By: Tom Ozimek
More U.S. air carriers—American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and JetBlue—have announced they will be requiring employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The move comes as the Biden administration has ramped up pressure on airlines to require vaccines as part of a broader strategy to boost inoculation rates in the country. President Joe Biden signed an executive order last month requiring federal contractors to mandate shots for employees, with the White House later setting a Dec. 8 deadline for getting the vaccine.
The airlines say they provide special flights and other services for the government and so fall under Biden’s mandate.
“While we are still working through the details of the federal requirements, it is clear that team members who choose to remain unvaccinated will not be able to work at American Airlines,” Doug Parker, American Airlines chief executive, told employees in an Oct. 1 memo.
Alaska Airlines said in a memo to employees Friday it would require staff to get the shot, with no testing option but the possibility to apply for an exemption on religious or medical grounds.
“This means employees may no longer opt-in for regular testing and masking in lieu of getting the vaccine,” Alaska Airlines said in a memo to employees, according to The Associated Press.
Andy Schneider, Alaska Airlines’ senior vice president of people, was cited by The Seattle Times as saying Biden’s vaccine mandate applies to the company’s subsidiaries and some contractors.
“After careful review of this order, we have determined that Alaska, Horizon, and McGee employees (including certain contractors and vendors) do fall under this federal vaccine mandate due to our significant work for the federal government, alongside the other major U.S. airlines. This policy will replace our company policy of vaccination or testing that we announced earlier this month,” Schneider told employees in an email, according to the outlet.
JetBlue’s CEO Robin Hayes and COO Joanna Geraghty told employees in an email on Friday getting the vaccine would now be a condition of employment.
“Based on the guidance issued, all JetBlue Crewmembers—regardless of working in the operation, a support center, or at home—will be required by the government to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 to continue performing their role,” they wrote, according to CNBC.
Airlines’ approaches to Biden’s mandate have varied, with Delta saying on Friday it was continuing to evaluate the administration’s plan, while Southwest said it “continues to strongly encourage employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” according to Reuters.
Meanwhile, a union representing pilots for several major U.S. airlines warned that COVID-19 vaccine mandates could lead to travel disruptions during the upcoming holiday travel season if pilots are forced to choose between getting the shot or leaving their job. The union called for alternatives to getting the COVID-19 vaccine such as regular testing or proof of natural immunity.