Alaska Airlines and JetBlue are joining United Airlines to require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, as the Biden administration mounts pressure on major US carriers to require shots.
White House coronavirus adviser Jeffrey Ziants spoke to the CEOs of American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines about the vaccine mandate, according to three people familiar with the situation. He spoke on the condition of anonymity on Friday because the calls were private.
Airlines are big employers that fall under President Joe Biden’s sweeping order that companies with more than 100 workers be required to vaccinate employees or undergo weekly testing for the virus.
They are also government contractors, and so may fall under the December 8 deadline that contractors implement vaccination requirements – without testing options.
Alaska Airlines and JetBlue Airways said on Friday they would require employees to be vaccinated on December 8 as soon as possible because they would be treated as federal contractors.
“This means that employees can no longer opt for masking in lieu of receiving routine testing and vaccines,” Alaska Airlines said in a memo to employees.
Delta said it is still evaluating Biden’s order. The airline had earlier said it would require vaccinations or weekly tests and imposed a surcharge on unvaccinated employees. It would meet the Biden test for large employers but not the strict rules for federal contractors.
United Airlines took an early and tough stance on requiring vaccinations. United said Thursday that 320 of its 67,000 US employees are facing dismissal for not getting vaccinated by a deadline earlier this week or for seeking medical or religious exemptions.
American and Southwest say they are studying Biden’s order. Both are under pressure from their pilot groups not to require vaccination, but to offer alternatives, including testing.
The White House adviser’s call with the airline’s CEO was previously reported by Reuters.
At least two members of Congress — Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Cal., and Rep. Don Baer, D-Va. – has proposed that passengers on domestic flights be vaccinated or show evidence of testing negative for COVID-19 before boarding a flight.
Anthony Fauci, the government’s top expert on infectious disease, supports that approach for domestic flights, and passengers entering the country must submit a negative test before boarding. The Biden administration has not ruled out the idea, which the airlines strongly oppose.