United Airlines Isn't Messing Around On Vaccines

United Airlines was the first to arrive at the airport and had the strongest requirement that employees have a vaccine. They were not only requiring it for new employees (Delta), but also incentivizing employees (American). They don't force the unvaccinated to attend classes that explain that vaccines do not make you legal property or connect you to the internet (Alaska). You either get vaxxed, or you get fired.
Here's Scott Kirby, speaking to United Airlines employees.

There are legal limitations on what United can do. Although the federal government supports employer mandates for vaccines (even before Pfizer BioNTech was authorized to fully authorize the Covid-19 vaccine), there are usually exceptions for people who are medically unfit or religiously prohibited. United was supported by its flight attendants union, but it has not assisted flight attendants in obtaining religious exemptions.

United legal ruled that they must offer the exemptions but they have decided that anyone who does not receive one will be unable to work in cases where the pandemic is meaningfully receding and in cases (such non-customer facing positions) when new procedures are in place for Covid testing and masking.

United Airlines employees who are granted religious exemptions for COVID-19 vaccinations by the airline will be placed on unpaid personal leave starting Oct. 2, according to a memo sent Wednesday to staff. The airline stated that the terrible statistics cited above mean that we cannot allow non-vaccinated employees back to the workplace until we have better understanding of how they interact with customers and coworkers who are vaccinated. United stated that the restrictions and requirements for employees applying for medical exemptions are similar, but that employees who win exemptions will be placed temporarily on medical leave.

United takes a hard line in some ways and is likely to be sued. However, United is also splitting the baby and not doing anything for public health.

Passengers have more contact with each other than employees (in check-in lines and at security, in gate areas, and in middle seats).

Airport agents and cabin crew have more contact with passengers than any other employees.

I would fly an airline that required everyone to be vaccinated. Those with legal exemptions must also wear masks. My exposure profile doesn't change if employees have been vaccinated.

It's not just Covid-19 that I am concerned about. Airlines need to review their sick policies to ensure employees aren't forced to work if they have an infectious disease other than Covid-19.

Because large numbers of sick employees can compromise the business, it is important to be certain that the airline has a legitimate right to reduce the risk of crew members contracting the disease. It is prudent to insist on a fully vaccinated workforce in the event of a pandemic. It is not a significant contributor to passenger protection.


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