What United’s CEO says about coronavirus vaccine
United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby has made it clear that he wants vaccination to be mandatory for all of the company’s employees. As he explained at an employee town hall this week:
“The worst thing that I believe I will ever do in my career is the letters that I have written to the surviving family members of coworkers that we have lost to the coronavirus. And so, for me, because I have confidence in the safety of the vaccine – and I recognize it’s controversial – I think the right thing to do is for United Airlines, and for other companies, to require the vaccines and to make them mandatory.
I don’t think United will get away with and can realistically be the only company that requires vaccines and makes them mandatory. We need some others. We need some others to show leadership. Particularly in the healthcare industry.”
It’s an interesting perspective he has — he’s strongly in favor of mandatory vaccination, but also acknowledges that other companies need to take a similar stance if United is going to be able to “get away” with this.
Note that United is talking specifically about employees here, and isn’t suggesting that vaccination be mandatory to fly with the airline.
Mandatory vaccination is controversial
Any discussion about mandatory vaccination is going to be controversial (or heck, any conversation about vaccination, period). For example, a while back Qantas CEO Alan Joyce talked about how passengers may be required to get vaccinated to fly with the airline internationally, and he faced a lot of backlash for those statements, and even walked them back a bit.
Among major US airlines, up until now we haven’t seen any airline CEO state that vaccination would be mandatory for either employees or passengers, so United is a first in this regard.
While I’m incredibly excited to get vaccinated when it’s my turn and am totally in favor of as many people as possible getting vaccinated, I can see both sides here. In favor of mandatory vaccination is that it would limit the odds of an employee having coronavirus, and all the logistical challenges and risks associated with that.
At the same time:
- It’s not known if those who are vaccinated can still infect others, so in many ways this isn’t even directly about keeping others safe
- Once we reach a critical mass of vaccinations, hopefully case numbers and deaths decrease sufficiently so that a small percentage of people choosing not to get vaccinated has less of an impact on society overall
I guess to simplify my argument a bit further, first let’s get everyone vaccinated who wants to get vaccinated (while prioritizing seniors, essential workers, etc.). Then when we reach that point let’s see what the situation looks like, and what further steps should be taken for anti-vaxxers.
I do think it’s likely and reasonable that vaccination will be mandatory among pilots and flight attendants, since many countries may require vaccination for entry. I think the argument is a bit tougher to make for employees who aren’t traveling around in the same way, like gate agents and rampers.
It’ll be interesting to see what kind of a policy most companies institute. My guess is that at some point down the road we may see one company lead the way, and then a bunch of other companies may follow.
United Airlines’ CEO has come out in favor of requiring all employees to be vaccinated. He’s the first major US airline CEO to make a statement as firm as that. I’m totally in favor of vaccinating as many people as possible, though I suspect there may be some backlash here among a certain subset of the population.
Do you think most major airlines will make vaccination mandatory, or will this come down to individual choice?