United Airlines looks to mandate COVID-19 vaccination for its employees and calls for other companies to follow its lead.

The Chicago-based carrier wants all of its 60,000 staff to be vaccinated for COVID-19, Chief Executive Scott Kirby told employees on January 21, 2021. Kirby believes it would be the best practice to require vaccines from the airline’s employees and said United would be among the first wave of companies to require vaccines, if other companies follow.

“Because I have confidence in the safety of the vaccine, and I recognize it’s controversial, I think the right thing to do is for United Airlines, and for other companies, to require the vaccines and to make them mandatory,” said Kirby to CNBC.

Other US carriers are not as determined to instill the mandatory vaccination. Delta Air Lines is working for the aviation employees to be considered as front line workers to receive the vaccine earlier in the rollout and Southwest is encouraging employees to be vaccinated. Meanwhile, American Airlines (A1G) (AAL) said the company is not planning on following United’s idea of mandatory vaccinations. 

“We do not plan to require our team members to receive the vaccine unless vaccinations are ultimately mandated for entry to certain destinations,” a spokesman for American Airlines (A1G) (AAL) said.

United Airlines burned an average of $33 million per day in the fourth quarter of 2021. To battle the financial losses, the airline plans to cut about $2 billion of annual costs through 2023. Even after receiving up to $2.6 billion in state payroll support, the airline is not able to provide enough work for its employees and plans to offer buyout packages, according to a memo sent to its employees on January 20, 2021.

“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,” said a spokesperson from United.

On December 27, 2020, then-US president Donald Trump signed a $900 billion stimulus package that would provide US airlines with a $15 billion state aid. The package was aimed at helping US airlines to recall furloughed workers and pay the employee wages and benefits. United said it would recall its 13,000 furloughed workers, but according to the company’s CEO, those callbacks would be “temporary” due to a low demand.

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