Unvaccinated American Airlines Flight Attendants Won’t Automatically Be Fired

The American Airlines flight attendants union is telling employees that unlike United, American will offer a way for those who obtain a religious or medical exemption to vaccination to continue working.

Management indicated that, unlike the approach taken by United, they were exploring accommodations that would allow employees to continue to work. [M]anagement committed to complying with their legal obligations to review and consider each accommodation request on a case-by-case basis and to offer reasonable accommodations where appropriate.

While Sara Nelson’s Association of Flight Attendants refused to help employees at United obtain exemptions, the American Airlines APFA pledges to “make sure management abides by the letter of the law where the Executive Order and reasonable accommodations are concerned” though they’re not permitted to “negotiate to provide for particular accommodations or ensure that a Flight Attendant is granted an accommodation.”

Furthermore, APFA emphasizes that unvaccinated employees without an exemption cannot “be automatically removed from service or terminated from employment on the deadline for compliance” because the flight attendants union contract requires a process to be followed for termination. No doubt that’s why, of course, American set a deadline for compliance of November 24 (the day before Thanksgiving) when the federal government is insisting that all employees be vaccinated or have an approved exemption by December 8th as a condition of being a government contractor, receiving CRAF subsidies and government travel city pair agreements.

Delta’s CEO seems to think that unvaccinated employees won’t have to be terminated, as long as most employees get the shot – in other words that the federal government will back down from its stick, not wanting to disrupt holiday travel, since the goal is to see more vaccine uptake.

That could be the case under government contractor rules, but OSHA’s large employer rule is now before the Office of Management and Budget for review. Once promulgated it will get tied up in litigation, creating even more uncertainty for employers. But it’s unlikely to be withdrawn without courts forcing that outcome.

Airline employers (and other government contractors) are in a really tough bind on exemptions,

  • Not granting an exemption for religious or medical condition risks legal exposure for violating an employee’s rights. This is likely to be a class action.

  • Granting an exemption improperly exposes the employer to penalties.

This is all high stakes. More vaccinated employees protect other employees, since even though breakthrough infections are real vaccinated people are less likely to contract the virus and less likely to spread it when they do.

On the other hand I sat in regular economy on United Airlines on Sunday, sandwiched into a middle seat, not knowing either the infection or vaccination status of my seatmates. That wasn’t fun and nothing about these rules changes that.

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. I could be wrong but my impression is that the OSHA rule (unlike the federal contractor rule) will not allow for religious or medical exemptions, because employees who choose not to get vaccinated (regardless of whether they have a religious/medical reason) will have the obligation to get tested on a weekly basis. In other words, the religious/medical exemption would not serve any purpose for unvaccinated employees, who will be subject to weekly testing regardless. On the other hand, unvaccinated employees of employers subject to the federal contractor rule would benefit from the religious/medical exemption, although the employer may impose the weekly testing requirement as part of a reasonable accommodation. Agree that employers are in a tough spot, balancing compliance with rules versus not losing disgruntled employees.

  2. Have the FA’s work somewhere where they’re unlikely to pass on Covid while this is being sorted out. Baggage handler or cleaning airplanes would be jobs that spring to mind.

  3. Sooner or later, those airline employees are going to have to start a side hustle. Why? Their jobs will sooner or later be in jeopardy. Someone is going to allegedly hate so hard that unvaccinated airline employees will be wrongfully terminated, a.k.a. “ya FUYAD!”

  4. Bottom line is none of this is necessary if the precious
    vaccines that so many keep promoting and categorizing as safe and effective are actually that….so why the worry sitting in the middle seat if you trust your vaccine. What a clear that come Thanksgiving I’ll be thankful for those true Patriots that would never deny a person the ability to provide an income for their family without restriction based upon private medical choices.

    I agree that this game of chicken the irresponsible Biden Administration is playing will cost people and companies….and it is a shame that they once clearly and emphatically said they would not force vaccines on people …of course that was when people had a choice and could vote to not elect a President and Congressman leadership that did not value freedom over ineffective guarantees of safety.

  5. These people come into contact with immune compromised people who can’t be vaccinated and kids who aren’t allowed to yet. They are also packing ICUs in some areas to the point that others can’t get the care they need and health care workers endure insane hours. They are packing the morgues so that others don’t have room to get in. You have no constitutional right to spread disease.

  6. Gary you have a 98% chance of surviving the virus and after getting the jab you have a over 99% chance of surviving if you do get the virus what are you worried about? I’m sure you were wearing a mask.

  7. Colin Powell was fully vaxxed. But unfortunately, he also had multiple myeloma, a cancer that depresses immune response. His wife is now a widow. The person in the middle seat next to an improperly masked anti vaxer who has “done his own research ” might have a compromised immune system, too. Sane countries are requiring air passengers be faxed. Wondering how many tens or hundreds of 9/11’s it will take here.

  8. If the airlines wanted to end this quickly, they could simply just ignore the edict from king biden. It would take all of about 3 days for the government for relent – the airlines could simply stop transporting the government’s cargo, mail, military, and illegal immigrant hordes.

    Unfortunately, they are addicted to that gov $$.

  9. Wasn’t Delta having unvaccinated employees pay an extra 200 a month in health care or is that on delay? United from my understanding everyone has to be vaxxed . and last I heard the AA CEO only offered one extra vacation day which is silly if they get vexed. Us this still all the case ? I has read that about 3 weeks ago

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