U.S. airlines have been put on notice to quickly issue vaccine mandates for all their employees with the White House setting a December 8 deadline for workers to have been jabbed. If airlines fail to heed the warnings from President Biden’s top COVID-19 response officials, airlines face losing multi-billion-dollar federal contracts.
Alaska Airlines has already told its employees that they will need to get vaccinated by December 8 due to an upcoming change to federal rules for government contractors. The airline had previously refused to take the tough stance on vaccine requirements that United Airlines has pursued.
JetBlue has also reportedly told workers that they will also need to get vaccinated or face being terminated following the intervention of White House Coronavirus response coordinator Jeffrey Zients.
United Airlines has achieved 99.5 per cent compliance with its vaccine mandate (excluding exempt employees) and only 320 unvaccinated workers now face being sacked for refusing the shot.
Sources claim Zients has also spoken with the chief executives of American Airlines, Southwest and Delta Air Lines and told them to implement vaccine mandates as quickly as possible.
Delta rejected a full vaccine mandate last month and instead added an insurance surcharge for unvaccinated workers. The Atlanta-based airline said the surcharge had helped drive up vaccination rates amongst workers.
American Airlines had been pursuing an incentive program to improve vaccination rates but had warned employees to take advantage of the program before a federal mandate was introduced.
It’s understood that some airlines have been hesitant to follow the lead of United ahead of the busy Christmas holiday season for fear that certain pilot groups might disrupt their operations.
The White House has reportedly rejected a plea from the American Airlines and Southwest pilots unions to exempt pilots from a vaccine mandate by introducing an “alternative means of compliance”. The Allied Pilots Union warned Christmas travel could be disrupted if a mandate is introduced.
A change to federal contracts will force airlines to issue mandates or risk losing government business. An amendment to the CRAF contracts is already in the works and other federal government departments are also working on amendments to airline contracts to enable the enforcement of vaccine mandates.
American, Southwest and Delta confirmed they had spoken with the White House but declined to say what had been discussed.
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.