The White House has not shied away from introducing new vaccination requirements, as more than 70 million eligible people in the U.S. remain unvaccinated, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky, MD. On Sept. 9, President Joe Biden revealed his new COVID action plan, which requires vaccinations for employees of large-scale companies, health care workers, and federal employees. But Biden also announced that he would be creating a vaccine mandate to cover federal contractors as well—and now, most major airlines have announced that they’re planning to fall in line with the order.
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On Oct. 1, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker and President Robert Isom sent a letter to employees, stating that all U.S.-based staff and some international crew members must get vaccinated under Biden’s new mandate, as the airline company is “classified as a government contractor.” According to The Wall Street Journal, airlines do significant business with the federal government, since “they transport federal employees for work travel, have contracts with the Defense Department, and many participate in the Civil Reserve Air Fleet program.”
“We have consistently advocated that all American Airlines team members—and all eligible individuals around the world—should get vaccinated, and we appreciate the tens of thousands of team members who did so during our incentive program. For those colleagues who did not, we realize this federal mandate may be difficult, but it is what is required of our company, and we will comply,” the letter states. “It is clear that team members who choose to remain unvaccinated will not be able to work at American Airlines.”
The airline did not specify when employees would be required to be vaccinated, but the White House announced on Oct. 1 that the vaccination mandate for federal contractors will go into effect on Dec. 8. The new guidance says that contracted employees covered by the rules must be fully vaccinated no later than this date.
Alaska Airlines has already agreed to match Biden’s mandated date, the company told workers on Aug. 30. At the time, the airline said it expected that the government date “could be as early at Dec. 8,” which has since been confirmed.
“Since our company does significant work for the federal government, we have determined that Alaska Airlines, Horizon Air, and McGee employees—all part of Alaska Air Group—do fall under this federal vaccine mandate, along with other major U.S. airlines,” Alaska Airlines said in an announcement, per Business Insider.
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JetBlue has also seemingly agreed to the Dec. 8 deadline. “With the possible federal deadline for vaccination just before the December peak season, it’s important that you schedule your shots now so that you will be able to continue working,” JetBlue told employees in a memo, as reported by the WSJ. “At the end of the day, complying with the federal mandate is not a choice.”
In terms of other major airline companies in the country, United was the first to announce a strict vaccine policy, ahead of the federal mandate. In early August, the company announced that it would require its 67,000 U.S. employees to be vaccinated by Oct. 25. Employees were required to upload proof of first vaccination by Sept. 27 and those with medical or religious exemptions are set to be placed on unpaid leave Oct. 15.
White House COVID response coordinator Jeffrey Zients spoke to the chief executives of Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines on Aug. 30 to ensure they would enforce this vaccine requirement ahead of the deadline, Reuters reported, but neither of these two airlines have announced whether or not they would do so. Delta did, however, announce a $200 monthly insurance surcharge for unvaccinated workers in late August.
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