Congress Refuses To Make Airlines Re-Hire Vaccine Refusenik Pilots

Last week the U.S. House of Representatives voted down an amendment to FAA Reauthorization that would have “require[d] airlines to reinstate pilots who were fired or forced to resign because of vaccine mandates.” Republicans generally favored the amendment, but not overwhelmingly, while all but one voting Democrat opposed it.

Maybe the most striking thing is how this illustrates the shift of the Republican Party over the last 8 years. Republicans used to be against mandating a business’s hiring practices. Now nearly two-thirds of them voted for employment mandates.

More important as a takeaway is that there’s a significant constituency for re-litigating issues that have very little present effect. Do you know how many pilots were actually fired?

  • United Airlines reported that six pilots were fired for refusing to get vaccinated and refusing to obtain an exemption from vaccination. (The exemption would generally have placed them on an unpaid leave while the mandate was in effect.)

  • American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and Southwest Airlines did not fire pilots who did not get vaccinated.

One of the most important lessons I learned living in D.C. for 18 years was the politics usually is not about policy. It’s about symbols, and about relative status. Whether airlines are allowed to fire people who refuse to follow health edicts isn’t actually about legislating protections for large numbers of groups, or about ensuring airlines remain staffed, it’s about re-litigating 2021 vaccine mandates.

You might think that this is an important ‘precedent for the future’ but the amendment did not provide future protections, and airline pilots are getting those for themselves already without legislation.

Delta, United, and American have all reached new deals with their pilots since the pandemic, though only Delta’s has so far been ratified. Southwest Airlines pilots remain in negotiation with their airline. And one of the key hot button issues for pilots, who tend to skew older, more male, and more conservative than typical union members, is “medical freedom.” New medical freedom provisions are in the current version of the American Airlines pilot union deal, for instance.

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. UAL is being sued for their unconscionable actions. Ironically, their pilot’s new TA also includes a medical freedom provision so hopefully the airline will lose their a&$ in court!!

  2. That’s terrible…the country is short of pilots and the vaccination was the biggest fraud the U.S. has ever experienced.
    What is wrong with congress?

  3. The dog and pony show continues.

    The Republican House leadership knew it wouldn’t pass but had to play to a big chunk of their base. Now they can blame the Democrats, as if a pilot shortage has anything material to do with a vaccine mandate and employee terminations for employee/prospects refusing to meet the employer’s health and well-being requirements.

    The country and even too much of the world has gone crazy over vaccination requirements, so it’s sort of hard for the Republicans (and some RFK Jr crazy Democrats) to move onto real stuff.

    Maybe if the political parties adjust the way primary elections are done and if the crazy gerrymandering gets undone, maybe then the dog and pony show and this game of “gotcha” won’t happen as much.

  4. GUW,

    Need a tent in North Dakota? Hear it’s nice there in October, but so is Washington.

  5. “That’s terrible…the country is short of pilots and the vaccination was the biggest fraud the U.S. has ever experienced.”

    And you’re a crazy person.

  6. Six Pilots is not really moving the needle for any real impact on travel or pilot shortages, but yet another conversation to get people fired up for no reason.

  7. It is amazing to me that some have not yet realized how big a mistake it was to go down this path of vaccine mandates. Many continue with the mud slinging over a product that didn’t prevent people from getting sick, didn’t prevent the spread and often also couldn’t be credited alone for reducing the severity of illness. But, in a free society, people should be able to make their medical decisions without threats that mandates carry with them. In some industries, it is not that the mandates that actually caused people to be fired….but uniformly, the threat of firing…as some politicians like the NY mayor called it, the carrot on the stick, forced them to make a decision to take a medical treatment that they did not want to take to ‘protect their jobs’. That is the root of the issue..and whether people agree or disagree, as the litigation moves through the courts…oh and yes, there is significant litigation…the precedent so far is the mandates went quite a bit too far.

  8. Political theater. Like you said they didn’t fire many at all. Likely those fired may have had other strikes against them.

    The American public gets spun up over dumb stuff and misses many critical things.

  9. “…and the vaccination was the biggest fraud the U.S. has ever experienced.”

    That’s debatable, but it’s clearly in the top two. I still believe that the “climate change” scam is a bigger threat to our well-being and will have a greater lasting effect.

  10. Many tried and trued vaccinations, such as for smallpox, chickenpox., Hepatitis A and B, etc. have been adequately tested for efficacy but I’m not aware that any of these are mandated. The COVID vaccine had very limited testing but due to overreaction it was mandated by many organizations in spite of the controversy over the rights of individuals to control their own medical decisions. Flu shots had never been forced upon wide segments of American society prior to the introduction of covid.

    I think it should have been left to individuals to decide for themselves and not a requirement of an employer or a government entity.

  11. I refuse to fly with a pilot who won’t follow a directive (get a vaccination). IMO, any pilot who refuses a vaccine on political, religious, or moral grounds has no business in the sky. They can’t take direction. Good riddance.

  12. Yes, the last thing we would want is an independent thinker performing his duties. And we wonder why society is hurtling downward.

  13. James – shut up.

    The rest of you anti vax idiots – please die soon, painfully. You are the problem.

  14. Mark – You’re an anti vax moron. Literally none of your little pansy rant is supported in reality.

  15. I feel both sorry and perplexed by people, such as Fred. I wonder if they are too ignorant or too proud to have figured out the fraud. The evidence is overwhelming that Covid was a scam perpetrated by governments and “trusted” individuals throughout the world and the only way to avoid it happening again, is to wake up the uninformed, e.g. Fred.

  16. The near complete suppression of accurate Covid information from the public by both government and media has left our nation largely ignorant to the magnitude of our mistakes during the pandemic. Sadly, most of us were caught up in the hysteria and don’t really want to rexamine our own actions. So the mistakes are largely memory-holed.

    Someday, we — or possibly our descendants — will understand just how harmful and ineffective our pandemic response had been. The people who stood up against the vaccine mandates will be considered heroes. Meanwhile, while mostly symbolic, those few pilots should be offered their jobs back with back pay. They were right, we were hysterically wrong, and they deserve it.

  17. This whole thing is political theater. AA, Delta and Southwest fired NO pilots. United fired a WHOLE 6 pilots. 6!!!!!! Legislation is being considered to possible cover 10-20 individuals nationally.

    The other part is if there is such a shortage I’m sure the United pilots were hired immediately by the competition.

  18. Here’s my perspective, a 30+ year pilot at a major airline……
    Very few pilots actually refused to get the Vaccine. The vast majority of airline pilots are in fact
    in that position because they can make educated, pragmatic decisions in life.

    There are outliers though. Those pilots tend to push the envelope and think “their” way is better, they know more than their peers etc. They are often the ones that struggle with training and tend to get violated by the FAA more than most. Yet it’s always someone else’s fault. They simply are not the best and the brightest of the profession. They are relatively safe, just not the respected members of the profession so much as the one’s their peers role their eyes at behind their backs.

    These outliers made up the majority of the anti vax folks at my airline and friends from other carriers said the same thing.

    Simply put, a pilot that was vulnerable to the many crazy conspiracy theories supporting the anti vax movement was not the pragmatic, insightful, level headed type you would want in the cockpit of a commercial airliner given a choice. More the loose cannon type that, yes they get the job done..just not as good as most others.
    Fortunately most pilots are quite rational folks, hence the very few numbers of pilots that actually went down the crazy anti vax route.

  19. The role of the government and public health professions is to ensure the health and well-being of the POPULATION, not cater to the individual wishes of people on either side of the argument. If anyone on here decrying the “vaccine scam” has a master’s or doctoral level degree in public health or epidemiology I would be willing to listen to the DATA you have to support your claims that the vaccinations are a “fraud.” If you are just a political blowhard following what talking heads on TV have to say about something they know nothing about, I would invite you to zip it and keep your ill-informed opinions to yourselves.

    How many of you watched young, healthy people walk into the ER with COVID symptoms only to see them carted out in a body bag? How many of you watched colleagues die from a preventable illness simply because they were trying to do their jobs saving the lives of others? How many of you see patients every day who come in with the long-term effects of COVID? In the midst of the pandemic, COVID was one of the top three causes of death in the US.

    Give people access to the internet and a bunch of morons on TV more interested in ratings than truth and they follow them blindly. They’ll ignore scientifically proven data on safety and efficacy in favor of a proven liars on TV or someone on a pulpit telling them that a deity who watches over everyone has enough time on their hands while running an entire universe to focus on them as an individual.

    You do you and you believe what you wish, but until you have as much QUANTIFIABLE PROOF of the existence of said deity as scientists do on the safety and efficacy of vaccines I’ll thank you to stop pushing your death wish on the rest of us.

  20. “Fortunately most pilots are quite rational folks, hence the very few numbers of pilots that actually went down the crazy anti vax route.”

    Hilariously, the exact opposite of what we now know to be true. Those who avoided the experimental gene therapies were the rational ones. Unfortunately, once people take sides, most people won’t consider logic or facts that contradict what they initially believed. Changing their minds would result in loss of face. Admitting an error damages most people’s self-esteem. They lack the strength of character to admit they were wrong.

  21. James N you really believe that?? The numbers don’t lie, very few ALPA pilots refused to get the vaccine.

    The problem with the internet is it’s very hard to ascertain what is actually true and what is made up”
    Abraham Lincoln

  22. “…very few ALPA pilots refused to get the vaccine.”

    Yes, the rational, well-informed ones. Exactly what I just implied. You’re suggesting that the majority of pilots who agreed to a medical procedure – that didn’t stop transmission or keep someone from getting infected and basically, had little to no upside potential – were the “rational” ones. Chew on that one for a few minutes.

  23. Chopsticks – you’re a delusional idiot.

    JohnW – nailed it.

    JamesN – the sooner you and yours expire form the gene pool for stupid decisions the better. COVID was a ‘scam’? Please explain that to the families of those who died.

  24. Fred continues to validate my premise. I can’t help wondering if that is his intention.

  25. The vaccine politics is nuts. Didn’t most of those pilots get vaccinated as kids and yet make it to be pilots?

    Some people who don’t take a vaccine — even one not required by others — may come to regret it. For example, it’s not common to take a TBE vaccine, but if hit by that tick-borne disease, there can be some serious regrets afterwards or at least the nuisance of having to recover from a disease that is not without its serious dangers. For those of you who go out into the woods where TB encephalitis can hit, the vaccine is better than the disease.


    Is TBE even possible in North Dakota? More familiar with Lyme’s disease in states east and south where I am more likely to go camping.

    Is this another smoke signal?

  27. The “vaccines” neither prevented you from getting the virus nor did it prevent you from giving it to others. Besides that, they were great!

  28. @Magnifico – the vaccines were originally formulated against the ancestral Wuhan strain and, prior to the Delta wave, they were in fact sterilizing. They prevented contracting and spreading the virus.

    As the virus mutated it spread more easily, and vaccines weren’t updated to match. Those vaccinated were still less likely to get it, and less likely to spread it.

    Vaccination still provides protection against severe disease, but we face a bureaucratic failure not a scientific one. We simply are in no rush any longer to update boosters with new and better technology. We are basically stuck with variations on a first generation vaccine. Intranasal boosters provide a strong possibility of once again offering sterilizing immunity.

  29. There is a percentage of the Country that believe the Election Lie, so naturally there are going to be people that believe Covid was a hoax, that the vaccine didn’t prevent deaths etc etc.
    The fact is that the airlines requiring the vaccine as a condition of continued employment was a smart move even beyond its life saving potential of individuals. The cockpit is a tight work environment and depends on everyone working together as a team. Having the odd unvaccinated conspiracy theorist showing up for work in the middle of the pandemic not only would have increased the chance of spreading the virus, it would create disharmony in the cockpit and been disruptive to good CRM. Google CRM if you don’t know what it is, it’s a key component critical to the safe operation of an airliner.

  30. and what Gary said….. it’s amazing anybody can actually believe the vaccine did not save lives. As P T Barnum said, there’s a sucker born every minute…the whole anti vax movement had it’s roots in the people selling “alternative’s” to the vaccine. (and I’m actually a big believer in alternative/complimentary medicine, the anti vax folks though, were something else again)

  31. @gary… I should have been more specific and was thinking of the Omicron variant when writing my admittedly flippant reply. But… there were two primary groups at significant risk for COVID: those who were over 65 and those already suffering from poor health, often associated with obesity.

    Pilots are in neither of those groups.

    Btw… I was vaccinated in May of 2021. I’ve had COVID twice since then. While I am glad that each was like a mild flu, I still got it despite being fully vaccinated.

    Nobody said the Vaccines didn’t save some lives. What I should have said was the vaccines don’t prevent you from getting it, nor do they prevent you from infecting others. In 2023, that is 100% true.

  32. Finally, the author of the blog chimes in and validates that he fell for the con, hook, line and sinker. The companies manufacturing the experimental gene therapies have admitted they never tested the jabs to determine if they prevented transmission. This fact is well known by almost everyone, except Gary, of course.

    He continues to spout his falsehoods, that have been debunked repeatedly. The fact that he still hasn’t figured out the scam clearly puts into question his status as a “thought leader”. Of course, there is a chance that being injected four times with an unknown substance could possibly affect your cognitive abilities.

    Finally, I can’t ignore this one. “As P T Barnum said, there’s a sucker born every minute.”
    Yes, that would be the individuals that fell for the Covid Charade.

    “Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one.” Charles MacKay

    There’s still hope!

  33. @gary… You may find this interesting.

    Some key take-aways from this study re vax mandates and college students include:

    – Vaccine mandates may result in a net expected harm to young people.

    – Expected harms from the vaccine are not outweighed by public health benefits, given the modest and transient effectiveness of vaccines against transmission.

    – Mandates create broader social harms.

    Written by people with “doctoral level” degrees too!

  34. @ SOBE ER DOC — You’re doing the “listen to the experts” thing. That’s great, but Covid was mostly a data game and the so-called experts were, time and again, spectacularly wrong. We know this.. We have the data.

    The truth is staring you (and everyone else) in the face. But you choose to ignore what former NY Times reporter Alex Berenson accurately calls “incovenient truths.” Berenson is a brilliant man. He was basically the first person in America to show — by using the data — that “the vaccine” quickly wore off. This was, of course, the reason “boosters” were quickly rolled out (which also quickly wear off, and present the risk of serious side effects). For that wisdom, he was banned from social media for spreading “misinformation.” You’ll be hearing a lot more about what Berenson did in the future, as he is suing the President and lots of other people for censoring him. In the meantime, ignore your less-than-blissful ignorance, and your ridiculous belief that you’re “one of the good people.”.

  35. GUW,

    Figure it out genius. The smoke is not about a fire but about being fired. A privileged group of finger-pointers want to fire ya permanently for making comments like those here and are willing to twist and turn the truth and literally mess around the rules to get their way anyway.

    You have a thing for Russian show trials? Don’t expect one. Summary dismissal, without even the benefits of the processes afforded the corona vaccine rejecting pilots.

  36. Chopsticks,

    How did the government censor Berenson? Last I checked, no US President is legally entitled to censor private company’s reporters in the US, so please do explain who “censored” him and how exactly he was “censored”.

    For-profit employers restrict their employees rather routinely from using company resources to publicly convey messages that the employers don’t want conveyed. That’s not unlawful.

  37. “…no US President is legally entitled to censor…”

    Because we all know that the government would never do anything illegal. Wow!

  38. @Fred: Gary Leff does a sensational job in writing this blog, and the vast majority of us look forward to reading his insights on a frequent basis. Your astounding level of hate and vitriol, however, dramatically diminish our enjoyment of what is essentially a travel-related product. It is not OK for you to hurl disgusting personal insults at fellow readers, just for disagreeing with your opinion. For the record, multiple foreign governments, NGO’s, medical associations, and most recently a Nobel Laurate disagree with you. If you cannot control your behavior, please for the sake of all of us please leave.

  39. @Gary

    Something is wrong with Fred, I think he hit his head …… he’s wishing people to die a painful death. He’s tarnishing your brand without you editing or deleting his posts. I’m all for freedom of speech right up to the point of wishing people death.

  40. Meh… I like it when statist, liberal clowns like @Fred show us who they really are. There are others here of the same ilk. It’s always very enlightening.

    I think if a company wants to fire a pilot, for any reason, they have that right. I also don’t believe any government should be able to force them to rehire these pilots either. But I have to ask why, in 2023, in the middle of a severe pilot shortage, why any airline wouldn’t want to get a trained pilot back in the

    In 2020 and 2021 there was a lot of uncertainty re COVID. Most Americans trusted our government to act in our interest and so when we were told that the vaccine would stop the spread and likely save your life, we believed it.

    But some didn’t (and in many ways, they’ve been proven right). They didn’t want to inject themselves with what was essentially an experimental drug of dubious efficacyfor otherwise healthy people. In the years since, we’ve learned that many of their concerns were legitimate, and that our government was lying.

    The vaccines have been linked to blindness (fairly important for a pilot).

    Some vaccines may increase the risk of stroke.

    Others interfere with the menstrual cycle.

    Among the most troubling is this report, written by scientists with “doctoral level” degrees, concludes 310,000 people died as a direct result of taking the vaccine.

    My own experience with the vaccine was less than pleasant as, by far, my worst days were shortly after being injected.

    So while companies should be able to hire and fire whomever they please, perhaps there was a less drastic and destructive way of handing this short of firing.

    Certainly, refusing to hire them now is punitive, and stupidly so.

  41. I just can’t understand how people like JameN can rave about medical freedom when it relates to vaccination, but let a woman get pregnant, and whoa Nelly- no abortion for you!

  42. If you are too GD stupid to understand basic vaccine science, then you are too GD stupid to understand basic aeronautics. Screw the loser douchebags

  43. JamesN,

    I was publicly indicating the government’s questionable actions eve before Edward Snowden and Julian Assange became big news. It didn’t make me many friends, but I am more than aware that governments do illegal things at times. But my question is about what a US President did to censor Berenson and his right to free speech and who and how was it done and exactly when.

    ENTOBSERVER, I assume that’s a reference to the usual gang and gang-up on FT that has long wanted to see me banned despite my having had zero account suspensions in over at least 18 years and 75k+ posts since Randy Petersen revoked the 7-day one? Following the rules matter, at least to me. Others may make convoluted, unethical runs to ignore the rules to target and malign me, but that comes with the ground of having principles and living consistently by them regardless of what company, government or other partisan apologists want. More should try.

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