American, Alaska Air will end pay protections for unvaccinated staff if they contract Covid
American Airlines flight 718, the first U.S. Boeing 737 MAX commercial flight since regulators lifted a 20-month grounding in November, takes off from Miami, Florida, December 29, 2020.
Marco Bello | Reuters
“Going forward, given there is an FDA-approved vaccine, pandemic leave will only be offered to team members who are fully vaccinated and who provide their vaccination card to us,” American said in a staff memo on Thursday. The change starts Oct. 1 and unvaccinated workers will have to use their sick time or medical leave if they miss work because of Covid.
The similar change at Alaska Airlines went into effect Aug. 30.
Both airlines stopped short of instituting a vaccine mandate, like the one United Airlines announced last month, and the policy changes show diverging tactics among carriers in encouraging workers to get vaccinated.
Alaska Airlines on Thursday said it would pay employees $200 if they disclose their proof of Covid-19 vaccination by Oct. 15 and said those who fail to do so will be considered unvaccinated. Unvaccinated employees will have to wear masks at all times on the job and attend a “mandatory vaccine education program.”
Southwest Airlines, which also doesn’t require employees to be vaccinated, said it would restore pay or paid time off to workers who had to quarantine due to a Covid-19 infection or for being in close contact with someone who tested positive, retroactive to June 16. The company had discontinued that program in mid-June, citing a drop in Covid cases and high vaccine availability.
Southwest’s pilots’ union earlier this week sued the airline, alleging that a number of Covid-related polices, including the end of paid time off for exposure or infection, required negotiation with the union.
“With COVID-19 cases continuing to rise, due to the Delta variant, Southwest is taking an additional step to support our Employees by implementing a Quarantine Pay Program,” said spokeswoman Brandy King. The new policy will restore time-off balances for staff “who previously, and responsibly, quarantined for Company-related incidents over the summer as cases spiked in the general population across the country.”