United Airlines Wants Vaccinated-Only Seating Sections But Says Government Won’t Allow It

Airlines used to have smoking and non-smoking sections. They have regular economy and extra legroom. Washington Post columnist David Ignatius asked United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby about a ‘vaccinated-only’ seating section.

  • Kirby endorsed the concept saying it “sounds like a great idea,” and confirms that United has thought about it.

  • The stopper, Kirby says, is that “almost any of those ideas run afoul of the regulatory requirements that we have.”

He then observed that many international destinations will require vaccination for entry, so many entire planes will be 100% vaccinated, but that to create vaccinated-only seating sections or vaccine requirements to fly would require government action and mandates.

Airlines, of course, required masks because the government mandated them. In the same interview Kirby claimed that United was the first airline to mandate masks. In fact JetBlue was ahead of United on this, and foreign airlines like Alitalia did it before U.S. airlines. There wasn’t a big question around the airline’s ability to ban passengers who wouldn’t wear masks, for the safety of the rest of their passengers.

Vaccines may be different, especially to the extent that vaccine refusal is covered by some religious freedom statutes. (Connecticut just limited its religious exemption to vaccine requirements.)

What would be a more interesting seating concept is middle seat blocking as an elite benefit, something United Airlines used to offer.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. So if you are unvaccinated you will be the Rosa Parks of our Covid era? Also with recent research showing that 6 feet is no different than 6o feet what would a vaccinated section do in an enclosed space like a plane to curtail spread other than to stigmatize those that didn’t get a vaccine or possibly “reward” the vaccinated people with preferred seating. Our society is becoming more segregated and divided by the day and its headed down a dangerous path
    Kirby can stick it BTW

  2. If you have a religious objection to getting vaccinated, don’t fly. The Amish have a religious objection to driving and they don’t drive. Let’s stop letting the COVID spreaders ruin everything

  3. Sounds like a great idea, but of course the anti-vaxxers will get their panties in a knot, since they feel they have the right to possibly infect others even if they have no symptoms.

  4. Yes, United used to offer middle seats empty as a premier benefit.

    Unfortunately they took that away, and also reneged on lifetime United Club memberships, even though they were happy to take a lot of money — thousands of dollars — upfront.

    You have rightfully called out United as an airline that breaks trusts with its customers. Keep up the pressure.

  5. Scott Kirby has never been able to see himself and any of the companies he has led the way the rest of the world sees him/them. Why would you even publicly discuss what you know you can’t implement?

  6. Juan
    If you received the vaccine then what’s your worry? Those anti vaxxers will be a danger to themselves at this point since the availability of the vaccine is ubiquitous

  7. I love how segregation is the new corporate buzz word these days.
    It’s the way to solve all problems.

    Split people up based on race, gender, vaccination preference.


  8. This would be a great idea! Bundle all the vaccinated in one section and leave us healthy unvaxed in first/business class or the first part of the plane. Too bad we won’t see it. I certainly will fly only in first/business class to limit my exposure if I HAVE to fly. Certainly won’t be flying commercial once you start getting your boosters and flu shots in the fall.

    I’ll be flying unvaxedAIR. Coming soon…

  9. @Todd
    Just because you “feel” healthy doesn’t mean you can’t spread the virus. Suck it up and get vaccinated and quit whining about it.

  10. @Juan –

    You know nothing about this subject or myself so your words going forward are meaningless to me. All you know is what you hear from your authority figures. Make sure you stay masked up for many years to come so I don’t have to see your face.

    Enjoy the many boosters and the many other vaccines coming for you every year. This is just the beginning. “They” will never stop their campaign now…

  11. People forget that there are some, fairly small but not insignificant, number of individuals who are medically unable to receive the vaccine.

    I’ve been fully vaccinated since February. I couldn’t care less if I’m seated beside a non-vaccinated person. The miniscule chance that I could get a mild illness is not enough to make me go around fussing about it.

  12. Ah yes, it’s so easy, or rather selfish/self-involved to pooh-pooh Covid19 vaccines when one convinces, or rather deludes, themself into believing they’re better than everyone else – or in this instance, that because they’re in the prime of life and in peak health, they need not concern themselves with the impact/consequences their actions have on others.

    So, while we’re at it, I wonder what the impact would be if enough people stopped getting vaccinated for Measles or Rubella (MMR).

    Oh, wait! That’s right, outbreaks endangering others’ health happens.

    In fact, in 2019 measles outbreaks worldwide, including here in the USA, totaled 869,770 with 207,500 deaths (per World Health Organization/WHO web site).

    For the mathematically inclined, that’s a nearly 24% fatality rate largely attributed to “vaccine hesitancy” (aka an euphemism for “anti-vaxers”)

    How about Polio? Why not make vaccinations for that insidious disease “optional”, too?

    I mean why not since Polio has been eradicated, right?


    While Polio has disappeared from most countries, fact is, Polio has NOT been eradicated, and sadly, still exists in remote parts of a few countries where, of course, “vaccine hesitancy” still exists – albeit mostly for political reasons than for the reasons in countries where “first world problems” typically “explain” vaccine hesitancy.

    Now, getting back to the luxury (or is it lunacy, say like climate change deniers or flat earth society members?) of first worlders and their “problems” regarding the purpose and value of life saving/life changing vaccines, say like Polio, I can assure you that my partner who was NOT vaccinated in time to prevent Polio when he was toddler in the Philippines in the 1970s would question the “wisdom” of their Covid19 vaccine “hesitancy” for EVERYONE except those who do have a bona fide medical condition that prevents them from safely being vaccinated for Covid19.

    There’s a reason why the ties that should bind us together as a civil society is called a SOCIAL CONTRACT.

    Perhaps if others knew of others who’s lives were/are impacted by the availability – or UNavailability – of life saving/life changing vaccines in a timely fashion (as I do), they might not be so vaccine hesitant after all.

    Sorry, but Covid19 vaccine hesitancy is a “luxury” we simply cannot afford.

    If some still view Covid19 vaccines as “optional” – so be it.

    As long as you’re OK staying home, that is.

    I mean seriously, why should others be forced to inhale your potentially Covid19 laden droplets simply because you don’t *want* to be vaccinated?

    If we applied that “thinking” to other serious diseases like Polio – or continue down that path with Measles (MMR) – we’re really going to be in trouble.

  13. I don’t see how this would be necessary. I’m finally vaccinated, and I don’t particularly care if the people around me are. At some point, once everyone who wants it has gotten the vaccine and is at least mostly protected by it, we have to move on with life as usual and stop worrying about people who, for one reason or another, choose not to get vaccinated. It’s their risk and their life. Best of luck to them.
    On the low chance that you might get infected after vaccination (or after having had the disease), it’s not as severe, with mild symptoms, if you have any symptoms at all — that is, based on all the variants that are currently out there and based on everything we know.
    So let’s get as many people vaccinated as we can, but then just let the rest make their own choices, for better or for worse.

  14. The New Messiah needs to get his black voters vaccinated as they are not getting vaccinated at the rate of other populations in Florida and are an elevated risk demographic (with many preexisting conditions, like asthma). The underlying issue is trust. Shots in black arms should have been a high priority for the annointed of CNN.

  15. Weird how all the mask/vaccine nazi’s (the Left) are so freaked out about the anti vaxers/maskers. It’s almost like they don’t really believe masks or vaccines really work. lol. If you’re going to suddenly start living your life on the basis of what’s technically “possible”, however unlikely, have fun wearing a mask and living in your basement for the rest of your life. But fortunately, we’re at the point where pretty much anyone who wants to get vaccinated can do so. And if you choose to not get vaccinated, more power to you. That’s called “freedom”. But that doesn’t mean I have to spend the rest of my life wearing a mask to protect you from the tiny, tiny odds I could ever infect you with the virus. It’s just so weird there are people who think we have to mask up indefinitely for those who choose not to be vaccinated. I guess some people enjoy the idea of controlling others’ behavior more than they do their own freedom. Sad but true.

  16. It is pathetic that so many people think they know better than the doctors and scientists. They are lucky that their parents made them get vaccinated for polio and measles.

  17. Ryan, about 6 comments up, mentions a miniscule chance of disease after vaccination. That belief is dangerous. If 150M are vaccinated, roughly 15-30M will be poorly protected. Among those, 5-10M will become infected ( higher chances if poor habits). Among those, maybe 75,000 will die and 250,000 will suffer serious problems, even lung transplant surgery.

    No, vaccines help a lot for many but not all. Numbers may be worst if more harmful variants develop.

  18. @ UA-NYC: Leading with hate yet again. Classy. Doing the city proud. You probably eat pizza with a fork.

  19. People refusing vaccination, in the absence of a legitimate medical reason, should be denied access to all public services and facilities, including transport, recreational/sporting venues/ facilities, parks and gardens, beaches. They abrogate their responsibilities to society; consequently they should be treated as pariahs ( although I’d feel sorry for their kids)

  20. Gus, the key phrase in your comment is “mostly protected”. Why should we who are fully vaccinated subject ourselves to those who can infect us, even if it is not serious. I agree with those who want to refuse to allow the unvaccinated to travel on common transportation. I wonder what would have happened if the people in the 1930s & 40s said that their liberties were infringed upon refused to get the polio vaccine. Separate seating is an excellent idea, even if the government won’t allow it.

  21. If you really want to stop the spread, then one vaccinated person between each unvaccinated. It’s science.

  22. @Miles…

    >The answer to this question is spelled HIPPA.

    First, it’s HIPAA. One P, two As. So no, it’s definitely not spelled one letter different from the large grazing animal.

    Second, citing HIPAA is sort of like citing the US Constitution. A lot of people do it without even the most rudimentary idea of what it actually says or what protections it offers. Most people cite HIPAA with some relation to its privacy protections. By far the biggest mistake that’s made is an assumption that HIPAA somehow prohibits health information from being used by anybody but specific people or entities. It is not nearly that broad. It prohibits the _disclosure_ of health information by specific types of entities for a specific set of uses. Those “covered entities” are actually pretty limited: health plans (including insurance companies), most health care providers, and health care clearinghouses. You see where I’m going with this? The patient isn’t a covered person. Nor is an airline. The patient can ALWAYS share their own health information with whomever they want. So can a lot of other entities that have health information about you. An employer or school, for example.

    In the context of an airline (or concert venue or restaurant or sports stadium) offering vaccinated-only sections, those sections would always be voluntary and would be based on the customer voluntarily providing their own health information (i.e. immunization status). Put into the context of HIPAA’s privacy protections: The patient would be disclosing personal health information about themselves, which is never addressed in HIPAA for obvious reasons. It would never make sense for a federal law to prevent you from talking to someone else about your own health. HIPAA was designed to protect you from having _someone else_ share your health information without your knowledge or approval.

    Now, some might also be trying to make a citation toward HIPAA’s discrimination provisions, rather than the privacy ones. That would be equally wrong. Those rules apply to discrimination in the provision of health care and in health plans and health insurance. They certainly don’t carry any protections for airline customers.

  23. >we’re at the point where pretty much anyone who wants to [stop smoking] can do so. And if you choose to not [smoke], more power to you. That’s called “freedom”. But that doesn’t mean I have to spend the rest of my life [not smoking on airplanes or in restaurants] to protect you from the tiny, tiny odds I could ever [damage your lungs with second-hand smoke.]

    I guess Al is also a big fan of rolling back smoking bans on planes and in restaurants and other public spaces?

  24. I love how all those who got the vaccine think they are protected fromCovid ‍♀️
    I am all for certain vaccines but the 1 for Covid? Nope, nope and nope. Seems like the more people get it…the more symptoms/side effects are coming out…including ones for women who have issues with fertility.
    Oh and just read an article where they are said not 1 case of the Flu lately…wonder why? Could it be because Covid is a bad Flu but yes, do keep on with the complaints about those of not wanting the Covid Vac.

  25. Based on most of the comments here, it seems like a majority of the readers here are completely obtuse and entirely unable to understand risk proportionally. The damage these politicians and the media have inflicted on all of you is truly astonishing.

  26. @Travelerbug

    1) The fertility thing is pure junk. The supposed explanation for why the vaccines were effecting fertility was based on bad science about the covid spike protein (and the spike proteins created during vaccination) and syncticin-1. There is ZERO real evidence of any effect on fertility.

    2) Zero cases of influenza? Whatever article you read was wrong. Influenza infections are much lower this year, for sure. There was a significant measured decline in RSV infections this winter as well. The explanation is simple: travel is down, many people are working at home, people are distancing, people are being better about washing their hands, people are wearing masks, etc. All of those contribute to a reduction in flu infections.

    3) >Could it be because Covid is a bad Flu

    No. It could not. They are two very distinct viruses that are easily distinguished in tests. This question is akin to saying “Bear maulings are down this year. I wonder why? Could it be because sharks are really bad bears?”

    People, stop spreading lies and stupidity.

  27. > Howard Miller says:
    April 29, 2021 at 9:23 pm

    COVID is nowhere near the 24% fatality rate as Measles. Worldwide it is currently 2.2%, in the USA- 1.79% Currently there are under 10,000 serious cases. The death risk is extremely low for most to ‘jump on board’ just to quiet the fray.

    Your argument of non-vaccinated people are bad or selfish because you are in the elite group of go-with-the-herd mentality is inane. You have no business knowing peoples’ health information. If you are so worried you will die on an airplane with HEPA grade filters that bring in outside fresh air every 3-4mins, then wear a N(KN)95 mask. You are responsible for your health, not forcing the world to acquiesce to your beliefs.

    Respect others choices and medical needs. Some choose to not vaccinate, some cannot vaccinate and others choose to simply wait for more information on long-term data.
    Try to understand a view contrary to your own.

  28. Has any of you seen injection adverse events in 16 year olds? I’m sure not as you don’t chose to research outside your comfort zone. But we have…..

    6-year-old girl. Wisconsin. Died 9 days after pulmonary embolism:


    16-year-old boy. California. 3 days after vaccination, severe chest pain. ACUTE MI STEMI written twice in report. An acute ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI) is an event in which transmural myocardial ischemia results in myocardial injury or necrosis.


    16-year-old boy. Wyoming. Heart transplant patient who was, unbelievably, permitted to be in Pfizer’s vaccine safety trial for children.


    16-year-old girl. North Carolina. Stroke occurred 1 week after vaccination. Likely permanent left side motor deficits.


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