United Airlines has been the most aggressive on vaccines, demanding absolute fealty from employees. They claim a 97% vaccination rate, and anyone even getting a legally-required exemption goes on unpaid leave.
Meanwhile Delta claims an 82% vaccination rate requiring shots for new employees and announcing a health insurance surcharge for employees who don’t get vaccinated.
American Airlines hasn’t publicly declared its vaccination rate. It extended the deadline on its offer of adding a vacation day and $50 in scrip for vaccination. But it said from the get-go that it wouldn’t require vaccines unless forced to for competitive reasons. And now, of course, it seems likely to be forced to by the federal government.
What several people have told me is the biggest thing holding American Airlines back from requiring vaccinations was pilot recalcitrance. If flight attendants leave (and there are many anti-vaxxers among the flight attendants, based on employee message boards) the airline can hire replacements. Pilots aren’t as widely available, and take longer to recruit, train, and certify.
I wrote recently about one American Airlines pilot speaking out on why he didn’t want to get vaccinated.
Now the American Airlines pilots union is lobbying the federal government for an exemption to vaccine mandates arguing that pilots will retire or be terminated en masse, and as a result the nation’s air transportation system will buckle in advance of the holidays.
Pilots at American Airlines are lobbying the White House in an effort to get an exemption from President Biden’s vaccine mandates. They fear that if pilots are forced to choose between the vaccine or their jobs, some airlines will “implement the mass termination of unvaccinated pilots”.
In the worst-case scenario presented to the White House, Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Transportation by the Allied Pilots Association, pilots at the Dallas Fort Worth-based carrier claim the very viability of the U.S. aviation industry could be put in jeopardy if a vaccine mandate is imposed.
The union is urging the Biden administration to enshrine an “alternative means of compliance” within any federal vaccine mandate. An alternative means of compliance could be regular COVID-19 testing, alongside wearing a face mask even once face-covering rules are relaxed for the fully vaccinated.
“Throughout the pandemic, APA has closely consulted with infectious disease specialists to guide our decision-making, and we remain committed to finding workable solutions to the challenges our industry continues to face,” a letter from Captain Eric Ferguson, president of APA reads.
“We are concerned that the Executive Order’s anticipated 60-day implementation period for mandatory vaccination could result in labor shortages and create serious operational problems for American Airlines and its peers,” the letter continues.
Pilots are already treated differently by government mandates during the pandemic. Pilots aren’t allowed to fly within 48 hours of taking a vaccine shot due to potential side effects. And pilots are not required to wear face masks while in the cockpit.
The Biden administration executive order directing OSHA to introduce a vaccine mandate on companies with 100+ employees includes an expected alternative means of compliance in the form of regular Covid-19 testing. While United Airlines is not permitting this, a fear of losing pilots would seem to be enough reason why American Airlines would embrace this alternative.