DENVER (CBS4)– In an effort to return the travel industry back to full pre-pandemic strength one of the nation’s largest airlines has rolled out a new company-wide policy for employee vaccinations. United Airlines confirmed the new policy which will require future flight attendants to be vaccinated for COVID-19, while allowing current flight attendants and pilots to choose if they want to be vaccinated.
Internal company documents obtained by CBS4 showed the company planned to incentivize pilots and in-flight crew members by offering extra vacation days or hours of overtime in exchange for proof of vaccination.
Current pilots working for United were offered up to 13 hours of additional pay if they received their vaccine prior to the end of May. Twelve hours of additional “Add Pay” were offered for vaccinations completed before June 10, and 11 hours offered for those vaccinated by the end of June.
Flight attendants were offered three additional vacation days in 2022 if they could prove their first dose of vaccine was administered before June 9. Two additional days were offered for those vaccinated by the end of June.
United Airlines told CBS4’s Dillon Thomas they would not be terminating employment for current in-flight crew that chose to not be vaccinated. However, pilots and flight attendants who are assigned flights to international destinations that require vaccines jeopardize being pulled from their flights on short notice, meaning they would not be paid for those trips. They would need to find an assignment to a destination that does not require a vaccine to recoup their paid hours.
International destination flights, which are more likely to require vaccines, do pay higher. Some employees told CBS4 they felt the policy was unfair to those who are unwilling to receive the vaccination. However, the union representing United Airlines flight attendants in Denver and Phoenix said the union overwhelmingly supported the company’s decision.
“The way back for our industry is for our frontline personnel, at a minimum, to be fully vaccinated,” said Ken Kyle, United’s Local Council President for AFACWA.
Kyle said the company’s decision to not require vaccines for current employees, which is a legal practice, is a fair compromise. Kyle said that decision allows current employees to maintain their jobs while also promoting the overall health of crew and passengers.
“Rather than dealing with a mandatory vaccination process, we felt it was in everyone’s best interest to try and reach an agreement with the company for a voluntary program which would not penalize flight attendants who would, for whatever reason, choose not to be vaccinated,” Kyle said.
United was just one of the major airlines in the nation that had to furlough flight attendants for periods of time during the pandemic, at times able to bring some back temporarily with the assistance of government funds. Kyle said the company’s new policies will help the industry create more flights with more opportunities for ticketed passengers to return to the skies.
“(The COVID-19 vaccination) opens up the travel industry again,” Kyle said. “We’ve been in discussions with United for a while, since the association has been in favor of the vaccination process because of the state of affairs we find our industry in.”
For those hoping to work for United in the future, yet are currently not employed by the company, vaccinations will be required. Pilots, flight crew, ramp assistants and even office staff openings will only be filled by vaccinated employees from now on.
“As we welcome new employees to the company, it’s important we instill in them United’s strong commitment to safety. As part of this commitment, effective for all job offers made after June 15, 2021, we will require any external candidates for U.S.-based jobs to attest that they have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by their start date. They will be required to upload their COVID vaccine card in My Info no later than 7 days post-hire date.
Those who are unable to be vaccinated for medical or religious reasons will have access to a reasonable accommodation process to evaluate their circumstances.”
“For our industry to recuperate as fully and fast as possible, it is necessary for us to have this vaccination,” Kyle said.