United Airlines became the first U.S. airline and the latest American corporation to mandate COVID-19 shots for all employees as the United States fights a surge in infections, hospitalisations and deaths driven by the Delta variant. Employees will have until October 25 at the very latest to get fully vaccinated.
In a memo, the Chicago-based carrier said all 67,000 U.S.-based employees would be required to show proof of full vaccination within five weeks of a COVID-19 vaccine receiving full FDA approval. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has suggested that the Pfizer / BioNTech shot could be first in line to win full approval by early next month.
But even if the FDA’s ambitious timeline fails to match President Biden’s expectations, United has told staffers that they will still be required to prove full vaccination by October 25. The latest date that vaccine-hesitant employees have to get the jab is October 11 through the Johnson & Johnson vaccine which is single-shot.
United has mandated all new employees are fully vaccinated since June 15 although the airline makes some exceptions for medical and religious reasons. The same exemptions are likely to be extended to existing employees.
Chief executive Scott Kirby has previously said that he wanted to make vaccination mandatory but would only do so if other corporations did so first. In the last couple of weeks, a rash of big companies from Facebook, Google and Disney have issued employee vaccination mandates.
The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA), which represents United’s crew members, said the vaccine mandate shouldn’t be “a big surprise” to flight attendants following Kirby’s stance on the matter.
“We’ve seen a notable uptick of test positives over the last two weeks, majority of which are unvaccinated flight attendants though some breakthrough infections have been recorded,” warned AFA-CWA president Sara Nelson.
As well as new employees, United requires pilots and flight attendants wishing to work on flights to ‘high-risk’ destinations to be fully vaccinated. This policy, however, is voluntary.
The final incentive for voluntary vaccination is the offer of an additional day of pay for all workers who get vaccinated before September 20.
Last week, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said it would be “difficult” to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for either existing employees or passengers until the vaccines have received full FDA approval. They are currently administered under an emergency use authorization.
Bastian didn’t, however, dismiss mandatory vaccination, telling a reporter to “stay tuned” when he appeared on CNBC.
Delta was the first carrier to mandate vaccination for new workers and United quickly followed suit.
Photo: Philip Pilosian / Shutterstock.co united airlines
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.