United Is the First Major U.S. Airline Requiring Vaccines for All Employees

United Is the First Major U.S. Airline Requiring Vaccines for All Employees
Photo: United Airlines, Getty Images

United Airlines will be the first major U.S. airline to require its U.S.-based employees — all 67,000 of them — to get vaccinated against COVID-19. In a memo sent to employees on Friday describing the new mandate, United CEO Scott Kirby and President Brett Hart explained that while some employees “will disagree with this decision,” ultimately it’s just… the right thing to do.

“This [autumn], every US-based United employee will be required to receive a COVID-19 vaccine and upload their vaccination record to Flying Together,” United wrote, referring to the employee login portal used by people working for the airline. “We have no greater responsibility to you and your colleagues than to ensure your safety when you’re at work, and the facts are crystal clear: everyone is safer when everyone is vaccinated.”

According to the memo, each of these employees will be required to log pictures of their vaccine cards showing that they’ve received a full round of the Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson vaccine no later than October 25th if the drug remains under emergency authorization. If the Food and Drug Administration formally authorizes any vaccine before that October deadline, then these employees will have five weeks after the FDA’s approval to get vaccinated.

Employees who are already vaxxed — and those that upload their docs before the aforementioned deadline — will get an extra day of pay as a perk. Though this benefit doesn’t apply to pilots and flight attendants, who have already gotten union-negotiated comps for uploading their own records, the memo notes.

United also let employees know that over the hellish course of the pandemic, Kirby had sent “dozens” of condolences letters to the family members of United staffers who had died from COVID-19. “We’re determined to do everything we can to try to keep another United family from receiving that letter,” the memo went on. “Thank you for all you continue to do to take care of our customers and one another.”

As the Wall Street Journal points out, Kirby had been pretty vocal about wanting his workforce vaccinated for a while now, but noted in an interview this past January that the mandate would be hard to enforce if other airliners weren’t on board. Previously, the closest United came to enforcing this kind of rule is requiring that all new employees be vaccinated since June of this year, a rule that Delta Airlines has also put into place.