U.S. Airlines, White House Say Vaccine Mandate Won’t Impact Vacation Travel

By David Shepardson and Rajesh Kumar Singh

WASHINGTON / CHICAGO (Reuters) – Two major U.S. airlines and the White House have said they do not believe the Biden administration’s executive order requiring federal contractors to require employees to be vaccinated by December 8 would have an impact affect vacation travel or result in employee departure.

American Airlines and Southwest Airlines announced earlier this month that they will comply with the mandate that employees must be vaccinated by December 8, unless they are given a religious or medical exemption.

Some airlines and industry watchers initially feared an exodus of unvaccinated airline or government workers involved in travel just before the Christmas season, but airlines later said that would not happen. and cited White House comments this week.

Southwest Airlines General Manager Gary Kelly said Thursday: “We are not campaigning here to force everyone to get vaccinated … We want our employees to know that no one is going to lose their job on December 9 if we are not fully in compliance. ”

He added: “We are not going to fire anyone who does not get the vaccine.” He said the vaccination issue would not disrupt travel.

White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters on Wednesday that vaccine requirements for federal employees and federal contractors would not impact vacation travel.

“The vaccination requirements will not impact vacation travel,” Zients said.

Some lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, have raised concerns about the impact on the Transportation Security Administration and travel.

“The requirements for federal workers and contractors will not disrupt the government services people depend on. Agencies have the flexibility to enforce the mandate without affecting critical operations,” Zients said.

Zients added, “The goal here is to vaccinate people, not to punish them. Thus, agencies will only remove federal public service employees after going through an education and counseling process.”

American Airlines chief executive Doug Parker said on an earnings call Thursday that he did not expect an employee to leave because of the vaccination warrant.

“We think we’re not going to see anyone leave the American. I don’t think anyone will want to leave the American because they choose not to get the vaccine or they don’t have a religious exemption or medical, ”Parker said. noted.

Parker said the airline is “very confident” that it will have everyone they need to keep up with their vacation schedule even as some unvaccinated employees with approved exemptions face new testing requirements.

“We do not anticipate any operational impact,” Parker said.

The Cargo Airline Association, a group representing FedEx Corp, United Parcel Service Inc and other cargo carriers, said in a letter to the White House on Monday that “it will be next to impossible to vaccinate 100% of our respective workforce. ‘by December 8. … The sliding of this date to the first half of 2022 will allow the members of the association to meet the demands of the e-commerce revolution during the end of year celebrations. ”

The letter, seen by Reuters, had not been previously reported.

FedEx told Reuters on Thursday it was “engaged with relevant government agencies” on the guidelines.

(Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington and Rajesh Kumar Singh in Chicago; editing by Matthew Lewis)

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