Pilots at American Airlines are lobbying the White House in an effort to get an exemption from President Biden’s vaccine mandates. They fear that if pilots are forced to choose between the vaccine or their jobs, some airlines will “implement the mass termination of unvaccinated pilots”.
In the worst-case scenario presented to the White House, Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Transportation by the Allied Pilots Association, pilots at the Dallas Fort Worth-based carrier claim the very viability of the U.S. aviation industry could be put in jeopardy if a vaccine mandate is imposed.
The union is urging the Biden administration to enshrine an “alternative means of compliance” within any federal vaccine mandate. An alternative means of compliance could be regular COVID-19 testing, alongside wearing a face mask even once face-covering rules are relaxed for the fully vaccinated.
“Throughout the pandemic, APA has closely consulted with infectious disease specialists to guide our decision-making, and we remain committed to finding workable solutions to the challenges our industry continues to face,” a letter from Captain Eric Ferguson, president of APA reads.
“We are concerned that the Executive Order’s anticipated 60-day implementation period for mandatory vaccination could result in labor shortages and create serious operational problems for American Airlines and its peers,” the letter continues.
Ferguson warns that the effects of mass pilot layoffs could coincide with the peak holiday travel period.
“Our nation’s airlines, and the traveling public, cannot afford significant service disruptions due to labor shortages,” the letter cautions.
Central to the union’s argument for a permanent alternative means of compliance is the fact that pilots “are held to unique physical fitness standards” in order to maintain a medical certificate issued by the FAA. If a pilot is considered unfit by an FAA physician, their career could be prematurely finished.
While some pilots are exempt from taking a vaccine due to medical reasons, Ferguson claims some pilots are scared about the potential of “career-ending” side effects from taking a COVID-19 vaccine.
“All of those members are still able to perform their duties as professional pilots. To force those pilots out of their positions, rather than offering viable alternatives will have adverse consequences upon their families and the industry as a whole,” Ferguson’s hard-hitting letter continues.
The union notes that the FAA has “recognized the unique issues” the vaccine can have on pilots because it requires a 48-hour break between a pilot having the shot and then going onto fly a plane. The limitation is in place to deal with well documented mild short term side effects such as flu-like symptoms and tiredness.
American Airlines has urged pilots and other workers to get vaccinated, advocating a voluntary approach with employee incentives offered to anyone who gets a COVID-19 jab. AA chief executive Doug Parker has encouraged workers to get vaccinated before a federal vaccine mandate is imposed so that they can take advantage of the incentives on offer.
A much different approach has been taken by United Airlines which will require all employees to provide proof of full vaccination by September 27. Only a small number of pilots have been granted a medical or religious exemption and all of those must take an indefinite period of unpaid leave.
Pilots and other frontline workers with a vaccine exemption will only be allowed to return to work once United deems that the threat of COVID-19 has sufficiently diminished.
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.