Three major U.S. airlines—American, Delta, and Southwest—currently aren’t requiring COVID-19 vaccine mandates for staff, though they haven’t definitively ruled it out as a matter of future policy, according to reports and statements from spokespersons.
Southwest CEO Gary Kelly wrote in an internal memo cited by CNN that he would “continue to strongly encourage” employees to get vaccinated, but that it wouldn’t be a requirement at this stage.
“Obviously, I am very concerned about the latest Delta variant, and the effect on the health and safety of our employees and our operation, but nothing has changed,” Kelly wrote.
A Southwest spokesperson told The Epoch Times in an emailed statement that “we still are strongly encouraging our Employees to vaccinate themselves and to share with us their vaccination status,” but beyond that, “we don’t have anything else to share” on the topic.
“We certainly encourage it everywhere we can, encourage it for our customers and our employees, but we’re not putting mandates in place,” Parker said.
An American Airlines spokesperson told The Epoch Times in an emailed statement that, while the company hasn’t made any updates to its COVID-19 vaccine policy, “we are strongly encouraging our team members to get vaccinated, and we are offering an incentive for those who do. American Airlines team members who get vaccinated are provided an additional day off in 2022 and $50 through our employee recognition platform.”
The spokesperson clarified that American hasn’t stated definitively that it won’t mandate vaccines for employees in the future, just that the company hasn’t updated its policies in this regard at this point.
“We’re almost 75 percent vaccinated already,” Bastian said, “and if you think about that, you have probably some portion—maybe call it five to 10 percent of our employee base—that’s going to have some medical or religious reason why they’re not getting vaccinated, you’re really down to a relatively modest number, maybe 10 to 20 percent of the unvaccinated that you can drive with a mandate.”
Bastian added that Delta will continue to encourage employees to get the shot, noting also that the staff vaccination rate keeps climbing.
Delta didn’t immediately respond to a request for clarification on whether it was weighing imposing a mandate at some point in the future.
By contrast, the three airlines’ biggest competitor, United Airlines, announced last week that it would require its U.S.-based employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
United Airlines leaders called it a matter of safety and cited “incredibly compelling” evidence of the effectiveness of the vaccines against the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, which causes COVID-19.
“We know some of you will disagree with this decision to require the vaccine for all United employees,” United CEO Scott Kirby and President Brett Hart wrote in an Aug. 6 note to employees, obtained by The Epoch Times. “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.”
As an incentive, vaccinated employees of the air carrier who upload their vaccination records to a United database by Sept. 20 will be offered an extra day’s pay, according to the note.
United employees will need to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 25 or five weeks after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) grants full approval to any one of the vaccines that are currently authorized for emergency use, whichever date comes first, according to the note.
While United will allow exemptions on religious or health grounds, other employees who don’t provide proof of vaccination by the designated deadline will be terminated.
With the move, United joined a bevy of companies that have mandated vaccines for employees, including Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Walmart.
It comes as the United States struggles with a surge in infections driven by the Delta variant of the CCP virus, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers more transmissible and potentially more resistant to vaccines.
Vaccine mandates have become a hot-button issue, with advocates welcoming them as a measure to help stem the spread of the CCP virus and protect vulnerable populations, while opponents object on a range of grounds, including that the vaccines are currently under emergency use authorization and that mandates infringe on personal liberties.