Will United, Frontier and Hawaiian Airlines’ Vaccine Mandates be Enough?
Just when we thought we were approaching clear open skies; the pandemic has pulled us back down to reality with the Delta variant. It has been and currently is on the rise – not just in the U.S. but across the globe – putting a damper on the return of air travel in the U.S. and our hopes for a better 2021. Southwest and Frontier are two U.S. airlines that recently said the new variant is already negatively impacting their bookings. Yet, with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) likely to give new COVID vaccines full approval within the next few weeks, airlines are looking at ways to build confidence with passengers including through mask and vaccine mandates.
A main message that airlines want to convey is that air travel is “safe.” This is something that airlines and various organizations like the Flight Safety Foundation (FSF) have stressed for more than a year due to the quality ventilation systems onboard planes. Combined with people taking appropriate precautions, such as wearing masks, air travel is a safe mode of transportation.
These points have been made clear by several specialists, including Xenophon medical director Dr. David Hamer, a world-leading epidemiologist who has been studying SARS-CoV-2 and has been on the FSF’s medical advisory board since the onset of the pandemic.
“If people are going to travel, the safest thing they can do is wear a mask. Even if they are vaccinated, it’s important to mask up to protect yourself and others,” said Dr. Hamer. “And this isn’t just a recommendation since a mask order was passed by the Transportation Security Administration earlier this year for people traveling by plane, as well as other forms of public transportation.”
But as the Delta variant spreads and fears of the virus increase, it can get harder and harder for airlines to impress passengers with the levels of safety they’re implementing.
One action U.S. airlines are mixed on is the requirement of vaccines for employees. Of the major airlines in the U.S., Delta, Southwest, and American have all said they are not requiring unvaccinated employees to get their shots.
On the other hand, United Airlines has mandated its employees get vaccinated by October 25 – if United employees don’t get the shot, they risk being terminated by the airline.
Two other airlines have also issued vaccine mandates following United. Hawaiian Airlines has implemented a vaccine requirement for its employees, while Frontier Airlines issued a policy requiring the vaccine unless employees follow regular COVID testing protocols.
Alaska Airlines also said that it too is considering mandating the vaccines for employees, but it would not do so until after the FDA gives at least one of them full approval.
Although some airlines are not requiring the vaccine, they are highly encouraging it and even incentivizing it. American Airlines CEO, Doug Parker, said the airline is offering workers who get vaccinated before the end of August an extra day of vacation next year.
If the FDA’s mandate of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are imminent, individual airline decisions may prove inconsequential. Companies like Alaska Airlines are biding their time to make a final decision once the vaccines receive full approval, and once they do, we can expect more and more companies to require mask and vaccine mandates for their employees.
But if you work for American, who wouldn’t like to have a little more time off?