United Gives Pilots Huge Vaccination Incentive

United Gives Pilots Huge Vaccination Incentive

11

I’m not sure whether to be impressed by United’s significant reward, or dismayed that this is even necessary

United offering up to 13 hours pay for vaccination

United Airlines and the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) have this week reached an agreement regarding vaccinations for pilots:

  • It won’t be mandatory for United pilots to get vaccinated
  • Instead United will offer a huge incentive for pilots to get vaccinated, with extra pay
  • The biggest reward is an additional 13 hours pay, which can be unlocked if pilots get their first vaccine dose by June 1, and don’t need to take sick leave to do so

How much money are we talking about? United’s pilot pay scale tops out at $352 per hour, so some pilots could be looking at up to ~$4,600 in pay just for getting vaccinated (to be clear, that’s the absolute highest pay, for the biggest plane and most seniority, and most pilots earn significantly less than that).

The union head has stated that ALPA is focused on “encouraging maximum voluntary participation in lieu of any such mandate” that would require pilots to get vaccinated.

For some context on this:

  • Early in 2021, United CEO Scott Kirby stated that he wanted to make the vaccine mandatory for employees; so yeah, that didn’t happen, but the airline will pay thousands of dollars to pilots who choose to get vaccinated
  • Delta recently announced that it wouldn’t make vaccines mandatory for existing employees, but would make vaccines mandatory for any newly hired employees
  • As usual, pilots are getting hugely preferential treatment here; flight attendants and customer service agents (who have much more direct contact with customers) don’t have nearly as great of an incentive to get vaccinated
United pilots could get thousands of dollars for getting vaccinated

Vaccine uptake in the industry is surprisingly low

You would think (hope?) that airline employees would be among the first to want to get vaccinated. Vaccines allow our lives to resume, and the airline industry especially is reliant on widespread vaccinations (just look at the border restrictions currently in place).

What’s surprising to me is that in reality, data we’ve seen suggests that airline employees in the United States are only getting vaccinated at a slightly higher rate than the population average.

For example, a few weeks back Delta’s CEO bragged about how more than 60% of employees at Delta have received at least one vaccine dose, which was barely above the population average for adults. I’ve heard numbers are similar at other airlines.

I can understand the concept of incentivizing vaccination early on, when it took some effort to get an appointment. But at this point you can get vaccinated just about anywhere, so I can’t help but wonder how much incentives like this will move the needle. I would think that most people fit into one of two camps when it comes to their vaccine philosophy:

  • Either they think that the vaccine is what we’ve been waiting for, that it protects us and others, that it allows our lives to return to normal, and that any (small) potential risk is outweighed by the known risk for coronavirus (which is millions of deaths around the world)
  • Or they think the vaccine is Bill Gates’ attempt to microchip us, and that now is the time to start wearing masks, because vaccinated people will make the entire population infertile, or something, and we need to protect ourselves from them (at least that’s my understanding)

Is United banking on there being a significant number of pilots who hold an opinion somewhere between the two? I recognize that some people are in the “wait and see” camp when it comes to getting vaccinated, but realistically we’d be talking about waiting for years and years, and again, that just seems like a bad risk calculation.

Or is United hoping that unvaccinated pilots fall into the “I don’t like to get microchipped, but 13 hours pay is 13 hours pay” category?

Will this incentive cause hesitant pilots to get vaccinated?

Bottom line

United Airlines isn’t making vaccines mandatory for employees, but rather is giving the biggest incentive we’ve seen from any airline to date (at least to my knowledge). United is offering pilots up to 13 hours of pay to get vaccinated, which could translate to thousands of dollars. Meanwhile other United employees, who interact with customers much more, get very little.

What do you make of United Airlines’ vaccine incentive for pilots?

Conversations (11)
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  1. Andrew

    It would be nice if you respect the fact that not every single citizen in the US is dying to get the vaccine...everyone has their reasons and I honestly don't see why you are so surprised as to why pilots aren't rushing to get it. They have minimal contact with the pubic compared to other jobs at the airlines such as customer service agents, but they also want to make sure that what they are...

    It would be nice if you respect the fact that not every single citizen in the US is dying to get the vaccine...everyone has their reasons and I honestly don't see why you are so surprised as to why pilots aren't rushing to get it. They have minimal contact with the pubic compared to other jobs at the airlines such as customer service agents, but they also want to make sure that what they are injecting into their body is entirely safe and conducive to mantaining a high level of awareness and focus while flying. After all, their main priority is flying an aircraft and ensuring the safety of all of those onboard, not to just stand outside the flight deck and say "Thanks for flying with us..."

  2. Radu

    Yes for sure, only two categories, reasonable and exaggerated unreasonables. For sure there isn't anyone that thinks for him personally the benefits of not getting (a serious form) of coronavirus does not outweigh the risks of vaccines.

  3. ATC Dan

    Well another caveat to this is that pilots lose their medical qual to fly for 48 hours. I was able to get two days of paid time off following my vaccine, so this is likely a way to give that same benefit to their pilots who are paid in a compensation system that’s very unique to their profession.

  4. Thomas

    Ridiculous of United to offer such a big incentive for its non-customer facing employees, while flight attendants and ground staff get peanuts as usual.

  5. N1120A

    The 13 hours is a good deal. Remember, pilots are required to sit for 48 hours after receiving each dose by FAA regulation and this means that they won't have to take sick to continue to get paid to do so. All of the airlines are offering substantial incentives to increase vaccination rates because of the practical and political reasons behind it in the industry.

  6. Lee

    follow up to above:

    I am by no means an anti-vaxxer, I have taken most shots myself and given all recommended shots to my kids (other than annual flu shots).
    I am not rushing to take this vaccine, and I don't believe the Bill Gates microchip nonsense.
    I'm sure there are many millions of people in the world thinking along the same lines as me.
    This vaccine was rushed to production very...

    follow up to above:

    I am by no means an anti-vaxxer, I have taken most shots myself and given all recommended shots to my kids (other than annual flu shots).
    I am not rushing to take this vaccine, and I don't believe the Bill Gates microchip nonsense.
    I'm sure there are many millions of people in the world thinking along the same lines as me.
    This vaccine was rushed to production very fast and is leaving people skeptical that it's so good. There are many stories of people trying to report side effects and being silenced my social media and the mainstream media aren't reporting on it. I'm not suggesting this vaccine is bad, on the contrary, it seems to be doing its job quite well, but as someone who had covid already, I'm not running to inject new chemicals into my body when data is quite limited on effects of these vaccines.
    Contrary to people like you, I don't live in fear of Covid, I live my life normally to the extent possible and wear a mask only where required to, because they're extremely uncomfortable and hard to breathe in.
    I have also been heavily exposed to Covid multiple times since I recovered and don't see myself as being at significant risk of catching it again to the point I'll take a novel vaccine to stem that risk...
    The risk of vaccine side effects seems to be more than the risk of me catching Covid a 2nd time and getting sick from it...
    That being said, I strongly encourage anyone who does live in fear from Covid to go ahead and take the vaccine, don't live your life in fear; if you fear Covid more than any potential side effects of the vaccine, go fot it! My elderly grandparents took the vaccine and I'm all for it for them, so did my parents and parents in law...

    Basically respect the fact that many don't want the vaccine (at least yet) and aren't crazy MAGA conspiracy theorists...

    1. Andy 11235

      You are absolutely right. There are a large number of people who do not believe the conspiracy theory nonsense, but are still hesitant to get vaccinated. The difficulty is understandable: the risk of dying from COVID is much lower than the risk of experiencing an unpleasant side effect of vaccination. While the vaccine itself was, of course, developed in record time, the underlying technology has been in development for many years. We have gotten excellent...

      You are absolutely right. There are a large number of people who do not believe the conspiracy theory nonsense, but are still hesitant to get vaccinated. The difficulty is understandable: the risk of dying from COVID is much lower than the risk of experiencing an unpleasant side effect of vaccination. While the vaccine itself was, of course, developed in record time, the underlying technology has been in development for many years. We have gotten excellent data from the hundreds of millions of doses administered that show dangerous side effects to be on the order of 1:1000000 with the vaccines currently being used in the US. We also have data showing that past infection offers some protection against future infection, although this diminishes dramatically with the variants that are becoming increasingly prevalent. On the other hand, the data currently available show that the protection offered by vaccination is more robust, particularly against variants. I would strongly encourage you to reach out to your primary care doctor to talk about any concerns you have with the vaccine. We get new data every day, and it is a great conversation to have with your health care provider.

  7. Lee

    I think your 2 options listed are very extreme, and not very impartial, think a little outside you're own views and maybe you'll come up with a middle tier of why people aren't vaccinating...

  8. Pete2

    You can tell before they close the cockpit doors, all pilots have their masks off and some have them barely hanging off their faces while walking around.

    Not surprising, given the high number of MAGA folks in the pilot industry.

    1. Jordan

      I know MANY liberals who will not get vaccinated, so this whole Republican / MAGA narrative is not only false, but.........

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Lee

follow up to above: I am by no means an anti-vaxxer, I have taken most shots myself and given all recommended shots to my kids (other than annual flu shots). I am not rushing to take this vaccine, and I don't believe the Bill Gates microchip nonsense. I'm sure there are many millions of people in the world thinking along the same lines as me. This vaccine was rushed to production very fast and is leaving people skeptical that it's so good. There are many stories of people trying to report side effects and being silenced my social media and the mainstream media aren't reporting on it. I'm not suggesting this vaccine is bad, on the contrary, it seems to be doing its job quite well, but as someone who had covid already, I'm not running to inject new chemicals into my body when data is quite limited on effects of these vaccines. Contrary to people like you, I don't live in fear of Covid, I live my life normally to the extent possible and wear a mask only where required to, because they're extremely uncomfortable and hard to breathe in. I have also been heavily exposed to Covid multiple times since I recovered and don't see myself as being at significant risk of catching it again to the point I'll take a novel vaccine to stem that risk... The risk of vaccine side effects seems to be more than the risk of me catching Covid a 2nd time and getting sick from it... That being said, I strongly encourage anyone who does live in fear from Covid to go ahead and take the vaccine, don't live your life in fear; if you fear Covid more than any potential side effects of the vaccine, go fot it! My elderly grandparents took the vaccine and I'm all for it for them, so did my parents and parents in law... Basically respect the fact that many don't want the vaccine (at least yet) and aren't crazy MAGA conspiracy theorists...

Js3312

So they are rational people.

Jordan

I know MANY liberals who will not get vaccinated, so this whole Republican / MAGA narrative is not only false, but.........

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