Delta Air Lines has rejected President Biden’s vaccine mandate is the claim that you may have seen or heard in the last few days. The airline’s apparent decision to refuse to comply with the federal government’s controversial vaccine mandate rules has been welcomed by some but the truth is a little more complicated.
Let’s start off with what we do know: On September 9, President Biden signed an executive order requiring federal contractors to mandate vaccines for all of their employees. Companies have until December 8 to get their employees vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to keep doing business with the federal government.
Airlines initially waited for further guidance which was released later in September as to whether the rules applied to them. It became clear that because airlines occasionally have contracts with U.S. government entities that the deliberately wide-sweeping vaccine mandate did apply to them.
Both Alaska Airlines and JetBlue immediately confirmed they would comply with the mandate, while American Airlines and then Southwest Air quickly followed. United Airlines had already brought forward its own voluntary mandate and has since achieved a vaccination rate of over 99 per cent amongst non-exempt employees.
Several airlines, including the regional carriers that fly on behalf of American Air and United, are still to confirm whether they will be following the mandate, while Delta Air Lines boss Ed Bastian has been quoted as saying the mandate is divisive. His comments have been interpreted as meaning that Delta has outright rejected the mandate.
During a press conference at an airline industry event in Boston earlier this month, when asked if Delta would comply with the White House vaccine mandate, Bastian said there were “different ways” to get employees vaccinated.
But his comments following Delta’s latest earning announcement was what has stoked the latest rumors:
After announcing that Delta had achieved a vaccination rate of over 90 per cent, Bastian told CNBC:
“We haven’t done it with a mandate. We have done it working collaboratively with our people, trusting our people to make the right decisions for themselves, respecting their decisions, but at the same time avoiding the divisiveness of what the mandate is posing to society.”
His comments were interpreted as that Delta had rejected the mandate. Senator Ted Cruz quickly picked up on the comments, saying Delta had done the “right thing” by respecting “the right of their employees to make their own personal decisions about their own healthcare”.
So has Delta really rejected the mandate and is it leaving vaccination up to personal choice?
Bastian is clear that Delta’s goal is 100 per cent employee vaccination and has advanced a number of policies to make that happen. Along with employee incentives the biggest is a $200 monthly healthcare surcharge for unvaccinated employees – Bastian believes this key policy will continue to drive up vaccination rates in the coming weeks.
“The reason the mandate was put in by president, I believe, was because they wanted to make sure companies had a plan to get their employees vaccinated,” Bastian said during an interview with Fox News.
“A month before the president came out with the mandate, we had already announced our plan to get all of our people vaccinated. And the good news is the plan is working.”
Whereas some airlines have remained silent on the issue, Delta is progressing a firmly pro-vaccination policy but is attempting to get vaccination rates as high as possible independent of a federal mandate that has quickly become toxic.
The fallout at American Airlines and Southwest, including noisy protests, lawsuits and social media anger, over their decision to comply with the mandate is just one reason why Bastian is playing it differently. Delta still has time to drive up its vaccination rate before making a decision.
Conclusion: Delta Air Lines hasn’t ‘rejected’ the federal mandate but it is working to comply with the spirit of the rules in its own way. If Delta cannot achieve 100 per cent vaccine coverage amongst employees, as is its stated goal, then Delta may still need to invoke the mandate to keep its government contracts.
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.