United Airlines reported over 99% compliance with its vaccine mandate. Employees either had to get vaccinated or get an exemption (religious, medical) though those with an exemption wouldn’t be allowed to work. The unpaid leave rule was announced (1) on the day airline CEOs had a White House event, (2) right before the President announced a series of vaccine mandates.
American Airlines has over 4000 unvaccinated pilots. Pending federal rules will require them to be vaccinated to keep their jobs. The airline has talked about two potential levels of mandates,
- As a federal contractor, they must be fully vaccinated
- As a company with 200+ employers, they’ll have to require vaccination or weekly testing
Pilots have asked to push off vaccination rules, warning that the holiday travel season could melt down due to lack of cockpit crew.
Of course the relevant OSHA rules haven’t been promulgated yet. Still, the airlines received $79 billion in direct aid from the federal government during the pandemic, and commercial aviation is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the country. The big U.S. carriers used to pretend to be against government involvement in the industry. Now they’re on the lookout for even more subsidies, this time for next-generation more environmentally-friendly fuel.
So when the President speaks, they listen. And the Biden Administration is demanding airlines get vaccinated fast.
White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeffrey Zients spoke to the chief executives of American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines on Thursday to ensure that they are working expeditiously to develop and enforce vaccine requirements ahead of a Dec. 8 deadline for federal contractors, the sources said.
Some airline officials have asked the White House to push back the requirements until after the busy holiday travel season.
This is a much heavier hammer than airlines – other than United – have been willing to employ. Delta announced a health care surcharge for unvaccinated workers. American has offered $50 scrip and a day off in 2022.
Notice that airline officials – worried about their holiday business – aren’t suggesting they give up their federal contractor status, carrying mail as cargo and taking annual payments to participate in the Civil Reserve Air Fleet program. It’s the stream of government revenue that’s the club to get Delta, American, Southwest and other carriers to fall in line with United.
If the Biden administration doesn’t blink, pilots are going to have to be vaccinated to fly. They don’t currently even have to wear masks in the cockpit.
While many unvaccinated pilots will get jabbed, and union senior rules mean that the more senior the pilot the harder it is for them to just leave and go fly for someone else, the concern is that the most senior pilots will take retirement. That will also have a cascading effect requiring pilots to get retrained on different equipment, also as a result of union rules.