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United, Delta, Disney World, and Amtrak Require COVID Vaccines for Employees as Mandates Gain Traction

By Michelle Baran

Aug 25, 2021

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By September 27, all United employees must be vaccinated.

Photo by Shutterstock

By September 27, all United employees must be vaccinated.

A growing wave of travel companies is making a stronger push for vaccinations.

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This week, Delta Air Lines said that starting in November it will charge employees on the company health plan $200 more a month if they fail to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

The airline’s top executives say the new policy is needed because the average hospital stay for the virus costs the airline $40,000. According to CEO Ed Bastian, all employees who have been hospitalized for the virus in recent weeks were not fully vaccinated.

Delta will stop extending pay protection to unvaccinated workers who contract COVID-19 effective September 30, and it will require unvaccinated workers to be tested weekly beginning September 12 (the airline will cover the cost of testing).

In May, Delta had announced that it would be requiring all new hires in the United States to be vaccinated against COVID-19 “unless they qualify for an accommodation.”

Delta isn’t the only travel company strongly encouraging vaccinations. Effective October 4, all new hires at national rail network Amtrak must show proof of vaccination for COVID-19, and by November 1, all existing employees will either need to be fully vaccinated or submit to weekly COVID-19 testing.

“Many employees have shared reasons why they are apprehensive about getting the COVID-19 vaccine,” Bill Flynn, Amtrak’s chief executive officer, wrote in an August 11 memo to Amtrak employees, obtained by AFAR. “We understand these concerns and encourage everyone to consult with a medical professional and seek out facts from reputable sources.”

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The move came less than a week after United Airlines became the first major U.S. carrier to require all of its employees to be fully vaccinated or face termination. They will need to show proof of being fully vaccinated by September 27, five weeks after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on August 23.

“Vaccines are—by far—the most effective way to protect people from COVID-19,” United CEO Scott Kirby and president Brett Hart stated in an August 6 memo to the airline’s employees, seen by AFAR.

“We know some of you will disagree with this decision to require the vaccine for all United employees. But . . . the facts are crystal clear: everyone is safer when everyone is vaccinated,” the memo stated.

The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have been granted emergency use authorization by the FDA, but this week the agency granted full approval to the Pfizer vaccine, which was expected to embolden more companies and organizations to require vaccinations.

Indeed, in the wake of the news, Walt Disney World in Florida reached an agreement with employees that requires them to be fully vaccinated by October 22 in order to remain on the payroll. Medical and religious exemptions will be considered.

The latest spate of vaccine mandates comes at a time when the vaccination campaign has stagnated in the United States, with only about half of the U.S. population now fully vaccinated, and as COVID case numbers continue to climb amid a surge fueled by the now-dominant Delta variant.

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Immediately following United’s announcement, discount carrier Frontier Airlines on August 6 said that it, too, is requiring all employees be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 1.

“As we continue to watch the rapid increase of new COVID-19 cases across the United States caused by the Delta variant, I am concerned for the well-being of our team members, their families and friends,” Barry Biffle, president and CEO of Frontier Airlines, said in a statement.

Frontier employees who choose not to or are unable to get vaccinated will be asked to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test on a regular basis.

Neither Southwest Airlines nor American Airlines has unveiled any kind of vaccine mandate for employees.

Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said the airline will “continue to strongly encourage” workers to get vaccinated, but that the airline’s policy has not changed, according to a statement reported by CNN. Similarly, American Airlines told the news outlet that there were no changes to its policy of strongly encouraging employees to get vaccinated.

Vaccine requirements are gaining traction at the municipal level as well, with New York City, St. Louis, and San Francisco now requiring proof of vaccination to enter certain venues, such as for indoor dining and performances, and countries like France and Italy requiring COVID passes for entry into museums and restaurants as well.  

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Several cruise lines have vaccine mandates as well, as do some tour operators. And some hotels have started requiring guests be vaccinated, including Ian Schrager’s Public Hotel in New York, the Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn, and Elite Island Resorts in the Caribbean.

Given how many new mandates we have seen just in recent days, it looks like the trend in requiring proof of vaccination, whether for employees or guests or both, is not going to slow down anytime soon.

This story was originally published on August 13, 2021, and has been updated to include current information. Associated Press contributed reporting.

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