Only 6 of United’s 13,000 pilots were fired for failing to meet the airline’s vaccine mandate

Dec 15, 2021

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

United Airlines fired only six of its pilots for failing to get vaccinated and submit documentation to the airline, CEO Scott Kirby revealed on Wednesday.

About 80 of the airline’s pilots were approved for exemptions to the airline’s vaccine mandate, either religious or medical, and were placed on unpaid leave, Kirby added. The airline has about 13,000 pilots on staff.

Want more airline-specific news? Sign up for TPG’s free new biweekly Aviation newsletter!

Kirby’s comments came during an appearance in front of the Senate Commerce Committee, during a hearing on the federal Payroll Support Program that was implemented at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The figures were cited in response to questions from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) accusing United of mistreating employees by enforcing the mandate.

Are you an airline employee or industry insider? Message this reporter with tips, feedback, or opinions at

United required all of its 67,000 U.S. employees to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 27, or to apply for a religious or medical-based exemption. The day following the deadline, United said that less than 3% applied for those exemptions, while more than 99% of the remaining employees met the deadline.

As of Sept. 28, 593 employees had failed to either get vaccinated and submit documentation, or apply for an exemption, leaving them subject to termination. It was not immediately clear on Wednesday how many of those employees subsequently met the requirements, nor how many were fired.

Employees who were approved for exemptions were placed on unpaid leave. That included about 2,000 employees, some of whom were able to find non-customer facing roles to do in the meantime.

United’s mandate was separate from a requirement issued by the Biden Administration that all federal contractors — including most major U.S. airlines — ensure that all employees are fully vaccinated.

United’s mandate, and subsequent requirements from other carriers — typically with looser exemption policies — led to pushback from some pilots’ labor unions and political pundits who accused airlines and the government of violating personal liberties.

More: United doubles down on vaccine requirement with stringent policy for religious exemptions

“We did this for safety, we believe it saves lives,” Kirby said in response to the questions on Wednesday. “That’s my No. 1 obligation, is safety.”

“I made the decision for United that getting everyone vaccinated would save lives and would create a safer environment for all the other workers.”

During the hearing, lawmakers, airline executives and others vociferously defended the Payroll Support Program, unanimously arguing that the aid was crucial to carrying airlines through the worst of the pandemic.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who led the hearing, said that the aid was critical, and the program to implement it was largely successful.

“The relief saved 386,200 direct, full-time U.S. passenger airline jobs, approximately 85% of the pre-pandemic workforce,” Cantwell said. The program “ensured that the national system of air transportation network remained open for business.”

Featured photo courtesy of United Airlines

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs up to two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide including takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $80 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® after you apply through any Authorized Enrollment Provider. If approved for Global Entry, at no additional charge, you will receive access to TSA PreCheck.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
17.24%-26.24% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Recommended Credit
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

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

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.