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United mulls mandatory staff vaccines, preps for further staff cuts

written by Hannah Dowling | January 25, 2021

A United Airlines 737 at O’Hare in Chicago

United Airlines might make the COVID-19 vaccine a mandatory requirement for employees, according to CEO Scott Kirby.

“I think the right thing to do is for United Airlines, and for other companies, to require the vaccines and to make them mandatory,” Kirby said.

“If others go along and are willing to start to mandate vaccines, you should probably expect United to be amongst the first wave of companies that do it.”

Later, a spokeswoman for the company confirmed the United was “strongly considering” making the vaccine mandatory for all employees, though noted that the policy was not yet in place.

Airlines around the globe have taken largely different approaches to the introduction of COVID-19 vaccines, however no airlines have made the inoculation mandatory, as of yet.

Earlier this month, Emirates announced it had started offering the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to its frontline employees, including pilots and cabin crew, while American Airlines issued a staff memo that should they wish to be inoculated, they should do so on their own time.

To date, there has been mixed public response to the introduction of COVID-19 vaccines, and particularly to discussion around mandatory vaccines.


For months, discourse surrounding the return of international travel following the pandemic has stated that a recovery is largely reliant on a widespread public uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine.

However, in the months since the first COVID-19 vaccine trials were completed, and vaccines began to be shipped around the world, there has been much public debate surrounding whether or not one should be forced to get the vaccine in order to be able to travel overseas.

United introduces new voluntary exit packages

Meanwhile, United has also issued a memo to staff offering new deals for extended voluntary leave, which includes pay and health care benefits.

The airline is reportedly running a drive to reduce its headcount and cut costs by about $3 billion annually until around 2023, when it anticipates travel demand will rebound.

The new voluntary exit programs include different options focused on pay or health benefits. Each is tailored by age and years of service, according to the memo.

Asked about the offering, a United spokeswoman said, “Given the continued, near-term variations in travel demand, we’ll look for new ways to give our employees flexibility by introducing voluntary options that help reduce costs and may reduce the number of furloughs of recalled employees.”

United had previously offered a series of voluntary exit packages for frontline employees after the pandemic first hit last year, though pay was not included in its offerings at the time.

The company furloughed over 13,000 employees in October when the first round of government aid for airlines dried up, though some were brought back into the company temporarily following the announcement of a fresh $15 billion in payroll assistance for the sector, announced in December.

United mulls mandatory staff vaccines, preps for further staff cuts Comment

  • WJR


    With mandatory vaccines for employees AND for passengers, we would be back aboard United flights much sooner than we otherwise will. It has been 10 months since we’ve flown, and will be considerably longer if vaccines are not mandated.

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