American Airlines told employees earlier this year that they wouldn’t require vaccination. But the President of the United States told Doug Parker they had to. And the airline has now informed employees they have until November 24 to provide proof of vaccination or begin the termination process in advance of a December 8 federal deadline for government contractors to be fully vaccinated.
Airlines want their employees to be vaccinated, because they don’t want them getting sick and calling out sick causing the carrier to cancel flights due to lack of crew. As they rebuild their schedules they’ve had lack of crew, a result of pushing out workers despite federal subsidies meant to prevent them from doing so.
The airline says about 70% of pilots, and a majority of employees are vaccinated (compared to over 80% of employees at Delta, and a reported 99% at United though this excludes those that have been granted religious or medical exemptions).
Of course vaccine mandates for employees do little to protect passengers who spend most of their time exposed to a larger number of other passengers, in the security and check-in lines, the gate area, and in the middle seat next to them.
Employees don’t all want vaccines, especially at American Airlines where recent reports had over 4000 pilots unvaccinated. And some American employees picketed headquarters on Thursday. Pilots are the greatest risk to the airline (since it is much more time consuming and costly to replace pilots than other employees), but cabin crew social media groups have been lit up over the issue as well.
A little protest at AA headquarters today in Dallas. Lots of support among people driving by. Resistance is growing.#Wewillnotcomply#Ourbodyourchoice #MedicalFreedom
— MommaBear737 (@MommaBear737) October 7, 2021
Some observers have wondered what a pilot that’s threatening to quit would do if they’re not flying for American Airlines. This is a good question because of union seniority.
- At this point many U.S. regional carriers don’t have vaccine requirements.
- Many foreign airlines don’t, but without vaccination flying to many destinations is simply not possible.
- Leaving the current airline usually means “starting at the bottom” and giving up seniority, less pay, less attractive schedules, and overall lower quality of life.
Older pilots – one American pilot quoted in the piece has been flying with American for nearly 30 years – may be close to mandatory retirement anyway and would just choose to retire early.
The newest pilots may be less likely to be unvaccinated, but would be giving up less to move. However the bulk of pilots have too much to lose and I’d be surprised if they remain unvaccinated. Expect more fake vaccine cards.
American Airlines blames the federal government for its vaccine requirement with no option for regularly testing instead (that it’s treated as a government contractor rather than merely a large employer). And I suppose pilots might criticize the airline for refusing to give up its government subsidies.
- Pilots are complaining that they have to make a financial choice, because American Airlines won’t make a financial choice, doesn’t that seem pretty hypocritical?
- Even before American’s CEO Doug Parker spent all his time last summer in DC lobbying for subsidies, his pre-pandemic legacy was built on government support. He’s the least likely to stand up to government when pushing for new fuel subsidies.
I’m not sure what the change model is here, protesting in front of Skyview? It seems like those concerned with vaccine requirements should be protesting in front of the White House instead? The American Airlines pilots union is already threatening chaos over the holidays, and ruined travel plans, from the world’s largest airline have a shortage of pilots (and they already, still are short on pilots).
Last week in Phoenix, airline President Robert Isom was encouraging employees to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. A single dose of J&J is less effective than an mRNA vaccine but is the easiest way to meet the requirement. There will also be religious and medical exemptions. United Airlines has told those granted such an exemption they may not work but won’t be fired. While not necessary for such an exemption one pastor sells religious exemption letters.
Southwest Airlines pilots, meanwhile, are suing their airline over the mandates. There will certainly be lawsuits against the OSHA requirements for employees of large employers to be vaccinated or test regularly, once they’re released, and those are likely to be on the shakiest legal footing.