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Airlines take different approaches to staff vaccines

written by Hannah Dowling | January 19, 2021

Emirates announced on Monday it had started offering COVID-19 vaccines to its frontline employees, including pilots and cabin crew, while American Airlines has taken a different route.

The airline has made both the Pfizer-BoNTech vaccine, and a second vaccine developed by Chinese state-owned company Sinopharm, to all Dubai-based employees.

Both vaccines are currently already approved by health authorities and available to the general public in the United Arab Emirates, with over 1.8 million doses already administered since December.

The airline has said it is prioritising its “essential” frontline and customer-facing roles within the company, including pilots and cabin crew, in its inoculation drive, with appointments available 12 hours per day, seven days a week.

In a different approach to staff inoculation, US carrier American Airlines has told its frontline flight crew that should they wish to get the vaccine, they need to do so on their own time.

The airline issued a joint memo to staff on behalf of managing director of line operations, Chip Long, and managing director of flight operations, John Dudley, which stated: “Your decision to take the vaccines is a personal decision and is currently not required by the Company.

“As such, if you elect to take the vaccine you should schedule it on your days off and so that it does not impact your ability to be in place and operate your scheduled flying given the 48-hour requirement.”


The comment is made in light of the fact that US regulator, the Federal Aviation Administration, has said that pilots and air traffic controllers must not fly or conduct any of their duties for 48 hours after receiving their dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Asked about the memo, an American Airlines spokesperson took a slightly different approach.

They said the airline is currently working on a plan to provide pilots and other employees with the vaccine as it becomes available across the states, however will not make the vaccine mandatory.

“As we work to develop a program to connect our team with the COVID-19 vaccine, we are encouraging team members to get vaccinated as opportunities arise for them to do so,” spokeswoman Stacy Day said.

The airline also stated it does not plan to require staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19, unless they must enter another country that has such a requirement.

Airlines and industry groups have long believed that a COVID-19 vaccine will be the key to safely re-opening international economies and the eventual rebound of both short and long-haul travel.

In fact, Emirates president Tim Clark recently optimistically stated he believed the airline’s capacity would return in full by the end of 2021.

However, the official stance of the International Air Transport Association favours both vaccines and pre-flight testing as a means to get people travelling again, even without herd immunity.


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