Effective this autumn, if you are not fully vaccinated for COVID-19 or qualify for a narrow exception, you will be terminated from your position at United Airlines. It’s a bold move, but one the carrier says is about safety and protecting its employees from harm.
COVID-19 Vaccine Now Mandatory At United Airlines
In a memo to employees reviewed by Live and Let’s Fly, United CEO Scott Kirby and President Brett Hart lay out the stakes:
Over the last nine months though, we have learned a lot about this disease, including how vaccines are – by far – the most effective way to protect people from COVID-19. In fact, we know now that an unvaccinated person is about 50 times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 than a vaccinated person and nearly 300 times more likely to die.
Those stats are incredibly compelling and led us to an important decision about your safety: This fall, every U.S.-based United employee will be required to receive a COVID-19 vaccine…
That can be summed up in one sentence: get the vaccination now or you will be fired.
All U.S. United employees will be required to upload a vaccine card showing they have received two shots of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or one dose of the Johnson&Johnson vaccine in two scenarios:
- Five weeks after the FDA has announced it has fully approved a COVID-19 vaccine
- Five weeks after September 20, 2021
That means that by October 25, 2021 (and potentially before) all United Airlines employees based in the United States must submit proof of vaccination or they will be fired.
There will be two narrow exceptions. A United spokesperson confirmed:
We’ll have a very narrow reasonable accommodation process (as required by law) for religious and medical exemptions.
The precise details were not outlined, though each case will be carefully evaluated.
United address skeptics in the employee memo:
We know some of you will disagree with this decision to require the vaccine for all United employees. But, we have no greater responsibility to you and your colleagues than to ensure your safety when you’re at work, and the facts are crystal clear: everyone is safer when everyone is vaccinated.
Over the last 16 months, Scott has sent dozens of condolences letters to the family members of United employees who have died from COVID-19. We’re determined to do everything we can to try to keep another United family from receiving that letter.
United frames its entire defense of this new policy around safety, noting it is a pillar of the carrier’s core4 model and fundamental to compassionately caring for employees, many of whom go home to unvaccinated children each night.
To incentivize quicker action, all employees who upload proof of vaccination on or before September 20, 2021 will receive an extra day’s pay. Flight attendants and pilots will not be part of that bonus offer, having already received more lucrative incentives negotiated by their respective unions.
United estimates that 90% of pilots and 80% of flight attendants are currently vaccinated, but does not have a solid handle on what percentage of its roughly 80,000+ employees are indeed vaccinated.
Vaccination cards issued from the CDC are easily counterfeited and can be manipulated. While United points out it is hardly alone in dealing with potential forgery issues, it hinted that new technology is under evaluation that can better detect forgeries.
The new rules employee only to United Airlines employees, not contractors including United Express pilots and flight attendants.
United’s move is a bold step – a step that Kirby hinted at earlier this year and has now followed through on. United now joins a growing list of companies that have mandated employees be vaccinated for COVID-19, but becomes the first major U.S. airline to make this move.