United Airlines and I had a long relationship. When I lived in New Jersey, I mostly flew with Continental and then United out of Newark Airport. The first frequent flyer program I ever earned enough points in to redeem a free ticket was MileagePlus. I loved that they had a flight from EWR to MCO that left at 9 PM on Friday so I could leave work and still check into my Disney World hotel the same day.
So it took a lot for me to give up on the airline. They just made one bad choice after another such that I eventually decided that I didn’t want to fly with them anymore. I still used their frequent flyer program to redeem points when it made sense, but it’s been over five years since I’ve flown a flight on United metal.
We didn’t fly during the pandemic, opting to take road trips (and learning that Airbnb isn’t all that bad). Our first flight was on Delta from Orlando to New York and while it wasn’t great to be standing in a long line at the airport to check-in and then crowded at the gate to get on an oversold flight, we survived.
However, that was a month ago and in the pandemic, things can change seemingly overnight. Whereas cases were seemingly low in early July, they’re sky-high in August, with no sense of slowing down.
Of all the airlines, Delta was the last to block middle seats to encourage spacing on its flights. They were willing to give up the revenue from selling extra tickets to gain goodwill with the public. Meaning they hoped that people would remember that Delta was the airline that tried the hardest to keep passengers safe during a pandemic.
For the most part, it was working. Delta’s lost the least money than other airlines even with them offering fewer seats for sale on each flight. Delta’s CEO even seemed to signal that they might require passengers to be vaccinated once the vaccines were FDA approved.
So it was surprising to see that the first airline’s CEO to announce that all employees had to be vaccinated or risk losing their job wasn’t Delta but United Airlines. Wait, United? The airline I’m boycotting?
Yep, United Airlines requires that all of its employees get vaccinated against COVID-19 by late October, possibly sooner if the vaccine gains FDA approval, or risk being fired, unless they can provide proof of religious or medical reasons for not getting vaccinated. United isn’t going as far as requiring passengers required to be vaccinated, claiming that such a restriction is up to the government.
You’d think that other airlines would join in but the CEOs of Southwest Airlines, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines say they do not require unvaccinated employees to receive the shot.
That’s interesting since Delta Air Lines has already announced that all new hires be vaccinated. So it seems to be a business decision that in a lean labor market, Delta isn’t willing to part ways with unvaccinated employees even at the peril of its passengers.
Delta does claim that over 75% of its workforce is already vaccinated without a corporate mandate. However, that means 1 in 4 people working are not vaccinated. With the COVID Delta variant ripping through the unvaccinated population, do you want an unvaccinated flight attendant walking down the aisle offering you a pack of Biscoff cookies? I know I don’t.
While no U.S. airline requires passengers to be vaccinated or to even provide a negative test before flying domestically, at least United is stepping up and requiring employees to get the vaccine. There’s a big difference between asking your employees to do something and telling them that if they don’t want to do something, it will cost them their job.
And for that, I give United credit and think less of Delta, Southwest and American. It takes courage to admit that you’re willing to change your mind and this brings me one step closer to flying with United again.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary