American Airlines employees opposed to COVID-19 vaccine mandates marched outside the airline’s headquarters in Dallas Fort-Worth on Thursday brandishing signs that read “Mandates won’t fly” and other slogans that insisted vaccination should be an individual choice.
The protestors were a mix of employees from across the airline including pilots, gate agents and ramp workers. Some wore their uniforms, while their numbers were swelled by friends and family who supported their right to reject the vaccine.
American Airlines told employees last week that after reviewing a federal vaccine mandate for government contractors it concluded that AA was subject to the rules. “As a result, all U.S.-based team members must submit proof of full vaccination as soon as possible – no later than Wednesday, Nov 24, 2021,” employees were told.
“If you have not submitted proof of vaccination by Nov 24, we will be in touch to begin the next steps. To be clear, if you fail to comply with the requirement, the result will be termination from the company,” the memo continued.
One 29-year-old pilot who flies A320 series aircraft for AA told the Dallas Morning News he would rather quit than have the vaccine. He said he probably wouldn’t bother applying for a religious or medical exemption because of the small chance of it being granted.
Pilots and other frontline workers who managed to win an exemption under United’s vaccine mandate will likely be put on unpaid leave for an indefinite period of time.
Pilots have been backed by their union, the Allied Pilots Association (APA) for their right to choose to remain unvaccinated. While APA says it is not anti-vax, it argues that pilots should be granted an “alternative means of compliance” with the mandate such as frequent testing and mandatory mask-wearing.
In an open letter to lawmakers, APA claimed pilots were scared that having the vaccine could result in career-ending side effects.
APA president, Captain Eric Ferguson told pilots that at the very least he now expected management at the airline t”o continue its historical practice of bargaining with APA over issues related to the implementation and impact of the announced COVID-19 vaccine mandate”.
Around 4,000 pilots at the airline remain unvaccinated according to the union. American Airlines says the majority of the carrier’s 100,000 strong workforce is already vaccinated.
The Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) supports vaccination but the union has also been fielding calls and receiving enquiries from members who want to remain unvaccinated.
“While APFA believes vaccination is our best defense against illness or death from COVID-19, we fully recognize that some of our members have very strong concerns or beliefs regarding the COVID-19 vaccination,” the union told flight attendant shortly after AA said it would issue a vaccine mandate.
“While being vaccinated is not open to negotiation with management, we will make sure the company abides by the Executive Orders and the applicable reasonable accommodation provisions,” the memo continued.
But flight attendants who succeed in winning an exemption have been warned they might be allowed to continue working.
“It is important to know, however, that reasonable accommodation does not necessarily mean you will be allowed to continue working without receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, as we have seen at other carriers and in other industries,” the memo continued.
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.