United Requiring Employees To Get Vaccinated | Will Others Follow?
United Airlines Holdings Inc. will require its 67,000 U.S. employees to be vaccinated this fall, the first major airline to take this step as the Delta variant drives a nationwide increase in Covid-19 infections.
Airlines including United have so far tried to encourage workers to be vaccinated voluntarily, with incentives such as bonus pay or extra vacation.
In a letter to employees Friday, Chief Executive Scott Kirby and President Brett Hart said they expected that some would disagree with the decision but said the move was necessary to keep workers safe.
“The facts are crystal clear: everyone is safer when everyone is vaccinated,” the executives wrote. “Over the last 16 months, Scott has sent dozens of condolences letters to the family members of United employees who have died from COVID-19. We’re determined to do everything we can to try to keep another United family from receiving that letter.”
Frontier Airlines, a Denver-based budget airline, said Friday it would require its 5,300 employees to be vaccinated by Oct. 1 or face regular Covid-19 testing.
Other carriers said Friday that vaccination is still optional for employees. A Delta spokesman said the airline is strongly encouraging employees to get vaccinated, and 73% of its employees have done so.
Under a previous agreement that United and its pilots struck earlier this year, pilots didn’t have to be vaccinated but were eligible for up to 13 hours of additional pay if they showed proof of vaccination. Under another earlier agreement, the airline offered flight attendants up to three additional days off in 2022 if they demonstrated proof of vaccination.
Those efforts largely paid off: Around 90% of United’s pilots and close to 80% of its flight attendants have been vaccinated, a United executive said.
The union that represents United’s pilots told members that the policy warrants further negotiations but that while a small number of pilots don’t agree with this new company policy, the union believes the policy is legal.
Spirit’s Scheduling Meltdown | CEO: ‘We couldn’t get in front of it.’
A combination of flight delays throughout July, staffing shortages, technology problems and a surge in travel that has taken most airline executives by surprise culminated with more than 2,000 flights canceled since the weekend, some days accounting for more than half of Spirit’s schedule.
And trouble isn’t over for travelers. CEO Christie said the carrier needs to cancel additional flights, although he said operations are improving and will return to normal by the middle of next week.
“We couldn’t get in front of it,” Christie said. He estimated that “tens or hundreds of thousands” of customers were affected by Spirit’s disruptions and said it is too early to estimate financial impact to the company.
On Thursday [8/5] alone Spirit canceled 450 flights, 56% of its operation. Spirit, unlike large network airlines, does not have so-called interline agreements, which allow a carrier to book its passengers on another airline during severe disruptions.
“We are going to do everything we can to earn back the confidence of our guests and the traveling public. We believe we can do that,” Christie said on the call Thursday. He said the airline is giving affected customers cash refunds.
In hindsight, Spirit should have canceled more flights earlier to give it time to recalibrate, Christie said. Instead the airline tried to maintain flights to cater to large numbers of customers, many of them flying for the first time since the pandemic began.
Companies Thought They Had Plans for Fall | Now They Are Scrapping Them
Up until a few weeks ago, corporate leaders felt confident about what to expect this fall.
Offices would reopen after Labor Day. Business travel would resume more broadly. Long-delayed work gatherings, conventions and off-site meetings would finally take place. The pandemic has, once again, upended many of those plans.
The swift, startling resurgence of Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations across the U.S. is causing corporate leaders to rip up playbooks for the next few months.
Amazon.com Inc. on Thursday delayed its return for corporate employees to at least Jan. 3, from September. Lyft Inc. pushed back its planned office reopening to February 2022. Other companies, such as Dell Technologies Inc., DELL 0.20% have postponed fall returns in the U.S. without giving new reopening dates. Business travel at the company also remains largely restricted.
In a memo to employees Tuesday, Dell Chief Operating Officer Jeff Clarke said that, because of the Delta variant, many cities where Dell operates in the U.S. have moved from “green” to “red” on an internal company risk dashboard.
Much is changing, and quickly. Industry events that had been planned for later this month or this fall have been scrapped or gone virtual. Organizers of the New York Auto Show, scheduled to run from Aug. 20 to Aug. 29, canceled the event, citing challenges related to the Delta variant. In Nashville, Tenn., the 3686 Festival, which draws startup founders, investors and others, canceled its event in September. “We look forward to connecting again in person in 2022,” organizers said in a note to attendees.
Many companies have stopped making reopening estimates altogether. The Houston corporate office of retailer Mattress Firm Inc. is still largely closed, with no reopening date set. “I don’t want to make any predictions,” CEO John Eck said. “Where we’re at now would indicate it’s going to be later than sooner.”
Amid the devastating pandemic, a moment of hope opened the door for ExpressJet Airlines, formerly the nation’s largest regional airline, to seriously think about restarting its commercial operations.
The carrier, which flew in partnership with for major U.S. airlines, plans to launch service on its own this fall.
After creating a business plan, ExpressJet submitted its application to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Fitness Authority to reinstate the airline’s ability to fly commercially.
The Transportation Department released its final fitness order July 30, allowing ExpressJet to restart commercial operations, in part thanks to its balance sheets, including $14 million received in federal aid under the Cares Act and U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, an ExpressJet spokesperson said.
Georgia-based ExpressJet would resume operations under its brand during the third quarter sometime in September, with its first full month of operations slated for October. It would operate the 50-seat Embraer-145 aircraft the airline is known for to cities with unmet needs, Karnik said.
Although in the beginning, ExpressJet would be starting small, its first-year growth plan includes adding an aircraft every other month. Depending on demand and reception, the airline expects to speed up growth and recall several hundred more employees by the end of 2022.
The Air Line Pilots Association, representing ExpressJet pilots, said collective bargaining agreements for its pilots remain in effect.
“We are currently working with management on how best to move forward with this initial restart and will continue to help rebuild airline operations to ensure that our pilots are well positioned for success,” an union spokesperson said.
Karnik says he plans to have up to 300 or more employees, in total, by the end of the first year. He believes company-wide it would be easier to bring back furloughed employees already familiar with the airline rather than hire new ones.