United Airlines Wants To Make Vaccine Mandatory For Employees

Filed Under: United

United Airlines is one of the first major companies to publicly come out in favor of mandatory vaccination for employees.

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.

Bottom line

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?

  1. I’m not sure what the fuss is all about. Many employers will require it. The concept is not new and goes back to other vaccines.

  2. My only issue with this is that the airline places itself in a position where they have to get involved with the inoculation process for their employees. If they simply leave them to their own devices, they may not be able to obtain the vaccine for many months. However, if UA were to get involved in providing the vaccine to their employees, this would leave even less of an excuse for the employees not to get it.

    For the civil libertarians out there: the employer requiring vaccination is entirely different than the government requiring it because you can still refuse. Yes, you may lose your job but you can choose that path which is unlike a government mandate.

  3. I think the FA’s union will sue.

    I would like United to require all passengers to be vaccinated. If so, I would fly exclusively United.

    The FA’s union will probably cite that the vaccine only has emergency use authorization (EUA) from the FDA, not full FDA approval. In fact, EUA used to be called “Emergency Use Authorization of Non-approved Medical Products” or something like that. Full FDA approval requires years of clinical trials, like someone getting the vaccine and waiting years to see if anything unusual happens.

  4. It’s not really true that it’s totally unknown whether the vaccine will prevent you from transmitting the virus to others. *Every* vaccine has this property. No one actually thinks COVID is going to be any different, and there’s no way to run a trial to verify efficacy against transmission anyway. The public health establishment is simply telling what they believe is a “noble lie,” so people don’t get a single shot of vaccine and then immediately stop wearing masks and taking any precautions. They want the pandemic to actually die down before we relax restrictions.

    Given that we basically do know that each person who is vaccinated is reducing the risk to others, this can be justified on protecting others’ grounds.

  5. @WR2 — HIPPA is a privacy law for medical records. The federal government has already said, though, that employers can require proof of vaccination as a condition of employment. Given that it’s up to the federal government to enforce HIPPA, the government can interpret it not to cover mere proof of vaccination. So employers are free to do this.

  6. I think that airlines may have to require vaccinations for employees who interact with the public. Having a flight attendant, for example, infect a bunch of people would be a nightmare. If some of those people died, the potential liability would be enormous and it would be a PR catastrophe.

  7. Shame on Scott Kirby thinking that he has the power to not only mandate a vaccine on his employees, but then begging other leaders to go down this path with him! The real reason he is doing this is extremely simple, keeping himself out of bankruptcy court. If he cannot push the public into some type of “mandated” vaccine, that runway of cash sitting on his balance sheet shrinks by the day, and he knows this. If the vaccine does not get shoved into the arms of people fast enough his loses the ability to keep UA solvent. The ego on this man is second to none.

  8. A wonderful idea. Totally agree. I just do not advise dragging their employees into the vaccination center and holding them down while they get the shot. The optics of that might not be very good.

  9. Don’t forget about the operational challenges an infected crew member inflicts on a flying schedule. Think of how many other pilots a single covid-positive pilot could take out on a 4-day rig due to contact tracing…

  10. As a former weekly flyer, I am on a plane for the first time since March – MEL TO MCY (Australia). I hate to queue but will happily do so for the vaccine.

    I am like a first time flyer today – so excited.

  11. Too early to start thinking about mandatory vaccination. Nobody knows yet long term if having both vaccinations will even keep you from getting Covid or get it again. If it helps get our fatality numbers down to 40,000+ annually like we had each year with the flu, then most people will find this acceptable also and go back to business as usual. The big question is would you still have a mask requirement for those immunized? Until we know if you can’t spread it or get it again after vaccination its just too early.

  12. They will have a hard time mandating a vaccine that falls under an FDA Emergency Use Authorization. When the vaccine gets full, nominal approval from the FDA, then it may be possible to mandate. That approval is coming, but not here yet.

    @John did a nice summary about transmission of disease from a vaccinated person. Vaccinated persons may be able to get infected by the virus, but it would probably be asymptomatic, mild, and with low viral titers. Meaning the virus will have a hard time replicating in sufficient numbers inside a vaccinated person to enable efficient transmission to another person. Both things which are really the whole point of a vaccine in the first place.

  13. @Samuel – nothing has happened to the concept of you having a choice when it comes to your body.

    In this case, an employer is requiring vaccination for employees who wish to continue their current employment – they are free to cease their employment should they not agree to that requirement.

    This happens in other occupations and is nothing new.

  14. @John The current vaccines available in the US are not like traditional vaccines. Because they function differently with a new MRNA technology, it is reasonable to not trust these vaccines as protecting against spread.

    On the other hand, the Sinovac vaccine is based on how traditional vaccines are made.

  15. @stogieguy7

    I doubt United would enforce this requirement until the vaccine was widely available or they found their own means of providing it to their employees.

    This stance seems more like if you want to work with UA and can get vaccinated, you have to, probably unless it’s absolutely medically necessary that you can’t. No citing personal beliefs or other stuff to refuse the vaccination.

  16. @John: what you said.

    I’ve never seen Ben publish something so dangerously WRONG.

    Prevention of disease spread is the entire POINT of vaccines, and these are over 95% effective.
    -Compare this to Tdap, which is only about 80-90% effective. And try to find a public school that DOESN’T require it!

  17. Unfortunately it’s not just the anti vaccine crowd that may be hesitant, but also others with certain medical situations (even as simple as pregnancy) that make things just a little more complicated.

    That being said, everyone else get your vaccine!

  18. @guflyer, respectfully, your interpretation of the vaccines’ relative efficacy and what they do and do not prevent is misguided.

    The first thing to know is that there has not been any reliable scientific study of ANY COVID vaccines’ ability to minimize asymptomatic spread. And neither the vaccine platform (mRNA, adenovirus, attenuated live virus, dead virus) nor the age of the technology determines its efficacy at preventing asymptomatic spread.

    Second, there are PLENTY of reasons to trust the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines more than the Sinovac vaccine. Chief among them is that the Pfizer and Moderna data themselves have been made available publicly for analysis by scientists unaffiliated with the study. The Sinovac trial results and data have not, and it is almost impossible for scientists to gain access to the raw data if they are not involved in the trials.

    Sinovac has only shared information in press. It is, as NPR noted, “science by press release.” Not nefarious necessarily, but not particularly trustworthy.

    Despite all this, what we DO know about the Sinovac vaccine indicates that it is less effective in preventing severe, serious and mild disease. Whereas the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are effective in preventing sever disease in 90-95% of people, the Sinovac vaccine is effective in 78%, and that drops to 50% when you take into account mild disease.

    Either way, a higher incidence of severe disease and mild disease in no way indicates that the Sinovac vaccine is more effective at stopping spread. If anything, it would indicate the opposite.

    I would MUCH rather trust the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines than the Sinovac vaccine.

  19. WR2’s comment just shows how ignorant si many are about our laws and rights. As pointed out already HIPPA is about persons sharing your health info without your permission. Every company has the right to require you to get any vaccination. You can quit if you don’t want to do it. Fairly simple.

  20. For those not in the medical field:

    Just about every hospital I have worked at has had annual mandatory flu vaccination for years. The concept of an employer requiring vaccination is not new.

    However, (most of?) these same hospitals are not requiring that their employees receive the Covid vaccine at this point. As pointed out above, this is primarily because of its Emergency Use Authorization.

  21. If my employer didn’t require it, I would find a new employer. Who doesn’t favor truth that can be proven and safety?

    Team Fauci

  22. Once everybody has had their chance to get vaccinated, being vaccinated should be a hard requirement for access to pretty much every place and every thing. Exceptions for documented, rational (real) medical reasons (no emotional support animals), but otherwise, no vax, no entry, go pound sand. Period.

    Bring it on. Give us more of this: actually expecting people to behave like rational, responsible adults, and real consequences if they don’t. Imagine!

  23. United is a Private company therefore they should be able to insist their employees do what they are told. If the employees don’t like it, buuggeer-off.

    But wait, didn’t they just get 2 x massive taxpayer funded subsidies? Therefore, all bets are off in terms of privacy.

    I have an idea. Ring Joe and let him fix it. The Government can solve it. Joe. You know, “Joe mr 80,000,000 Biden” LOL. He’s stuffed everything else up in the first 3 days, why not let him loose on this. Maybe he can find a way to put all these people out of work too. If he can remember who United is of course LOL. Aeroplanes? What are they? United? What is That? Dr? help me? Did I say something about Unity Dr? Is this Unity Airlines? Is that the same thing Dr? Can we go to aerodrome and see Dr? I forget? I’m so confused, did I win? Where’s Michelle, I mean Kamala? Harrison…. ahhhhh Harris. Did I get that right Dr, you fashion icon you.

  24. Well Kevin, at least you spelled it right. Being lectured by people who spell it HIPPA is hard to take.

    Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act One P.

  25. First of all, stop with the Scarlett A on calling people ‘anti-faxxers’. Someone who doesn’t want to take the covid vaccine is because they actually use critical thinking and do their own research and don’t listen to the propaganda from lamestream media. The vaccines use an aluminum material that is known to cause health issues, animal testing was skipped and doctors agree that is where many issues are found. Long term testing was skipped and doctors again agree that it can take up to 2 years for side effects to reveal themselves. The mRNA technology has not been tested or researched on the very real possibility that the proteins can bind to non threatening cells that can intensify other health issues and can also attack the wrong, non threatening cells and cause auto immune issues even years later. Moderna had a 21% rate of adverse reactions with limited testing and combined phase 2 and 3 which is problematic. Plus, if you are under 60 you have less than a 1% chance of dying from covid. “My body my choice” shouldn’t just be allowed if someone wants to kill a human being growing in their body, if that mantra works for that atrosity, it should absolutely work for injecting poisen into a body. This vaccine has been monetized and politicized and each person should make their own decision based on all the facts. Emergency Use Authorization can’t force a mandate by law either. So no, not getting it.

  26. There’s has never been a court case where people have sued their employers over a mandated vaccination policy, so there is no case law to refer to but since the covid vaccine has not been around for atleast 2 years of testing, it is most likely illegal to require for vaccination from United or any company out there.

  27. @NSS I agree with you. People throwing around acronyms incorrectly and also not comprehending the details of it.

  28. @NSS I very much understand the acronym, do you? Requiring a vaccine would require sharing private medical information between employers and employees on an unprecedented level. And why just vaccination status? How about obesity level? Blood pressure? Or any other risk factor. After all, it’s in the name of safety. But no, this level of intrusion couldn’t possibly lead to other violations of your rights down the road…nahhh.

    Get the vaccine if you like, I will too bc I want to travel, but the level of arrogance and self righteousness here in demanding everyone get vaccinated despite there being no public safety need to do so is typical for here. 90% effectiveness plus unknown long term efficacy and other unknown issues means that there will still be millions exposed to the virus even with the full population vaccinated, so stop with the totalitarianism.

  29. If taking the vaccine gave me my pre-covid lifestyle back (not wearing a mask, not social distancing, eating indoors freely) then I would gladly take it. But it does not give people those things back, so I’m good for now without it. My employer ain’t making it mandatory so, oh well.

  30. @WR2 …. you are the perfect example of one who throws around a term without understanding the true meaning.

    The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is a federal law that required the creation of national standards to protect sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without the patient’s consent or knowledge. “Without the patient’s consent or knowledge.” Get it — without the patient’s knowledge.

    HIPAA is directed at “covered entities.” That would be healthcare providers. Healthcare plans. Healthcare clearinghouses. Business associates of those other covered entities. These entities can not release without the patient’s authorization, any healthcare info about the patient.

    Many uneducated people think HIPAA restricts the flow of healthcare information on an outgoing basis *from* the patient. But HIPAA does not. You seem to be one of those people.


  31. @WR2 – Just reread my comment to confirm I didn’t tell people to get the vaccine. Just corrected an acronym. Though personally I can’t wait to have the needle in my arm so I can start worrying less about Covid.

  32. @WR2 “ despite being no public safety need”. This comment is both dangerous and ignorant, It’s not all about you and your so called rights. You have the right to be ignorant of science, and the right to die due to your same ignorance. Hey, I respect that. BUT, you DO NOT have a right to place anyone else in the same danger by not being vaccinated. Remember that you can still be a carrier and kill someone else.

    Oh and what makes you think that anyone is interested or cares about your data? In the main, most of us are all the same … boring .

    Suggestions: give up the totalitarian theme and think about how you can help your fellow man. We are all the same. You may just find that giving something of yourself (thinking data) compassion and humanity will make you realise what is truly important.

  33. It’s funny how some people use science as an argument, being completely oblivious to the fact that vaccines haven’t been through the regular approval process yet. They are used based on an emergency use authorisation, which specifically exists to allow use of medicaments that haven’t been properly tested yet, if there is an opinion that benefits outweight possible negative effects.

    The science argument is completely invalid, because a scientific validation of those vaccines is still ongoing and we’ll have to wait years for it to happen.

    By the way, there are reports from some health care facilities in Germany where up to 50% of medical staff refused vaccine precisely because it hasn’t been tested. But what do doctors know about science and medicaments, right?

  34. Forcing someone to take a vaccine, particularly one rushed to market in the fraction of the normal time to maintain employment is a lawsuit waiting to happen. Also what happened to vaccinating first those most at risk? Are you telling me that a 25 year old flight attendant with perfect that has a near 99.9% chance of having no severe reaction even if infected should be vaccinated before others?


    Even if 10 million Americans die from Coronavirus. Sorry, die “with” Coronavirus.

  36. Anti-mask and anti-vax populations should do the world a favor by isolating themselves. I’m in favor with speeding up Darwinism.

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