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American Airlines, Southwest likely to institute vaccine mandate for employees

Sept. 10, 2021
3 min read
American Airlines mask employee
American Airlines, Southwest likely to institute vaccine mandate for employees
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American Airlines may implement a vaccine mandate for employees in order to comply with President Joseph Biden's new COVID-19 mitigation plan, airline CEO Doug Parker and President Robert Isom told airline staff in a memo on Friday, which was seen by TPG.

Southwest Airlines said it would also likely implement a vaccination-or-testing requirement in accordance with the federal requirements, a spokesperson for the airline confirmed to TPG.

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Under the executive order, issued as part of a set of broader measures to control COVID-19 spread in the U.S., companies with more than 100 employees would be required to mandate that workers either get vaccinated, or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing.

United Airlines was the first carrier in the U.S. to mandate vaccinations among employees. Under United's directive, employees who refuse will be fired, while those with legitimate medical or religious exemptions will be placed on leave — possibly long-term and unpaid, depending on the exemption and the employees' workgroups.

Delta Air Lines followed several weeks later by announcing a $200 monthly surcharge for unvaccinated employees on the airline's health plan, along with weekly testing requirements for unvaccinated employees.

American and Southwest Airlines have been hesitant to implement similar mandates, instead encouraging staff to get vaccinated and offering incentives.

The executive order, however, would offer both airlines cover to institute a mandate without alienating or angering employees who may be opposed to the vaccine.

In Friday's memo, Parker and Isom said that the airline's plans were not finalized, but that the federal order would likely push them into effectively creating a mandate.

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"We are reviewing the Executive Order and are awaiting additional details, but based on what we see so far, it appears we will be impacted by these federally mandated efforts to increase vaccination rates," the pair wrote.

The executives reiterated calls for employees to get vaccinated voluntarily.

"For anyone who has yet to be vaccinated, American recently opened a new incentive submission window for U.S.-based mainline team members that provides an extra day of vacation pay in 2021 and $50 in Nonstop Thanks points once you get vaccinated ... by Oct. 1."

More: Delta won’t hire you unless you’ve been vaccinated, CEO says

In a statement, a spokesperson for Southwest said that the airline was still encouraging employees to get vaccinated ahead of any mandate:

"With more than 54,000 Employees, Southwest Airlines is prepared to move toward compliance with the forthcoming U.S. Labor Department rule. As we undertake due diligence to understand next steps toward full compliance, we continue to strongly encourage our Employees to seek and obtain vaccination, and to share their vaccination status with us."

The new mandate comes as the delta variant of COVID-19 continues to spread in the U.S. and globally, and as vaccination rates in the U.S. fall largely flat.

About 62.7% of Americans ages 12 and up have been fully vaccinated as of Friday morning, according to CDC data, or 53.6% of the total U.S. population. No vaccine has yet been approved for children under 12.

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.