Unions representing American and Southwest Airlines pilots say a vaccine mandate could cause a staff shortage and disrupt travel, reports say

·3 min read
American Airlines pilots
Pilots chatting in front of an American Airlines plane. Mike Stone/Reuters
  • Pilots have warned of staff shortages if vaccines become mandatory, Politico first reported.

  • Joe Biden has told big businesses they need to mandate vaccines or weekly tests for staff.

  • The APA, which represents American Airlines pilots, warned of "mass terminations of unvaccinated pilots," per Politico.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Pilots at two major airlines have warned of staff shortages and disruption to holiday travel if vaccines become mandatory for them, according to multiple reports.

In a letter obtained by both Politico and The Dallas Morning News, the Allied Pilots Association (APA), which represents 14,000 American Airlines pilots, wrote that mandates would force airlines to "either offer unpaid leaves of absence or, worse, implement mass terminations of unvaccinated pilots."

As part of his COVID-19 Action Plan, President Joe Biden announced on September 9 that businesses with more than 100 employees would need to mandate vaccines or weekly testing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. He has not said when the rule will take effect.

The APA's president, Eric Ferguson, wrote in the letter that the White House should find "alternate means of compliance" for professional pilots to ensure they don't need to get vaccinated, per the reports.

American does not currently mandate vaccines for staff.

Ferguson wrote that some pilots worried about possible "career-ending side effects" from the vaccine, and cited stringent FAA medical tests pilots must pass in order to maintain their commercial license, according to the reports.

"All of those members are still able to perform their duties as professional pilots. To force those pilots out of their positions, rather than offering viable alternatives will have adverse consequences upon their families and the airline industry as a whole," he wrote, as reported by the two publications.

APA president Eric Ferguson sent the letter on Friday to 15 officials across the Federal Aviation Administration, Congress, the Department of Transportation, and others, per the reports.

Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) echoed the APA's warnings about a vaccine mandate on Monday, saying it could create labor shortages and operational problems, Politico first reported.

"SWAPA's stance is that it is each pilot's right to choose whether or not to get the vaccine," the union said in a statement Monday.

Both American and Southwest said in August, before Biden announced the vaccine requirement, that they wouldn't mandate vaccines for employees, per a CNN report.

American said in early September that, from October, it planned to stop giving special pandemic leave to unvaccinated employees who became infected with COVID-19, in an attempt to encourage staff to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Southwest said in mid-September that it would cut special sick pay for unvaccinated workers who caught COVID-19, and that it planned to give employees 16 hours extra pay if they showed proof of full vaccination before November 15.

An American spokesperson directed Insider to a memo from CEO Doug Parker and President Robert Isom on September 10 encouraging employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Southwest Airlines and the APA didn't immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

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