Vaccine mandates are ramping up around the world now that there is evidence that we have multiple safe and effective vaccines against COVID-19. Several companies, including airlines, have been strongly encouraging employees to get vaccinated since the shots have become widely available. A few have even gone as far as requiring all employees to be inoculated.

On August 6, 2021, United Airlines became the first U.S. airline to announce that it will require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, with other carriers following suit. Other U.S. airlines have stuck with encouraging and incentivizing vaccination among its employees. Some have made it a requirement for new employees, while existing unvaccinated employees may be subject to higher healthcare costs.

Incentives have become more apparent since the Pfizer vaccine received full FDA approval on August 23, 2021, and more airlines may require employees to be vaccinated in the future in light of the recent federal mandate that sets out new vaccination guidelines for employees of government contractors and companies of 100+ employees. Here’s a look at vaccination policies for employees at some of the major U.S. airlines.

Related: Canada Will Require Vaccine to Fly: Will U.S. Follow?

Vaccination Rules for Employees of U.S. Airlines

Masked flight attendant putting a suitcase in the overhead bin on an empty plane

Airlines That Require Employee Vaccination

Here are the airlines that require all employees, new and existing, to show proof of vaccination.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines is shifting from their previous policy to require all employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by December 8th. Employees who show proof of vaccination (at last count, 75% of Alaska Airlines employees who shared their status were vaccinated) prior to December 1st will still receive a $200 incentive from the carrier.

American Airlines

All American Airlines employees must show proof of vaccination starting November 24, 2021. 


JetBlue is assisting employees in their vaccination requirement by setting up vaccination sites at some of its support centers and airports. On JetBlue’s safety page, it states that the majority of crew members have already received the vaccine. In an additional precaution, any crew member diagnosed with COVID-19 will receive up to an additional 14 days of paid sick time.

Related: Where Can Americans Travel Right Now?

Southwest Airlines

Employees of Southwest Airlines must submit proof of vaccination or apply for religious or medical exemption by November 24, 2021. Employees who are approved for exemption will most likely have to continue to wear a mask at all times and get tested on a regular schedule. 

Hawaiian Airlines

In August, Hawaiian Airlines CEO Peter Ingram told U.S. employees in a memo that they will be required to receive a COVID-19 vaccine by November 1, 2021. Medical and religious exemptions will be made, but will require testing.

He said that the decision was “deliberated extensively” but ultimately decided to impose this requirement to ensure a safe environment. “Safety is the foundation of air travel, and it is ingrained throughout our operation and service. This is no different,” he said.

Related: 5 Types of Face Masks That Are Banned From Planes

United Airlines

United was the first major U.S. airline to require vaccines for employees and it is also the strictest when it comes to enforcing the mandate. On August 6, United announced it will require its 67,000 U.S. employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or risk termination. At the time, employees had until Oct. 25 or five weeks after one of the vaccines received full FDA approval, whichever came earlier. That deadline was changed to September 27, 2021, after the Pfizer vaccine was fully approved in late August.

Employees who refuse to get vaccinated for medical or religious reasons will be able to request for an exemption. United Airlines originally stated that they plan to put exempt employees on temporary unpaid leave until reasonable safety measures could be put into place. However, after six employees filed a lawsuit, a judge has ordered a temporary hold on this policy.

Related: Strategies to Get a Refund on Non-Refundable Airfare

Airlines That Encourage (But Do Not Require) Employee Vaccination

While the following airlines encourage and incentivize their employees to get vaccinated, they stop short of enforcing a strict vaccine policy.

Delta Air Lines

In May, Delta was the first airline to announce that new hires would need to be vaccinated against COVID-19, but it stopped short of requiring existing employees to get the vaccine. Instead, Delta has focused on incentivizing its current employees to get vaccinated.

In a late August memo to employees, CEO Ed Bastian announced that 75% of employees were vaccinated (this number has increased to 90% as of early October). The memo also outlined new measures to encourage the remaining Delta workforce to get vaccinated. Delta’s vaccine policy states that:

  • Unvaccinated employees must wear masks in all indoor Delta settings
  • Unvaccinated employees must take a COVID test each week
  • Beginning Nov. 1, unvaccinated employees are subject to a $200 monthly surcharge for healthcare
  • Effective Sep. 30, COVID pay protection will only be provided to fully vaccinated employees experiencing a breakthrough infection

Frontier Airlines

On August 6, Frontier announced a new policy for all employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by October, 1, 2021. However, this isn’t as strict of a requirement as it may seem. Frontier is allowing employees who choose not to or are unable to get vaccinated to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test on a regular basis.

Spirit Airlines

CEO Ted Christie confirmed in a staff email earlier this month that the airline will be complying with the federal mandate’s vaccine requirement. While further details on this policy have not yet been released, it is likely that there will be a continued testing option for employees who choose not to receive the vaccine. 

Related: What You Should Know Before Flying Spirit Airlines

Do Airlines Require Passengers to Be Vaccinated?

While a few airlines are imposing vaccine mandates on employees, so far, no U.S. airlines are requiring passengers to be vaccinated to fly within the U.S. However, some countries are requiring proof of vaccinations for tourists to enter. Additionally, as the U.S. reopens to international travelers, it’s likely that vaccines will be mandatory for visitors to enter. 

Australia’s largest airline, Qantas, recently announced that it will require all passengers on international flights to be vaccinated against COVID-19 when it restarts worldwide flights in December. It’s one of the first and only airlines to have this requirement.

Unless a federal vaccine mandate for travel is imposed, it’s unlikely a U.S. airline will make vaccination a similar requirement for domestic travel.

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