Pilots talk as they look at the tail of an American Airlines aircraft at Dallas-Ft Worth International Airport.
Mike Stone | Reuters
American Airlines is delaying the implementation of rules that require all staff to be vaccinated against Covid-19 until Jan. 4, hours after the Biden administration postponed its deadline for federal contractors to meet the requirements.
Previously, American Airlines’ more than 100,000 mainline employees had to receive their last Covid vaccine shot by Nov. 24, if getting a two-shot vaccine, in order to to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 8, the old deadline.
“Given this development, all U.S. team members and Latin America-based crew members have until Jan. 4, 2022 to submit proof of vaccination or a request for accommodation,” CEO Doug Parker and American’s president, Robert Isom, wrote in an employee memo. The airline is also extending its offer of an extra vacation day and a $50 worth of company incentives to Jan. 4.
Southwest Airlines and other carriers are likely to follow suit.
Both of those airlines have faced opposition from pilots’ labor unions and some other employees against the mandate. Airline executives at the carriers have urged staff to apply for exemptions in order to meet the vaccination deadline, which previously fell the day before Thanksgiving. The executives said they didn’t expect the mandate to impact holiday travel, but the new deadline gives them more time to comply.
The union that represents American Airlines’ pilots wrote to Biden administration officials and lawmakers in September warning the 60-day implementation period could cause labor shortages and flight disruptions. The union also sought alternative to the mandate such as regular Covid testing. “We’re pleased to see there’s more time to grapple with this pretty consequential executive order,” said Allied Pilots Association spokesman and American Airlines captain Dennis Tajer, after the extension of the federal contractor deadline was announced. He said that the union is still requesting that the administration give “serious consideration” to a regular testing alternative, in line with the OSHA rules.
American, Southwest, Alaska Airlines and JetBlue Airways, are federal contractors, carrying U.S. mail, government employees, cargo and providing other services. Each of those airlines have said they would comply with the Biden administration’s rules, released in September, that require federal contractors to ensure their employees are vaccinated or receive an exemption.
The rules are stricter than the vaccine requirements the Biden administration released on Thursday for non-contractor companies with more than 100 employees, which allow for employees to be tested regularly instead of getting vaccinated.
United Airlines issued its own mandate in the summer that required staff to be vaccinated, receive an exemption or face termination. The Chicago-based airline says that more than 96% of its U.S. employees are vaccinated.
Delta Air Lines says that some 90% of its U.S. staff is vaccinated. The company didn’t issue a mandate but this month started charging unvaccinated employees $200 more a month for company health insurance.