Pilots Warn Vaccine Mandate Could Lead to Labor Shortage

Aircraft Cockpit
Two pilots flying plane. | Image by Maravic

Pilots for Southwest and American Airlines warned that the COVID vaccine could lead to pilots leaving their jobs, causing holiday shortages during the holiday flying season. 

The Allied Pilots Association, a union representing 14,000 pilots at American Airlines in Fort Worth, sent a warning to the White House and congressional leaders on Friday. They are predicting that airlines might experience “mass terminations of unvaccinated pilots” if the White House effects its plans to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for federal contractors and all companies with at least a hundred employees. 

“To ensure commercial aviation’s ongoing viability by avoiding a scenario in which airlines are forced to either offer unpaid leaves of absence or, worse, implement mass terminations of unvaccinated pilots, it is essential that an alternate means of compliance with the Executive Order be made available for professional pilots,” Allied Pilots Association president Eric Ferguson said in the letter. 

The Southwest Airlines Pilot Association, representing 8,500 pilots at the Dallas-based carrier, also sent a similar warning in a statement on Monday. The union warns in the statement that pilots could go on long-term leave or even be forced to retire early to avoid vaccinations. This, the union fear, could cause labor shortages and lead to serious operational problems for the carrier and other carriers. 

According to representatives for both unions, a large number of pilots are likely unvaccinated. An estimate from a representative for the Allied Pilots Union states that sixty to seventy percent of pilots are fully vaccinated. Casey Murray, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilot Association, estimated that less than half of Southwest Airlines pilots may be vaccinated. 

The two airlines have issued incentives for their pilots and other employees to get vaccinated, including free vacation days and bonus pay. However, both airlines have not mandated vaccinations.  

In a bid to ensure that there are enough employees to cover all scheduled flights this fall, airlines including American Airlines and Southwest Airlines have reduced their schedules. 

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