Delta Air Lines chief executive Ed Bastian said in an internal memo on Wednesday that unvaccinated staff would be expected to pay a $200 monthly surcharge on Delta’s employee healthcare plan. Bastian said the surcharge was needed to help cover the $50,000 average cost of treatment for staffers struck down with COVID-19 who need a hospital stay – all of whom in recent weeks weren’t vaccinated.
Stopping short of mandating vaccines for existing employees, Bastian said the airline would instead withhold pandemic-related pay protection from unvaccinated workers, make them take a COVID-19 test every week and require unjabbed staff to wear a face mask in all indoor Delta settings regardless of local laws.
Pressure on Delta has been mounting to toughen up its approach vaccine-hesitant employees after rival United became the first U.S.-based carrier to introduce a vaccine mandate earlier this month.
With the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granting the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine (Cominarty) full approval on Monday, United employees must provide proof of vaccination by September 27 or face the risk of dismissal. There will be limited exceptions for medical and religious reasons.
Both Frontier and Hawaiian Airlines quickly followed United in bringing in their own vaccine mandates, while Alaska Airlines is getting closer to making vaccination compulsory for its workers.
Through voluntary measures alone, Bastian said 75 per cent of its workforce was now fully vaccinated against COVID-19 – up by 2 per cent since the start of August.
Bastian had previously hoped high vaccination rates through voluntary measures alone would achieve some form of ‘herd immunity’ – something that may never be possible due to the rise of variants.
“Over the past few weeks, the fight has changed with the rise of the B.1.617.2 variant (known as the delta variant) – a very aggressive form of the virus,” Bastian told workers in the memo. “Our Chief Health Officer, Dr. Henry Ting, describes the variant as a ‘heat-seeking missile’ that transmits predominantly through the unvaccinated community.”
“While we can be proud of our 75% vaccination rate, the aggressiveness of the variant means we need to get many more of our people vaccinated, and as close to 100% as possible,” Bastian continued.
The requirement for unvaccinated staff to get regular COVID-19 tests will begin from September 12, while the healthcare surcharge will come into force from November 1. Pay protection will only be offered to fully vaccinated workers from September 30.
“With this week’s announcement that the FDA has granted full approval for the Pfizer vaccine, the time for you to get vaccinated is now,” Bastian said on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, European airline SWISS became the first carrier on the opposite side of the Atlantic to issue a vaccine mandate, although this will only apply to flying staff because vaccine rules in different countries make it too hard for the airline to roster vaccinated and unvaccinated crew.
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.