American Airlines Top Leadership Pushing Employees To Request Vaccine Exemptions

At a town hall event in Miami on Thursday, American Airlines President Robert Isom took questions from employees. If video of the event was posted internally, it was apparently taken down quickly. However I’ve been able to review the discussion, and every single question and challenge was on the pending vaccination requirement for employees of federal contractors.

My impression watching Isom matches what I’ve heard elsewhere: that management is clearly scared for their operation, knowing that they have so many thousands of unvaccinated employees and that passions are running so hot.

  • They receive big money from the federal government, from cargo to CRAF subsidies, to contracts to fly federal employees on designated routes. This is worth “hundreds of million” of dollars, according to Isom. They aren’t willing to give this up to satisfy demands of unvaccinated employees.

  • But they also need to run their operation, and at least released figure over 4000 pilots alone remained unvaccinated.

You have management, then, begging employees not just to get vaccinated but also to request exemptions to vaccinations and even talking to them about how to get their exemption requests approved.

American’s President offered, “if you’re not vaccinated you really need to find an accommodation.” He notes that the process “can be lengthy” and “may take some time” and “everyone will continue to work” during the application process. Isom also emphasizes, “if you’re not vaccinated please find a way to stay with the company.”

Talking through the exemption process, Isom offered:

  • “I am telling you that we are gonna work to make sure that those that seek medical accommodations continue to work, medical and religious accommodations.”

  • “For everybody else that chooses not to get vaccinated, and doesn’t seek an accommodation, wWe’re going to work with you after the 24th, we will, to try to find a way to convince people to get vaccinated or.. (he’s cut off by another speaker).”

Cedric Rockamore, who used to run the Dallas hub but now works in HR, adds

If you’re seeking a ADA medical or religious accommodation..our goal is, we need everyone in this room simply put, so we are not interested in separating people from this we will be working with folks and as we figure out the process and make sure that this process is set in place to make sure that it is covering people, then during this process they will continue to work.

Asked by an employee what to put on the forms to ensure exemptions are approved, another executive suggested they take the question offline.

Facing tremendous pushback on vaccines – surely employees showing up are self-selecting and more likely than average to be hostile to the issue at the moment – and making the case for vaccines to the business Robert Isom says that “the biggest single fear [companies have about returning to business travel] is that they’re traveling in an unvaccinated environment.” That struck me odd since American is not requiring vaccination for passengers to ensure the person sitting in the middle seat next to a business traveler has been vaccinated.

On Tuesday American posted updated FAQs about the vaccine requirement for employment, and obtaining an exemption. It appears employees can submit an accommodation request which will take ‘some time’ to review (until after the holiday travel rush, perhaps?) – and if the request is denied they still get a time period to get vaccinated.

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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. Would someone please explain to me – WHY is there such a great reluctance to get vaccinated?

  2. To those American Airlines employees who refuse to get the COVID vaccine:

    We live in the gig economy today. You minus well get used to changing the way you think and get started with the digital nomad lifestyle ahead of your upcoming refusal to get the vaccine. Starting a side hustle is the best form of job security.

  3. News flash: Many (most?) passengers would prefer to know that all AA employees they interact with are vaccinated. As much as I dislike flying on UA, where routes overlap I most likely will use their corporate approach to vaccination as a deciding factor in choosing an airline.

  4. I wish the government did not water down this policy and the 12/8 deadline. They need to hold to this policy. How many pilots would really be willing to give up a $150,000 job over this? I’m guessing maybe 50-100.

    The government should not cave, and let the chips fall where they fall!

  5. Scumbag trash.

    Want an exemption? Have you received any vaccinations ever? Then denied.

    Get vaccinated or get fired. The rest of us are tired of you.

  6. Simple: FAA suspends AA’s operating authority until it demonstrates the same level of vaccination as UA. Same for DL or any US regulated airline. Foreign countries remove operating authority in their countries until all airlines match the level of adult vaccinations in those countries. Ground airlines that can’t comply. Only fully documented medical exemptions and religious from “churches” that can document their rationale and prove minimum membership of 1 million. Those exempted must be tested every week at their expensed but through certified labs and only PCR accepted and paid by employee. Get it or lose your job, benefits, no unemployment eligibility and only employee portion of pension contribution returned, no severance!

    And DC should require full vaccination for passengers too.

  7. To al the idiot responses that get the shot
    You Are All Idiots!!!!!!
    I don’t feel safe flying on a plane with both the flight cries vaxed with a in proven, not FDA approved people killer shot!!!
    I know a lot that have passed from COVID and they were vaxed!!! It is not the unvaxed spreading it it is those of you that are vaxed!!!
    and NATURAL AMENITY is better than any vax!!!!

  8. Let them pay for their own health insurance then unless they have a medical exemption, and pay for their weekly Covid testing .

  9. American doesn’t have leadership – it has management, and judging from this pathetic display by Isom, it’s very poor management at that. This degree of sniveling ineptitude is repulsive even by AA’s weak standards. Maybe, just maybe, they could butch up and follow United’s lead.

  10. News Flash: We live in a free country still and in the end I believe these mandates are going to be overturned because I believe our country is still free at its heart. I believe they are illegal unless they have accommodations for the individual. There does not have to be any specific religious letter or church over a certain size….religious beliefs and the freedom of exercise thereof is codified in the constitution. The fact that some want quite obviously to force vaccines on people as a means to provide themselves with assurance of safety is a weak argument. Those who have decided not to take this medical treatment have done so after a long and hard thought process. Clearly forcing someone to take a medical treatment they do not wish to or simply choose to be destitute without a suitable income also violates individual sovereignty over ones body.

    Some on this post are showing their true colors and are clearly not freedom loving Americans. Whether or not we as a people continue to go down this path of forcing one another to violate the very principles that have bound us together as a nation will define whether or not our country has any hope of survival.

    The United States of America is great because of its freedoms, which are guaranteed because they are God given. Turning our back on any of these freedoms to accommodate the irrational fear of some is unthinkable. To turn our backs on freedom to accommodate the desire of some to travel, live or work ‘safely’ is nothing more than a delusion. Yet some insist on picking just one possible avenue to achieve so called ‘safety’ and with glee they are forcing it on all of the free citizens of this country. What we are witnessing now is just the beginning….those who believe above all else in freedom are pushing back against those whose fears can be manipulated by propaganda enough to subordinate freedom to a ‘promise freedom of safety’….there is nothing new under the sun folks….but if you fall into the latter, it is time to reconsider since freedom is easily lost and hard to regain.

  11. @Hermine – Easy. If you had COVID you have natural immunity, so there is really no reason to get the vaccine. And that immunity can be higher than what you would have received from the vaccine. The vaccine has risks for certain people.

  12. Well from personal experience I know that in General Aviation people are always watching what they can fly based on insurance costs. So why not do the same with the airlines? Whoever is covering American could quadruple their rates–or just refuse to insure–any pilot, or flight or aircraft flown by a person who refuses to get vaccinated. No government mandate needed, especially if every company made the same decision for every airline. The same thing could be done everywhere; after all, why should a company cover an individually who willfully puts themselves at unnecessary medical risk of a disease? It would be no different from charging a smoker a higher rate for life insurance. That might settle the issue really fast.

  13. What I don’t understand is why this is seemingly so hard for AA and DL, and so straightforward for UA.

    @Mark Rascio I’m not sure what the point is of your lengthy diatribe. Presumably you’ve been vaccinated many times previously, and your parents didn’t have an option in the matter. Even Alabama requires every child attending school to receive nearly 15 different vaccinations. And it’s not just children – the University of Alabama (overwhelmingly adults over 18) have to have received vaccinations against measles, mumps, rubella and meningitis to attend.

    To quote the Alabama Department of Public Health: “The State of Alabama does not recognize philosophical, moral or ethical exemption from vaccination. A medical exemption may be issued by a physician or an Alabama Certificate of Religious Exemption may be obtained from the local county health department.”

    When was your last protest against the Governor of Alabama over polio vaccinations?

    This is exactly the same standard that the federal government has laid out. It’s reasonable, appropriate and customary for everyone in the United States and has been for many decades.

    It’s only a bunch of cowards who believe that their vision of “liberty” should allow them to risk the health and welfare of others and our economy that have turned this virus into the social and political morass we’re living in today.

  14. It’s still a free country. When you take government contracts you agree to tens of thousands of pages of regulations (health and otherwise). Don’t like it? Don’t take the money. It’s that easy. That’s how free markets work.

    Too bad so many in America and AA have gotten fat and lazy off government money and now suddenly think it’s “freedom” to continue to get that money but not want to follow the regulations. Don’t like it? There are tons of developing countries like Mexico that will gladly have you.

  15. Isom should be sacked for so blatantly enabling those recalcitrant and selfish employees.
    Get the vaccination, you pussies!!

  16. Typical Corporate behavior

    Talk tough publicly and create a ton of exemptions to continue to make money. I bet that peons that work in baggage, customer service, checkin counters and administrative job don’t get exemptions but pilots and executives do

    Airlines are backtracking to keep more desirable employees not rank and file

  17. @Greg, my post is clear, freedom is more important than safety since safety can never be guaranteed and freedom is priceless. I know you must be trying a typical liberal line on me by trying to play the comparison between Polio and other viral and bacterial infections that are far worse than COVID-19. ….because if you have tried this comparison before, you would have been corrected. But, I’ll take your comment at face value…these childhood or other more serious diseases are not seasonal, not prone to mutation if they are viral and the vaccines were released after many years of circulation in society with many suffering and recovering developing antibodies and many of course died, we are far too early in the disease cycle in this case and so release of these vaccines at this stage takes the natural pressure off the virus to mutate to lesser hazard variants….we also must realize as many doctors have publically stated that we are already dealing with an endemic virus….it will be back annually or more often and as we’ve seen already the vaccines that hardly had 6 months of time in circulation are below 50% efficacy in some cases…and we are talking boosters so no matter what mandates are in place the issue will never go away. We will be at 0 % vaccinated again in a years time. Clearly vaccines are a choice and natural immunity needs to also be accepted….medically most of the time it is superior anyway.

    I think it is worth also mentioning that all the horrific diseases you mentioned that we don’t worry about have vaccination rates in our country less than 90%, some closer to 85 ….bet you didn’t grab the guy next to you in first by the lapel and demand to see his Polio vaccination card! Even the schools and camps have always had accommodations for various reasons and here we see a lack of accommodations even though the mandate allows for testing….curious why some like UA have gone beyond. I have my suspicions and it has to do with that political divide you reference….I agree it is there but it’s not because of my way of thinking ….I stand for freedom and will come to the defense of those whose freedoms are being denied even if I disagree with the issue….what we are seeing now is a vindictive approach like so many are posting here that sadly leaves individual freedom on the sidelines.

    As the numbers fall no thanks to vaccines but due to the natural cycles of endemic coronaviruses, we will see some take credit for pushing vaccines while statistically the vaccination rate is no different than when the numbers were sky high. Those that out of fear trample on freedom exist in every society but freedom loving people are going to push back and you are seeing that. Don’t be surprised if more people and companies experience this push back.

  18. Let’s be clear about something.
    American and Southwest have an issue, likely because they have such large Texas operations.
    Delta is the only large US airline that has no vaccination mandate and is already at a 90% vax rate and they expect it to go to 95% with less than 5% legitimate exemptions which they believe they have to honor – and which courts are likely to require they do
    United’s vaccination mandate – including its refusal to offer accommodation including paid leave of absence or remaining on the job w/ testing – is under a temporary restraining order by the courts pending a final resolution.

    American and Southwest are realizing their running to embrace Biden has met with enormous backlash from parts of their employee groups – far more employees than Delta or United. Biden can pronounce all he wants from the White House but AA and WN’s execs are responsible for ensuring their company is not sunk by vaccine mandates.

    It doesn’t matter what you or I or anyone else thinks about the vaccine; there are enough Americans that don’t want them that responsible companies have to figure out how to ensure their organizations are not taken down by vax mandates.

    Chicago is threatening police with pulling retirement because they know there are such a large number of employees that will not get vaxxed that the city will collapse. Courts are certain to shoot down the City but they are simply unwilling to budge on vax mandates. Other governments will do the same because they don’t really care about the service they offer to their citizens.

    American and Southwest are right. Come up with reasonable plans for testing, review accommodations, and move on.

  19. Can someone please tell me what religion rejects vaccination? With proof. I think religion is a scam so that is why I have no idea. My guess would be the Amish, Jehovah Witness, and Scientology. All pretty fringe groups so I doubt many of these unvaxxed morons are sheep in those hearts.

  20. This should be just the beginning – the White House should mandate that all sexually active gay males who work for the government or for government contractors take PrEP, so as to slow the spread of HIV. It’s a responsible health decision any reasonable gay man should happily make and it would keep people safe, so no one should oppose such a mandate (of course there would be an HIV testing mandate as well, but people should be getting tested anyway so it makes sense).

    What if nightclubs, bars, and other establishments that cater to gay males required either proof of PrEP usage or proof of ongoing treatment for HIV+ guests – think of how much safer and more comfortable everyone would be, knowing that proactive steps are being taken to protect people’s health!

    I’m sure this model could then be adapted for other at-risk communities to further strengthen our country’s commitment to health and well-being – so many lives can be saved!

  21. @William: what happened little man? You tested positive for HIV from a gay man coughing on you? Do you realize you can test positive in other ways as well? Such an ignorant comment. Please go back to Facebook for other similarly stupid responses but don’t post here.

  22. sigh…. wondered when homophobia might raise its ugly head in this debate.
    So last century.
    No soup for you, William!

  23. @Ray, as I posted before freedom of Religion outranks the so called guarantee of safety some are attempting to achieve in this case….yet as some point out rather conclusively that our response to other viruses in the past were not so rigid that the inalienable rights guaranteed by our Constitution were violated….so why now? Clearly the left is using this crisis to its maximum and many Americans are unwittingly jeopardizing freedom while I’m afraid others are purposely doing so because their goal is to transform this country ….perhaps because the freedoms offend them or they not only wish to not believe in Religion or God or whatever, they wish to denigrate those who do hold sincere Religious beliefs. I don’t question my Jewish friend’s beliefs nor do I stand in their way or make it harder for them to practice their religion….but at the same time I may not fully understand them and I certainly don’t follow them but I’d defend their right to practice their Religion.

    It is important that the ultimatums and mandates be replaced with understanding for our fellow man and a realization that even if we all were vaccinated this endemic virus will be back in its next mutation requiring us to do this all over again.

  24. @Mark Rascio: you didn’t answer my question. I didn’t ask for a rant on your views of religious freedoms. I simply wanted to know if there are any other religions outside of the three I mentioned that seem to be against medical support and science. (please note, I understand the concept of religion is contrary to science)

  25. @Stu – Actually, I disagree with you on this. If he wants to avoid wearing a seat belt, no one else but him is getting hurt. While I think it would be stupid, it’s not like his lack of seat belt wearing would cost other people’s lives, like passing on Covid to someone because he just doesn’t feel like getting vaccinated.

  26. @Christian: he is putting himself at risk but he won’t remain seated during a hard landing or crash so his body in motion does put others at risk.

  27. @Glen…why would your vernacular be less than spectacular and resort to street language tones of voice to get your point across? No one is a P for not getting the vaccine. C’mon now brother…you can do better than that. 🙂

  28. @William, HIV and Prep is a BAD analogy. You only get HIV through sex or blood transfusions. Do you have sex with the pilot or FA every time you board a plane???? And with sex, it is consensual for both parties. For COVID, it is spread via the air, and it is NOT consensual that a person who may have COVID to breath on me! IT WAS A TOTALLY BAD EXAMPLE.

  29. AA telling its employees how to score an exemption – i.e. what words to use “to pass” the test/scrutiny is akin to teachers giving students the answers to standardized tests. IT’S CHEATING, AND TEACHERS HAVE GONE TO JAIL FOR THIS! American Airlines is dishonest, and I will never fly them.

  30. Is there anything this president and his administration can’t eff up? Mandating the vaccine was a terrible way to go about this. Now we all suffer. This guy is going to go down as one of the worst ever. Jimmy Carter is breathing a sigh of relief.

  31. I think the government should extend the mandate until after the Christmas holiday so passengers do not get stranded during the peak travel season.

  32. I’m pro-vaccination, although that shouldn’t matter. I’ve had Covid (bad) in 2020, vaccinated in March 2021, got a flu shot in October 2021. There should be no law or rule that forces people to be vaccinated. Airlines wanted to be exempt from travel bans early in the Covid process. They achieved this through the argument that science says HEPA filters and downdraft air systems make planes safe. “Follow the Science” as they say. Well, here we are, nearly 2 years later. Now they are saying that science says that you must still wear a mask on a plane even if you are vaccinated. Why? If airlines thought that they will escape lawsuits by employees and strikes or “work to rule” events by employees then they would still be pushing this issue as zero compliance like they did a few weeks ago. If airlines thought vaccines worked they would allow passengers that are vaccinated to drop the masks. I believe we are headed to a place where business will be negatively impacted by mask and vaccine requirements. We are already seeing the cracks in supply chains, inflation, and businesses that survived on stimulus are starting to fail. Biden is pouring gasoline on the fire as well. Oh, and you don’t take things “offline” at a town hall. It’s supposed to be for people to speak up. Just wait until November and December when it all goes to hell at the airports.

  33. @Ray @Glenn @Don just because HIV is primarily sexually transmitted doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do everything humanly possible to protect people from it, and saving gay men’s lives is literally the opposite of homophobia – if we had been as aggressive in fighting HIV/AIDS at the onset (banning super-spreader gatherings, shutting down high risk establishments, mandating testing and treatment/prevention as it became available) literally millions of gay men who fell prey to the virus would still be with us, including countless doctors and nurses who would be helping us fight COVID. You are the ones full of hate for mocking an idea to save gay men’s lives. (And yes, there ARE gay pilots, and sex (yes, even casual, promiscuous sex) shouldn’t be a health crisis or a death sentence for them any more than COVID.)

  34. The seat belt example is very poor and it shows the lack of logic in your thinking. The seat belts in cars and aircraft are specifically designed and have been proven in testing over many decades to save lives. Early seatbelt design such as the ones used on the older MD80’s killed more people than they saved in crashes where the aircraft overshot a runway. Look that one up, it actually helped perfect today’s designs.

    We aren’t talking about being against all vaccines, I am not…but the two issues I’ve raised are mandating them while also restricting and structuring how Covid is treated. If you read much, there are plenty of articles showing how many countries in Europe are backing off mandates and some have gone back to school sans masks and vaccine mandates. These vaccines fall below 50% efficacy in months…seatbelts don’t. These vaccines have resulted in an increased amount of negative side effects including many with immune system deficiency issues, again as reported by those who support vaccines. Seatbelts continue to save lives with no known side effects.

    It comes down to how some on this blog are convinced the vaccine is a magic pill but you miss the results in other countries where their outbreaks are among the vaccinated. I also encourage you to look at the real immune response issues those who have been vaccinated are experiencing.

    As far as religion goes Ray, it is personal.

  35. @Ray,

    My religion does not have anything to say about vaccines, but it is pretty clearly against government edicts that restrict a human’s rights instead of protecting them.

  36. I love all the little back-seat Fascists. “Fire them all”, “Let the chips fall where they fall”, “Easy, require everybody do as I say or lose their jobs, air operating certificate, or access to healthcare”.

    If you want to know why power corrupts, and how dangerous it is to give people of any kind too much power in society, it’s the non-chalant authoritarianism of something the responders here.

    These are people who mostly couldn’t arrange a family barbecue, lecturing a CEO of a huge, logistically complex operation, that he should drop thousands of pilots because of the respondents’ psychological comfort.

    They wooo be the first to howl when AA cancels thousands of flights and the operation is thrown into chaos. It’s easy to write “Easy, just fire them all” when all you’re responsible for in life is updating a spreadsheet.

  37. 1. Why would I patronize an airline and fly in their metal cigar tubes with pilots who are too stupid to be vaccinated??
    2. Why would i ever again trust AA management about ANYTHING given their sleazy approach to mandatory vaccines?
    3. Will the anti-vaxer, Flat Earth, ignore Science, rabble next go after small pox and polio vaccines??
    If you follow their ill-logic, we should eliminate all public health and safety it should be OK to yell “FIRE” in a crowded theater and anyone should be allowed to carry any weapon (including hand grenades) onto airplanes to assure their own safety. Because it’s their RIGHT??!! BTW– about those religious exemptions, the Pope has said he finds no issue with any member of the Roman Catholic Church taking the vaccine.
    Oh and Mark Rascio, there have been cases of people using seatbelts who ended up with broken pelvises or hip problems after severe crashes. So we better get rid of that mandate, too… Right??
    I suppose it is a “human right” to be a functional moron.
    God Protect us from the Idiots Trump unearthed from below ground.

  38. There will be some short term disruptions, but most of them will decide it’s better to get vaccinated and keep their well paid jobs. Those who don’t can easily find work at fast food restaurants, which are all hiring. Stop the nonsense, stop the exemptions, and get serious about putting an end to this catastrophe.

  39. The readers of this blog are extremely concerning to me. All of these people screaming get vaccinated or get fired really don’t understand their own NAZI energy that they are giving. Why would someone be OK with a forced medical procedure?

    AA employees have never once been asked to provide health records and a LOT of human beings that work for these companies that are mandating the shot haven’t received vaccines in years or if ever at all. These people who want human beings to be fired because they don’t live in the same fear as them and don’t have their faith placed in the same news channel as them, have worked the entire pandemic while most people stayed home COMFORTABLY and either worked or were able to collect unemployment that paid out more than an “essential employee. Which now you can see that ALL essential employees have become EXPENDABLE employees.

    Coercion should never be used on a person. A lot of people have had cancer, allergies to major medications, simply wanting to wait a year to see how things turn out (which isn’t being allowed), the list goes on and on.
    NONE of the shots that are available in the US are FDA approved. NONE, not even Pfizer. So, who holds the liability for the employees in case they suffer any reactions? No one. Not AA, not the union, not big pharma. Imagine Pilots or FA dropping dead in-flight due to adverse reactions like blood clotting? (which seems to be becoming MUCH more common now).
    Once the GOVT gets you to do ONE thing, the list becomes never ending.
    If this was about HEALTH they would allow antibody testing since (actual) SCIENCE proves that Natural Immunity can be up to 27x more powerful than the shot. So many employees have had covid already or have gained natural immunity by being exposed, why not test for that instead of being INJECTED with something that someone is not 100% comfortable with?
    i’ll tell ya why ~

    In Sept 2021, Doug Parker & friends signed a $100million partnership with BILL GATES. The article came out on Sept 20 & vaccine mandates went into play on Sept 21. THEN Doug had hosted an event with Dem leader Chuck Schumer where the minimum suggested contribution was $1000-$5800 and that’s just to be there virtually! The company is corrupt and is making back door deals left & right all for the love of money. Not health.

    If you support the mandates then please, continue flying United because as a unit, ALL staff that you come in contact with at American, Southwest or Delta, do NOT. The staff that gets you to your big work event, home for the holidays, your families weddings, births and funerals, your once a year *big* vacation that you so long for.

    Employees get screamed at, assaulted, berated and all they’re asking for is a choice in this and here some of you are, screaming, berating and assaulting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *