A major international airline says it won’t force its pilots, cabin crew or any other frontline worker to have the COVID-19 vaccine even as more countries make vaccination a requirement of entry for aircrew. Delta Air Lines joint venture partner KLM Royal Dutch Airlines said on Monday that having the shot would remain a “personal choice” and that it wouldn’t interfere with that choice.
The Amsterdam-based carrier did, however, say it would require employees to report their vaccination status. This is to prevent unvaccinated crew for being rostered to work on flights to destinations with a vaccine entry mandate in place.
KLM said it was forced to act and make employees share personal health details after Trinidad & Tobago announced plans to make COVID-19 vaccination a condition of entry from October 16.
There are usually exemptions from pandemic travel rules for aircrew but Canada and other countries have indicated they will make vaccination a condition for pilots and cabin crew, as well as passengers. Layover hotels are also ordering KLM crew to prove their vaccination status according to a spokesperson for the airline.
KLM says it will treat vaccination status in the same way it would deal with other crew members who might not be able to work on flights to certain destinations for a variety of personal, visa and health reasons.
For example, transgender crew aren’t able to operate to certain countries due to local laws, while banned medications prevent crew from flying to other countries.
Unvaccinated crew will have a ‘travel restriction’ placed on their file and they won’t be allowed to fly to any destination where a vaccine mandate is in place.
“For the time being, KLM will do its best to deploy crew with travel restrictions on flights to destinations that do not have entry requirements,” the airline said in a statement. “But, as the number of countries with a vaccination obligation grows, so too will the associated operational complications for KLM.”
That might mean that unvaccinated crew are removed from more and more flights with little financial protection.
In contrast, SWISS International Airlines said it would introduce a vaccine mandate for aircrew because it was simply too complicated to manage a list of unvaccinated crew who are unable to operate flights to countries with a vaccine mandate in place.
German flag carrier Lufthansa is also looking to bring in a vaccine mandate for aircrew but is negotiating with employee unions over the details.
Other European airlines have so far shied away from wading into the vaccine mandate debate even as other international airlines take a firm stance on employees who refuse to get the jab.
Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific has been told that it might have broken discrimination law after it sacked a small number of crew who refused to get vaccinated or provide a valid exemption. United Airlines, meanwhile, will make employees who claim a religious exemption from vaccination go on unpaid leave rather than allow unvaccinated staff in the workplace.
Around 1.8 million people in the Netherlands remain unvaccinated against COVID-19 but employers face currently legal difficulties in compelling workers to get jabbed. The Dutch government is currently looking at options to give businesses more freedom over vaccine requirements but no final decisions have been made.
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.