Chicago-based United Airlines announced on Tuesday that all crew members travelling to high-risk countries will be required to have the COVID-19 vaccine.
Flight attendants will need to be fully inoculated against COVID-19 by 31 July, while pilots have an additional day, until 1 August, to receive their vaccine, in order to perform flights to countries considered to be of high COVID risk.
Specifically, United Airlines’ vaccination rule will apply to flights to India, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Colombia and Argentina, according to the company. These are all red countries.
Upon future recommendations from local governments, China and Taiwan may be included in the list.
“We hope that countries come off the list, rather than having to add more countries,” the airline said.
Previously, the airline had reached an agreement with a pilot union that would not make vaccinations mandatory for pilots to retain their job or perform their regular duties, according to Air Line Pilot’s Association.
Pilots who chose not to be vaccinated would not be “subject to any discipline”, according to the agreement.
However, the agreement also proposed pilots who chose to receive the vaccination would be eligible for extra pay and vacation days – similar to many airlines incentivising employee vaccinations.
While incentives were encouraging United Airlines staff to vaccinate, this new update shows the company is transitioning to tighter rules for mitigating the virus.
In May, Delta Air Lines announced it was requiring all new staff to be vaccinated. This made Delta the only airline to require vaccination for a portion of its employees before United followed suit.
Ed Bastian, Delta Airlines CEO, told CNN when the mandate began, “Any person joining Delta in the future, we’re going to mandate that they be vaccinated before they can sign up with the company.”
However, Bastian was aware many employees have reasons for not being vaccinated, so it would not become mandatory for existing staff, but highly encouraged.
While other major US airlines have not mandated employee vaccinations yet, incentives are still driving employees to receive the jab.
American Airlines in March announced employees who got the COVID-19 vaccine would receive an extra vacation day in 2022, plus $50 in Nonstop Thanks recognition points, if eligible for it.