More US Airlines Impose Vaccine Mandates: American, Alaska, JetBlue

By Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Reporter
Tom Ozimek has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education. The best writing advice he's ever heard is from Roy Peter Clark: 'Hit your target' and 'leave the best for last.'
October 2, 2021 Updated: October 3, 2021

More U.S. air carriers—American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and JetBlue—have announced that they’ll be requiring employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The move comes as the Biden administration has ramped up pressure on airlines to require vaccines as part of a broader strategy to boost inoculation rates in the country. President Joe Biden signed an executive order in September requiring federal contractors to mandate shots for employees, with the White House later setting a Dec. 8 deadline for them to get the vaccine.

The airlines say they provide special flights and other services for the government, so placing them under Biden’s mandate.

“While we are still working through the details of the federal requirements, it is clear that team members who choose to remain unvaccinated will not be able to work at American Airlines,” Doug Parker, American Airlines chief executive, told employees in an Oct. 1 memo.

Alaska Airlines stated in a memo to employees on Oct. 1 that it would require staff to get the vaccine, with no testing option available, although the possibility to apply for an exemption on religious or medical grounds will be offered.

“This means employees may no longer opt-in for regular testing and masking in lieu of getting the vaccine,” the memo reads, according to The Associated Press (AP).

Andrea Schneider, Alaska Airlines’ senior vice president of people, was cited by The Seattle Times as saying that Biden’s vaccine mandate applies to the company’s subsidiaries and some contractors.

“After careful review of this order, we have determined that Alaska, Horizon, and McGee employees (including certain contractors and vendors) do fall under this federal vaccine mandate due to our significant work for the federal government, alongside the other major U.S. airlines. This policy will replace our company policy of vaccination or testing that we announced earlier this month,” Schneider told employees in an email, according to the AP.

JetBlue’s CEO Robin Hayes and COO Joanna Geraghty told employees in an email on Oct. 1 that getting a COVID-19 vaccine would now be a condition of employment.

“Based on the guidance issued, all JetBlue crewmembers—regardless of working in the operation, a support center, or at home—will be required by the government to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 to continue performing their role,” they wrote, according to CNBC.

Airlines’ approaches to Biden’s mandate have varied, with Delta saying on Oct. 1 that it was continuing to evaluate the administration’s plan, while Southwest said it “continues to strongly encourage employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, a union representing pilots for several major U.S. airlines warned that COVID-19 vaccine mandates could lead to travel disruptions during the upcoming holiday travel season if pilots are forced to choose between getting the vaccine or leaving their job. The union called for alternatives to getting the COVID-19 vaccine, such as regular testing or proof of natural immunity.

Tom Ozimek
Reporter
Tom Ozimek has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education. The best writing advice he's ever heard is from Roy Peter Clark: 'Hit your target' and 'leave the best for last.'