A regional airline that is wholly owned by American Airlines asked pilots to delay getting the COVID-19 vaccine due to increased passenger demand according to an internal memo and insider sources at the carrier. The issue has arisen due to additional safety rules imposed on pilots by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) over how they receive their vaccinations.
Piedmont Airlines which operates American Eagle branded regional services told pilots that they would have to reschedule vaccine appointments due to a surge in passenger demand according to an internal memo seen by CBS News.
“Piedmont will be unable to release any additional pilots for COVID vaccination for the weekend of March 19-21 due to high demand,” wrote the airline’s chief pilot John Pursell in one memo sent last Wednesday.
Pursell told pilots that in order to maintain “operational reliability” they should “attempt to schedule later in the month”.
The FAA has approved the use of the Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines for pilots and air traffic controllers but requires these workers to wait at least 48-hours after receiving their jab before returning to work.
In a statement, the FAA said the waiting period would help “maintain the highest level of safety” by allowing those conducting safety-sensitive aviation duties to fully recover from any side-effects of the vaccines.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that both the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines can cause chills, tiredness and a headache and that while these side effects are generally mild, they can affect someones ability to carry out even basic day-to-day activities.
Generally speaking, these side effects are worse after the second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.
U.S. airlines have been encouraging some employees to take the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine because it will result in less downtime.
Piedmont says that is encourages all employees to get vaccinated but that a surge in travel demand was making it difficult to release pilots from their duties. “While we encourage every pilot to get vaccinated, the requirement to wait 48-hours before returning to flight duty is causing serious crew coverage concerns,” another memo told pilots.
In January, American Airlines told mainline pilots to schedule their shots during their own time and accounting for the FAA-imposed 48-hour waiting period. Piedmont has a similar policy but a spokesperson said the airline was “doing our best to offer flexibility while serving the needs of our customers.”
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.