Southwest Airlines announced on Monday that it would join American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, jetBlue by issuing an employee vaccine mandate in order to comply with new federal rules for government contractors.
Under President Biden’s COVID Action Plan, government contractors must order employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or risk losing lucrative contracts. Amongst other contracts, Southwest was recently hired by the U.S. government to transport Afghan refugees through the United States.
“Southwest Airlines must join our industry peers in complying with the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccination directive,” confirmed Southwest chief executive Gary Kelly on Monday.
“I encourage all Southwest Employees to meet the federal directive, as quickly as possible, since we value every individual and want to ensure job security for all.”
The federal vaccination directive will require employees to be fully vaccinated by December 8, 2021. There will be exemptions for religious and medical reasons but unexempt employees who remain unvaccinated by this date will be terminated.
United Airlines issued an employee vaccine mandate before the federal requirement and has achieved a 99.5 per cent vaccination rate amongst non-exempt employees. Several thousand employees are believed to have successfully applied for an exemption but United wants to send many of these workers on an indefinite period of unpaid leave.
The airline has, however, been forced to temporarily hold off sending unvaccinated employees home while it fights a lawsuit over the issue.
With Southwest now promising compliance with the federal vaccine mandate, it leaves just Delta Air Lines resisting pressure from the Biden administration.
On Sunday, Delta chief executive Ed Bastian said the airline still hadn’t decided whether to mandate employee shots. Bastian believes there are “different ways” to get to 100 per cent vaccination amongst employees and claims a $200 monthly healthcare surcharge will push the vaccination rate up to above 90 per cent by November.
The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) had demanded that pilots be given the right to choose whether or not they are vaccinated, claiming that vaccine side effects could harm their career prospects.
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.