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United Wants to be Fully COVID-19 Vaccinated – But Only If Others Do, Too

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United Airlines is debating whether or not the COVID-19 vaccine should be mandatory for their employees, but doesn’t want to take the lead in the issue. In an internal meeting, airline chief executive Scott Kirby reportedly said he would support one, but doesn’t want his airline to be the first.

Airlines and aviation groups have previously pointed to the COVID-19 vaccine as one of keys to restarting the sector. Singapore Airlines is making the push to be the world’s first fully vaccinated carrier. Could a North American carrier join them? The Chicago Tribune reports United Airlines might, but only if other companies do the same.

Kirby to Employees: “We Need Some Others to Show Leadership”

In a virtual meeting held Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, one of the topics of discussion was the COVID-19 vaccine. With two vaccines being dispensed nationwide, United CEO Scott Kirby reportedly told employees that he was interested in forcing all workers to take the shot.

“I think the right thing to do is for United Airlines, and for other companies, to require the vaccines and to make them mandatory,” Kirby said, according to a transcript provided to the newspaper by United. FlyerTalk has not independently verified the transcript.

Under new guidance from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, employers may be able to require employees get the COVID-19 vaccine. Under their guidance: “The [Americans with Disabilities Act] allows an employer to have a qualification standard that includes ‘a requirement that an individual shall not pose a direct threat to the health or safety of individuals in the workplace.’” While a company cannot necessarily terminate somebody for not having the vaccine due to a disability or religious belief, they may exclude them from the workplace “if there is a direct threat that cannot be reduced to an acceptable level.”

However, Kirby didn’t commit to becoming the first U.S.-based airline to require everyone take the two-part vaccine. Instead, he reportedly deferred to other business partners to equally mandate mass vaccination among workers, quoted by the Tribune as saying: “We need some others to show leadership.”

The stance is similar to what other legacy carriers are taking with their employees. Reuters reports American Airlines is telling pilots to take the vaccine on their personal time as they plan for a broad voluntary program, but will not force the issue unless destinations require flyers to be vaccinated. Speaking to NBC News’ “Today” show, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said he encouraged everyone to get the vaccine, but wouldn’t go so far to make it a mandatory policy for employees or passengers unless it was a requirement for international travel.

Until Others “Show Leadership,” United Leads on Digital Health Passports

While Kirby reportedly waits for other companies to “show leadership,” the Chicago-based carrier is moving forward with their own digital-based solutions. The airline launched a new health pass as part of their mobile app and website experiences, allowing flyers to upload vaccination certificates and COVID-19 test results to the carrier prior to departure. In addition, the airline is one of three signed onto a larger digital health passport project with The Commons Project Foundation.

Henla January 28, 2021

The vaccines are 95% effective. As the vaccines have passengers who choose to take it covered, let the airline employees make their own choice. Besides, the vaccines are approved under emergency use. It's hard to imagine anyone mandating them until they have full FDA approval.

azmojo January 27, 2021

Why? Let each employee make their own decisions. Unvaccinated people are not a threat to those who get vaccinated.

jficht January 27, 2021

I'm over 70 with lung issues and received the Pfizer vaccine with no side effects, however, I'm leery of forced mandates because I wonder what would be the next requirement?

MRM January 27, 2021

Yes, I'm pretty excited for all these different apps being set up independently with a dozen different agencies - all "requiring" that I use THEIR app for their leg of my trip. Yeah, REAL excited about hooking up a dozen agencies with confidential medical information...sounds really smart and safe, considering some of these airlines already struggle to provide the most basic, honest services of travel at higher than a mediocre level. But hey - here's access to my private medical history! (No offense to millennials that already share theirs on TikTok, Instantgram, Tweeter, etc.)

BigChiefToiletPaper January 27, 2021

"Hey we need to get everyone knocked up with drugs to increase profitability, but you know, we dont want to OPENLY come off as spineless jerks...... so lets wait for someone else to put their neck on the line and then we can cheer from the back with no risk!" - United