United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby recently sat down with David Ignatius of The Washington Post. Live and Let’s Fly will examine the wide-ranging interview in a series of posts.
United Airlines CEO Addresses Vaccine-Only Sections + Mandatory Vaccines
Kirby is asked about offering special seating sections for passengers who have been vaccinated as a reward or incentive to promote vaccinations. Ignatius jokes, “It’s not Economy Plus; it’s vaccinated plus.”
Kirby politely responds that it would not be happening:
Yeah. It sounds like a great idea, and we have thought about it. But I think almost any of those ideas run afoul of the regulatory requirements that we have, and absent a government mandating vaccines to fly or a government rule, it’s probably not something we can do unilaterally from a customer perspective.
Note that he doesn’t dismiss the concept of a vaccinated section. Rather, he suggests that regulatory burdens prevent it. HIPAA is thrown around so often and so negligently. It would not apply if passengers were offered special seating for voluntarily sharing health information. Period.
So I don’t see the regulatory barriers. I also don’t see vaccine sections as theoretically as ridiculous as smoking and non-smoking sections (it still turned the entire aircraft into a stinky ashtray). My issue with vaccine sections is that they just do not make sense if vaccines are effective. So what if a vaccinated person sits around unvaccinated people. Isn’t that the point of vaccines? Isn’t that the point of this vaccine?
But Kirby notes we may see de facto vaccination flights based upon new international entry requirements.
That said, my guess is that most long-haul international borders are going to require you to be vaccinated to go. For anybody that wants to travel long haul and go to Europe this summer to go to New Zealand or Australia our North American winter, I suspect you’re going to have to have a vaccine.
Right now, there’s three countries in Europe that are open: Iceland, Greece, and Croatia. But you have to have been vaccinated to go, and by the way, demand is through the roof for those flights because it’s a place that people can go. When the EU president talked about it, talked about it as requiring a vaccine–we have discussions between the U.S. and U.K. ongoing. My guess is that there’s going to be some government fiat that requires vaccines internationally but unlikely that anything, at least in the foreseeable future domestically, will be requiring a vaccine, and I think it would require some government support/action in order to make that legally possible.
Kirby is actually incorrect here. Iceland does require proof of full vaccination. But not Croatia or Greece. Either will accept a negative PCR test not older than 72 hours in lieu of proof of vaccination. For better or for worse (and I believe it is for the worst), that option of presenting a negative test or proof of vaccination will allow many skeptical Americans to avoid the vaccination and yet still travel.
So I would disagree with Kirby on both the likelihood (and also the constitutionally) of a “government fiat” required for international travel. Again, let me emphasize: please get vaccinated.
Kirby discounts the legality vaccination sections, which are likely legal, but hints at a government fiat requiring vaccines, which I view as likely illegal. Kirby’s a smart man and I hate the “stay in your lane” comments, but I recommend Kirby has lunch with United’s legal counsel on the nuances of vaccine policy.