Why American Airlines Doesn’t Require Passengers To Be Vaccinated

All the talk about whether airlines will have employees to operate their schedule over the holidays, with a vaccine mandate for employees of federal contractors that doesn’t allow an alternative like weekly Covid-19 testing, raises an interesting point. What is the government accomplishing here?

  • Airlines benefit from a vaccinated workforce that won’t have to quarantine or have as many employees call out sick, and of course many countries require people to be vaccinated to vaccinated to enter so unvaccinated crew are limited in their duty.

  • Employees who spend time together are less likely to spread the virus when they’re vaccinated. They’re less likely to get it, when they do carry it the virus is likely coated in antibodies.

In the first instance, airlines who felt it was in their best interest to require vaccination would do so without a government mandate. United did this. In some industries companies might avoid a requirement that is otherwise in their best interests because of worker reluctance and need to compete for talent, and government could prevent companies from competing with lower standards. But the heavily unionized airline industry is largely seniority-based, so workers can’t just jump ship without significant loss.

It’s true that vaccinated employees will be less likely to infect each other, which is good for public health, but for the most part employees on trips come into contact more with passengers than each other – even pilots do when traveling through airports.

Yet there’s no airline passenger vaccination mandate. And that’s because, like the federal mask mandate for transportation, it isn’t that transportation carries the greatest risk of virus spread it’s that government is imposing mandates where it thinks it can – in this case government contractors.

At a Crew News question and answer session with employees this week, American Airlines President Robert Isom was asked by a pilot why – if all employees have to be vaccinated – don’t passengers have to be vaccinated too?

Isom explained,

That’s not what’s at issue here. What’s at issue is to be a government contractor and to carry Defense Department cargo, to carry the CRAF flying that we did to Afghanistan, to carry passengers under the General services agreement under the government travel award which is hundreds of millions of dollars a year. That’s what’s at stake here. The executive order doesn’t include passengers.

In other words this is about government regulation and the bottom line at American Airlines, it isn’t about safety. Sadly, even United Airlines which presents its vaccine mandate as being somehow more noble, imposes no such condition on passengers traveling. I’d certainly choose to fly an airline where I knew the person in the middle seat next to me was vaccinated. No U.S. airline is offering this in a meaningful way.

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. It would be interesting for an airline to experiment with “vaccinated only” flights on routes between places with high vaccination rates – e.g., SFO-JFJK, and see what market forces do. I suspect there would be demand for such flights.

    I just flew SFO-LHR and it was nice to know that everyone on the flight was vaccinated.

  2. You’re going to get covid at some point Gary. We all are. I don’t see why it’s worth so much to you to have that be in 2023 or 25 rather than 2021.

  3. @Vasco – no, you’re not guaranteed to get covid. Your cavalier attitude leads me to believe you probably don’t take basic precautions like wearing a mask. And before you say I’ve been holed up in a cave, in the past 18 months, I’ve been to 3 continents and a dozen states. I’ve been to high risk areas such as Brazil and Miami and surprise, neither me or anyone in my social circle got covid. Why? Because I took precautions.

  4. Why stop at Covid? I think people should have to provide proof they are carrying no communicable diseases, and undergo a full physical exam before boarding.

    Or if that doesn’t work for you, I’d be fine with just no fat people.

  5. Interesting discussion. I suspect Vasco is right in the sense that we’re all going to be exposed to this and it will take some generations for natural resistance to genetically develop in the human race. Joe B. may be right about taking precautions but that does beg the question of whether that can go on for most people for the rest of their lives. Given the psychological toll this has taken I doubt it–social distancing already seems to be a dead letter almost everywhere. Some of the regulations may make sense, some not. For example, testing people before they enter the U.S. by air but not by land (which would create massive tie-ups) seems pretty arbitrary, especially since one can get infected after the test is taken. And given roughly equal rates of infection in many places this is like building a dam across a lake where the water is at equal levels on both sides. More thought than just theater and the imposition of authority seems called for.

  6. Please stay home Gary, instead of whining about how everyone must comply. Leave that middle seat empty, thank you.

  7. American Airlines might wanna have their workforce casually examined here and there in testing for COVID, since passengers aren’y required to be vaccinated. Who agrees with this? 🙂

  8. Gary:
    Do vaccines work? If they do & you are vaccinated than you have nothing to worry about.
    If they dont, than what does it matter if the individual seated next to you is vaccinated.
    I am not trying to be difficult, I am just trying to use common sense.

  9. I would like to see a rule that for any flight where passenger vaccination is mandated mask wearing becomes optional.

  10. And they should. No shoes, no shirt, no shot, no service!
    These Covidiots are killing children
    (Front page, USA Today, 10/22/21.
    They gotta go!

  11. Southwest Airlines CEO said it best:
    It is my job to take care of Southwest Airlines and my people which is not much different than In-N-Out’s “it is not our job to enforce any government’s vaccination mandate”

    After 18 months of watching government destroy small business, a few big businesses are deciding to push back because they have to do so to protect the future of their own companies.

    Not only will airlines not be able to enforce passenger vaccination mandates but you won’t know whether the employee serving you a Diet Coke has been vaccinated or is HIV positive or has covered from breast cancer.

    Just the way it should be. Your health is between you and your doctor.

  12. @drrichard
    “… it will take some generations for natural resistance to genetically develop in the human race.”

    Is it necessary to reach *genetic* embedding of immunity, when a vast majority of the general populace can just get exposed, recover, and thereby attain Natural Immunity protection that is 27X *stronger* and lasts untold lengths of time *longer* than possible with vaccines that, after arrival of the Delta Variant, can no longer as effectively protect the vaccinated against getting infected and then subsequently spreading to others, including even those who have also been fully vaccinated?

  13. Airlines don’t require passengers to be vaccinated because that would put them in the middle of a political and PR mess that they’d rather (correctly, in my view) stay out of. People already give them crap for everything under the sun, no need to add to the pile.

    The government won’t require passengers to be vaccinated because that would create a political nightmare, destroying any chance Biden has of getting anything through Congress. Not to mention it would get bogged down in lawsuits.

    Other than that, I agree with everything drrichard said.

  14. @Jorge Paez
    “These Covidiots are killing children (Front page, USA Today, 10/22/21.”

    Are you referring to the Pfizer claims about giving their jabs to kids aged 5 to 11? How can anyone possibly trust *anything* that Big Pharma claims about the “safety” of their vaccines based on their sketchy track records? Did Pfizer somehow miss noticing that giving their vaccines to kids aged 12 to 18 somehow resulted in significant cases of myocarditis and pericarditis? I wonder how *those* incidents missed getting noticed during their “trials”? And now they want to double down and jab kids even younger in age? Big Pharma’s avarice knows no bounds!

    There’s an old saying — “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”

    Look up the *actual* death rates among kids from SAR-CoV-2 infections … right around *Zero*? Then *why* are they getting UN-necessarily jabbed, just to inflict potential heart inflammation problems upon them for the *rest of their lives*? Isn’t that *actually* going to kill them “slowly,” but still prematurely?

  15. @Joe B Other than traveling, I haven’t worn a mask since England removed it’s mask mandate on the 19th of July. Just like I’ve never worn a mask to protect against any of the other circulating endemic coronaviruses.

    If you as a presumably vaccinated person continue to do so when not required by law, you probably have a very strange attitude to risk.

    It’s inevitable that we’ll (at least those of us who’d like to resume a normal life) all get it because the sterilizing element of immunity wanes over time. Immunity, either via vaccination or infection, is preserved via memory B and T cells, but those take a while to kick into gear. What happens with the other circulating coronaviruses and other assorted respiratory viruses is that was continually get exposed to them, and once you lose the sterilizing element of immunity, at some point you get a respiratory infection that is fought off by memory B and T cells, rebuilding the sterilizing element for a while.

    Francois Balloux from UCL’s back of the envelope calculation is you could expect to get reinfected once every 9 years after endemic equilibrium has been reach (see here https://twitter.com/BallouxFrancois/status/1450758279093751814)

    If you want to continue wearing masks forever be my guest, but don’t expect the rest of us to indulge your neuroticism on a societal scale.

  16. Go ahead force people to be vaccinated against their will. Private jets are the future any way. Non woke air carriers will come about.

  17. Covid vaccines don’t reduce transmission. Fyi.
    That’s not science.

    There effectiveness wears off quickly (hence boosters).

    And why do vaccinated people keep caring if others are vaccinated.?

    It’s one of the dumbest argument I’ve ever heard.

    You guys are celebrating chocolate as the panache of sexual arousal….
    There’s a lot more to it than that people…

  18. They can start by testing and giving vaccines to the over 1,000,000 plus illegal aliens that have entered through Texas.

    Insane numbers of them were flown from McAllen to everywhere in the country. They weren’t vaccinated, they weren’t even tested.

    Same for the Haitians who recently entered Yuma and Del Rio. None of them were tested or vaxxed as they were flown into the interior on commercial aircraft.

    I had a front row seat to all this. Most of the suburban/urban wokesters who comment on this stuff have no idea about any of this.

  19. @paolo – come on, it’s not binary. Vaccines work which means they make infection, spread and severe disease much less likely. But there are breakthrough infections that are sometimes serious. And thanks to being vaccinated I might get infected but not even have symptoms, and though I’m less likely to spread the virus still bring it home to my unvaccinated young daughter – who herself is less likely to have a serious case, but I still don’t want her getting sick.

  20. @Vasco – I would totally rather get it in 2025 than 2021, thank you – when we know more, have better treatments. Just as I’m much more willing to be exposed now that I’m vaccinated than I was in 2020.

  21. Since I had have Covid twice, and studies (science) show that natural immunity is more effective than vaccination, why do I not have an option to show evidence of natural immunity and be able to have all the rights and privileges of the fully vaccinated?

  22. This decision by AA not to require passengers to be vaccinated is the major reason we will not be flying AA or any other airline to Europe that do not require proof of vaccination. This another reason why we vacation in Hawaii and primarily fly AS; you either need proof of a PCR test or vaccination in order to enter Hawaii without having to quarantine.

    I do agree that people have the choice of to be or not to be vaccinated. I am just glad that places like Hawaii have a control system to protect the people in Hawaii and the tourists that are coming to their islands. And that many of the international carriers have a similar policy in order to fly on their planes.

  23. Robert,
    I appreciate your willingness to accept vaccination as a choice!

    My question is why is the protection system only applicable to those vaccinated, and not to those who are arguably safer through natural immunity? Isn’t that arbitrarily and unnecessarily discriminatory?

  24. Well over 60 studies now show that natural immunity is more effective than vaccine immunity. Yet most of the conversation always excludes those who have natural immunity. So if you’re trying to push vaccinations on people who have natural immunity it becomes about power not science.

  25. The answer to the question is simple. The reason American Airlines and others don’t require passengers to be vaccinated is it is not in their economic interest to do so. Only about 57% of the population is vaccinated. Business would rather be able to sell to 100% of the population not 57% of the population. Requiring passengers to be vaccinated would drive away more business than it attracts. That’s always the bottom line.

  26. The answer to the question is simple. The reason American Airlines and others don’t require passengers to be vaccinated is it is not in their economic interest to do so. Only about 57% of the population is vaccinated. Business would rather be able to sell to 100% of the population not 57% of the population. Requiring passengers to be vaccinated would drive away more business than it attracts. That’s always the bottom line.

  27. It’s amazing how many idiots complain that those who are vaccinated should not care about whether people near them have been vaccinated or not. What these morons don’t realize is that it is those who refuse the vaccination who become vessels through which the virus mutates into even worse strains, such as the Delta variant. And that puts even those who are vaccinated at risk once again.
    And then you’ve got super-genius @Shane Kesterke who claims that he’s had Covid twice but argues that having had it gives him extra special immunity. I guess his immunity is so special that it allowed him to catch Covid a second time.

  28. But But But Lord Fauci said we need to stay vigilant…. Muh Science after all bleated the followers!

  29. @Ralph Kramden’s Skinny Brother
    “What these morons don’t realize is that it is those who refuse the vaccination who become vessels through which the virus mutates into even worse strains, such as the Delta variant.”

    Ironically you have it backwards — what actually happens is that viruses, just like humans, need to first survive in order to “thrive.” The *real* problem with existing “vaccines” against SARS-CoV-2 is that they are *not* neutralizing, *unlike* prior (real) vaccines against other ailments, and are, instead, designed to merely mitigate seriousness of symptoms should one get infected. As a result, SARS-CoV-2 *will* adapt to whatever those “vaccines” throw at it, and one such adaptation is to mutate into Variants that can bypass the impacts from said non-neutralizing “vaccines.” Furthermore, since existing “vaccines” are *not* broad-spectrum in their efficacy (they only target spike proteins), we’re now seeing increasingly widespread “breakthrough” infections and consequences thereof.

    In fact, ironically, the *more* such non-neutralizing “vaccines” are dispensed among the public, the *more* likely breakthrough infections will arise, as evidenced repeatedly worldwide (eg, look at how Israel, one of the most “vaccinated” nations in the world, is now mandating a *fourth* injection, despite having already dispensed to residents their first two original doses, along with a third booster injection, to boot. This trend is currently being observed in multiple countries worldwide as they increase their domestic “vaccination” rates.

    Also, did you realize that the UK government reported earlier this month that 80% of their COVID-19 deaths during September (last month) were among those who were fully vaccinated? Hospital resources will likely become critical again under such circumstances!

    But *why* are such situations as in UK occurring? One conjecture has it that, after examining many patients, both *before* and *after* getting their injections, serious deterioration of their existing bodily immunity functions were observed, thus rendering them ever more susceptible to other ailments that could then overwhelm whatever immunity functions remained. If this conjecture by researchers becomes definitively ascertained, then everyone who has gotten “vaccinated” might want to consider augmentation with a wide range of Immunity boosting supplements to enhance their immunity protections against not just SARS-CoV-2, but other ailments as well!

    As for getting re-infected after recovering from a prior infection, no one ever claimed that Natural Immunity guarantees 100% protection against every single Variant out there without needing to go through additional infection/recovery cycles, depending on the Variant. But be assured that each additional cycle will result in further reductions in seriousness of symptoms, unlike what we’re now seeing with existing “vaccine”-induced breakthrough infections and consequences thereof. Why? Natural Immunity provides broad-spectrum protection, *unlike* existing “vaccines”!

    So do *not* just blindly disparage Natural Immunity, given what we’re seeing as seriously concerning trends in breakthrough infections, new ICU occupancy rates, and new death rates among those who have been fully “vaccinated,” as compared to those who have attained Natural Immunity!

  30. Uniformed argument. Shots do not stop transmission. The last 10 people I know that have COVID were all vaccinated. 3 of them died from getting COVID after the shot?!! This theory in the article is flawed.

  31. @Ralph Kramden’s Skinny Brother says,

    1 time original Covid, 2nd time Delta variant. Nothing super-genius about that…not sure why you stoop to condescension… I’m no genius, and no doctor, but I do like science.

    Does anyone still remember the good old days when the narrative was getting to herd immunity through a combination of infections/recoveries and immunizations?

    How did the narrative devolve from that to “everyone needs to get vaccinated”? If science shows that natural immunity derived from infection/recovery is more effective than vaccination, why would I want to get vaccinated, and why would I not be recognized as just as protected as the fully vaccinated with 2, 3, 4, or however many jabs become recommended?

  32. @Shane — thanks!

    I forgot to include one additional fact into my prior post … a medical study report from Israel has recently indicated that Natural Immunity is up to 27X *stronger* than whatever level of protection that current SARS-CoV-2 “vaccines” can confer, so that’s a very *significant* data point in favor of Natural Immunity!

  33. The thing is, “It’s true that vaccinated employees will be less likely to infect each other, which is good for public health” is an incorrect statement from a medical perspective. So any public or corporate policy derived from it will also be flawed.

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