others, or have no competent medical evidence that you personally will be harmed by becoming vacinated. IN SHORT, you simply don’t want to, and you think you are so precious that this should suffice— not some viable legal theory that the Gummint can’t require it of anyone.

    Get your shot, unless your licensed physician writes down that you should be exempt. Quit this nonsense of substituting your PREFERENCE over a legally enforceable government regulation (see Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 1905, US Supreme Court). I wish Congress or the states would levy a fat penalty on people who fail to get vaccinated without documentation, same as for the above regulations, but I doubt the spineless ones will stand up to be counted. The time has come to end ALL this anti-government nonsense and just act like adults for a change. I think we’d see three-quarters of the holdouts head for CVS if the choice was either put your money where your mouth is and pay the price, or get off your keister and get a simple shot.

    Then, in a couple years, these holdouts would be about as relevant as the guy who runs red lights because he’s in a hurry. Just losers.

  18. @C_M

    Employees have the right to not be endangered by going to work. The President chose to make workplaces safe for employees and customers. Is it 100% legal? Probably not, and that will be decided in court. My company allowed employees with severe illnesses to take long term leave without pay, so they could avoid exposure to Covid. The 2 year limit for that leave is approaching. The company desperately needs employees. This ruling gives that those employees (who themselves are vaccinated) the chance to work. Our work is in close quarters for hours at a time.

    Now, I think the unvaccinated definitely need to pay extra for their healthcare. Their behavior makes this pandemic continue. Because currently there are no consequences for these people. Their excuses for not vaccinating are a joke. It makes our country look weak and embarrassing.

  19. @Mengar: “If the vaccine prevented Covid from spreading – I’d see a reason.”. Won’t halt it, but it decreases the transmission rate for Delta, which means less mutation. Before Delta, it was very effective at halting it. However, enough people think like you and didn’t get the shot early on, letting it evolve into Delta.

  20. Prior infection is as good or better than a vaccine. Pfizer’s own 6mo RCT follow-up of BNT162b2 mRNA vaxed (n=23,040) & placebo (n=23,037) groups revealed NO statistically significant increase in new C19 “test+ infections” among ~3% subgroups with baseline prior SARSCoV2 infection: 13/692 (0.019) in vaxed vs. 17/736 (0.023) placebo.

  21. @Aldus – there are 4-5 billion unvaccinated people globally, seems like a pretty big stretch to blame the Delta mutation on the 70 million or so US adults that haven’t been vaccinated. And wasn’t Delta originally identified in India?

  22. Doug, your comment about the level of protection from COVID occurring “naturally” may be true, but it is irrelevant. This is all about people who simply will not follow the rules, NOT about whether the rules are good or bad, adequate or inadequate.

    If there is a requirement for vaccination, it ought to be followed unless individual medical evidence for a particular person is submitted. All this nonsense boils down to whether government can mandate vaccination for a particular purpose (travel, work, etc.). They pretty clearly CAN, according to the Supreme Court. End of debate.

  23. @SST “What horse manure! OF COURSE the government, at many levels, can require you to do MANY things. Stop at a stop sign (or get a fine). Not drink and drive (or lose your driving privelege). Get vaccinated for numerous things to attend school (or force your parents to teach you). Get a prescription to obtain opioids (or go to jail).”

    Guess which level of government CAN’T force you to do any of those things, (except the last one because it’s a federally controlled substance, I believe). The FEDERAL government. That’s right, those are STATE powers, and the FEDERAL government has NO right to make you stop at a stop sign, set alcohol policy, attend school, or get vaccinated, unless you are on federal property or work for the federal government. And even then, it’s within the power of Congress to legislate such activities, not the Executive to issue rules by fiat.

    We can argue about whether or not any of those things are a good idea, and by and large they are, but the President, any President, has proscribed powers enumerated by the Constitution. All other powers belong to Congress or the states. He is not an elected dictator, nor should we encourage him to be, even if we happen to agree with him, for surely the day will come when we don’t, but you’ll have handed the Executive a cannon and you’ll be unarmed.

    The only good thing that will come out of this will be the Supreme Court’s reversal of Chevron, which is coming faster than you think. Then we’ll watch all the progressives cry, as their power to control everything from the top will be gone. About damned time.

  24. @SST “All this nonsense boils down to whether government can mandate vaccination for a particular purpose (travel, work, etc.). They pretty clearly CAN, according to the Supreme Court. End of debate.”

    Wrong. The case in question gives a state the power to require vaccination, not the federal government. Any other reading of that case is wrong.

  25. I think you’ll be surprised how often the Federal Government gets state governments to adopt what it prescribes simply by offering them carrots and sticks in the form of funding. True, there are several holdout states on the question of expanding Medicaid, but we all got a 55 mph speed limit on highways during a previous “emergency”. Indeed, the President isn’t the one who sets whether or not your school district requires an MMR vaccine for your child to attend school—- but they have virtually ALL fallen in line, and any school district that didn’t would suffer loss of certain funding if they decided to embrace this “individual rights” nonsense. THAT is how the game gets played, and that is probably how THIS nonsense is going to end, too.

  26. Love hearing all these dems simp for big pharma and big business. They don’t realize they are the new minions.

  27. At one point, the courts widely allowed the tying of federal funds to state behavior. That has proven to be a means to erode state power. If heard today, the Supreme Court would likely strike such a provision down.

    I’m not an expert on exactly where the courts are on such provisions, but a quick search indicates that the controlling case for the moment is South Dakota v. Dole. If I recall correctly, sections of Obamacare were struck down for violating parts of this and/or the stricture against unfunded mandates.

  28. The worst would be if the pilot is flying an international route, unvaccinated, gets covid, hospitalized, and YOUR flight gets delayed days because not enough pilots are available to cover. Who is to blame? The pilot for choosing to stay unvaccinated. Think about that among the antivax crowd here.

  29. I received 2 Pfizer jabs and will get a 3rd next week.

    Anti-science Biden won’t let me enter the US with even 3 jabs but will let the unvaccinated enter with an unverifiable (fake) negative test bought overseas. Tests do not prevent getting or spreading Covid and tests gice both false negatives and false positives.

    Biden doesn’t mandate testing, masks, or vaccines for those walking in illegally across our southern border.

    Covid policies should be applied equally, to everyone.

  30. drdrew, that’s so wrong. If a flight is cancelled due to a sick pilot, the blame lies with the airline for failing to have contingency plans for sick employees. When you purchase a plane ticket, you purchase it from the airline, not from the pilot.
    Good grief. Stop blaming people. Get YOUR OWN BODY HEALTHY and stop blaming others for your own vulnerability.

  31. The problem I see here is that the AA pilot most likely does not watch CNN, MSNBC or any corporate network news that has a “C” in its title. My guess is the pilot READS about Pfizer and it’s Israel experiment then employs the critical thinking process that has been instrumental in his career.
    What to see the future of USA’s Covid response? Research Pfizer and Israel. Even Pfizer admits to Israel being its Petri dish. Warning! You may not like what you read.

  32. There’s a preliminary study out from the University of Illinois suggesting that natural immunity from being infected by one strain of COVID may be ineffective to prevent infection from a different strain of COVID: The news release is at, publication isn’t out yet, and more research (and experience) will follow.

  33. Very disappointed in the tone of this article, basically bringing forward misinformation and speculation about the vaccine and natural immunity. This is a very dangerous tone to take, with a platform like yours. I am glad to see most of the comments are of those that make sense, but generally disappointed in the spreading of misinformation that this article has. Unfortunately this will be the one I read on this blog.

  34. Those who contend that there is no research about the quality and duration of natural immunity from contracting COVID-19 are, well I’ll put it this way, mistaken.

    Among those who have studied natural immunity in small studies (large studies are in the works but unfinished) are the NIH. The studies have found that generally natural immunity lasts in substantial quantities for 6-8 months, apparently similar to the vaccines. After that, apparently for most people the immunity substantially wanes. I caution, when using this information, that the studies were small. That said, I believe that the information is generally accurate.

    The studies point out, however, that the problem with natural immunity, compared to vaccine induced immunity is that natural immunity appears to be variant specific, while the vaccine immunity can fight off COVID from a variety, but likely not all variants. (The current vaccines don’t appear to have much efficacy for the relatively new mu variant, which fortunately hasn’t hit the US hard, thus far.)

    An Israeli study has shown that the best immunity that they’ve tested is for a combination of natural immunity and vaccination, but that study is also too small to set policy.

    NIH and other organizations which have been testing natural immunity limits continue to recommend vaccination for those who have had COVID. That makes sense to me.

    I am extremely dissappointed in the article above. Statements like “Indeed there is no reason to do two shots if you’ve recovered from Covid > 90 days ago,” are irresponsible, in my opinion. Their is no evidence supporting that statement, but there is considerable evidence that the two shot regimen of mRNA vaccines after COVID infection is efficacious.

    What many seem to forget is that COVID has been around for less than 2 years. Medical experts are still learning about COVID itself, the extent of its effects on people, both acute and long term, protection methodology, transmission information, testing and testing problems, immunity from infection, vaccines, etc. There is still more that scientists don’t know than they do know.

    That said we do know that vaccines work and that they are safe. We know that from tests and we know that from the more than 6 billion doses of vaccine that have been injected world-wide with more than 380 million in the US alone where in the US fewer than 0.005% of vaccinated individuals have had a serious problem from the vaccination, almost all of which have been taken care of within a short time by treatment, as well as the stats coming out of hospitals showing that the vast majority of hospitalizations and deaths since the vaccines were available are of unvaccinated individuals.

    Not getting vaccinated for COVID at this point is senseless, fatuous and selfish. It puts family and friends as well as others near the unvaccinated person at unnecessary risk. COVID has killed more than 700,000 Americans too many of whom died unnecessarily through misinformation, stupidity, lies and corrupt, callous politicians making self-serving decisions. It would be a sin to add to that total when we have the tools to end the pandemic.

  35. The comments here, and, quite literally, everywhere else I’ve looked for reliable, unbiased, information about COVID-19, sound like a religious debate. “Christians are the only people who will be saved!”, shouts one. “Jews are the only true believers!”, shouts another. “Following Muslim beliefs is the only path to righteousness!”, comes the next… and on… and on… Each louder than the previous until all that remains is the deafening roar of chaos. Each of these proclaimants will cite “proof” where there cannot possibly be any. Nonetheless, they believe and here we are.

    The closest to a rational statement I’ve read here was from NSL reading: “COVID has been around for less than 2 years… There is still more that scientists don’t know than they do know.” For most any (maybe any?) “fact” a person can list on the subject of Covid-19, someone else can, assuredly, list a contradicting “fact”. The sad truth of the matter is, as much as we ALL want to put Covid behind us, we (humankind) haven’t got this thing figured out yet. There is a great deal yet to be learned, and implemented, from prevention to detection to treatment and beyond. And yet, the greatest energy expenditures I see are in name-calling, blaming, and slanderous behavior. I’ve responded here because I just cannot be silent any longer. I believe I am part of the silent majority of people who act with reason, and respect, in regard to both their own personal lives and toward their fellow man. Unfortunately, I have found an extreme lack of respectful discourse anywhere the subject of Covid is breached. So, I write in hope, against all odds, that my words here will encourage open conversation, discussion, and/or debate as well as understanding, tolerance, and acceptance but, alas, I have little confidence they will.

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