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. George,

    Excellent point. The hypocrisy of saying that a vaccine requirement for a job is too intrusive and should be disallowed while cheerleading the ability of government officials to require what should be forced in women’s bodies day in and day out for many, many months on end. And sadly it’s not just the bodies of women but also the bodies of young girls who get
    impregnated by rapists that are subject to this inhumane hypocrisy. They don’t really seem to care about the letter of the rule and consistency as much as to fish for excuses to justify whatever they think gets their long-standing wishes delivered. Even the “think of the original intent/spirit” stuff ends up being bunk. They just want their way.

  2. Businesses shouldn’t be forced to rehire anyone, but they also shouldn’t be able to evade paying damages for wrongful termination, etc.

  3. “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.”


    Oh you’re such a martyr @GW… How did you write this through the tears?

    And sorry but no, careening off on an abortion tangent is most certainly not an “excellent point.” It’s the kind of deflection one has to employ when you’re on the losing side of an argument (unless you’re wishing death upon people of course… Hi @Fred).

    Stay brave @GW… you’re an inspiration to us all!

    Now please return to your sobbing lol…

  4. Magnifico,

    It’s merely interesting, informative and instructive.

    The anti-vax nutcases are the ones who unwittingly or self-servingly wished death upon people. DeSantis’s hostility to vaccinations probably cost thousands of pre-retirement folks in Florida to die that may have made it if he wouldn’t have discouraged vaccinations after catering to his political base of vaccinated elderly scaredy-cats.

  5. Edit:

    The anti-vax nutcases are the ones who unwittingly or self-servingly wished death upon people. DeSantis’s hostility to vaccinations probably ***caused*** thousands of pre-retirement folks in Florida to die that may have made it if he wouldn’t have discouraged vaccinations after catering to his political base of vaccinated elderly scaredy-cats.

  6. If you say so @GW. No matter what, your shrieking is always good for a laugh.

  7. Unknown to all, many many airline pilots did not take the jab…pilots are an independent group and are concerned about their health. They flew regardless of the mandates and most do not know this fact. United is one of the “woke’ airlines…poor management.

    The entire Wuhan Chinese Virus was about control ,control control and reducing world population. The strains were blown in many parts of the world. No virus ever spread as quickly as this one.

  8. …go take the bus, pal…Airline pilots are so much smarter than you…if the government told you to jump off a cliff, I guess you would do it.

  9. TexasTJ – please get with chopsticks, and take turns shoving them up your noses.

    Magnifico – you’re confused, muppet. I’m not a liberal. I’m just not an anti-vax assclown like you and the others here.

  10. Faster flier, getting vaccinated became an additional medical requirement for the job , just like getting an FAA medical certificate….and like with the Medical certificate you had to produce proof of your having met that requirement. Falsifying that would be a career ender.
    You have either been lied to or are lying yourself….judging from your perspective I’m guessing you believe the big election lie too….sad how a segment of the Country has legitimized lying as ok if it serves your purpose.

  11. Equating being forced to be injected with an unknown substance and a women’s “right to choose” perfectly demonstrates an inability to formulate a valid argument. Ironically, even if it represented a valid comparison, which it doesn’t, it would bolster the position of those “choosing” to reject the jab.

  12. Fasterflier the world population of India is now higher than China and growing fast still. Apparently the virus spread from China and from the the Alps didn’t do much of anything to disrupt those big population trends. The big population growth disruption came from interruption of migration flows.

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