Delta Air Lines on Wednesday said it would impose a $200 monthly health insurance surcharge for employees who do not get vaccinated against the Covid virus. While stopping short of requiring vaccines, Delta hopes the monetary penalty will achieve the same result. The move follows an early August mandate imposed by United Airlines that requires all employees to get vaccinated within five weeks of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of a vaccine and similar mandates issued this week at Air Canada and Swiss International Airlines. The FDA issued full approval for the Pfizer vaccine on Monday.
In a memo issued Wednesday, Delta CEO Ed Bastian said the surcharge with take effect on November 1. Additional measures include an immediate requirement that all unvaccinated employees wear masks indoors “until community case rates stabilize.” Starting September 12, any U.S. employee who hasn’t been fully vaccinated must take a Covid test each week and those who test positive will need to isolate and remain out of the workplace. Finally, starting September 30, the airline will offer Covid pay protection only to vaccinated employees who have experienced a so-called breakthrough infection.
Bastian reported that 75 percent of Delta’s employees have gotten vaccinated and that since the rise of the latest Covid variant, known as the Delta variant, none of the Delta employees hospitalized with Covid have been fully vaccinated.
“While we can be proud of our 75 percent vaccination rate, the aggressiveness of the [latest] variant (the so-called Delta variant) means we need to get many more of our people vaccinated, and as close to 100 percent as possible,” he said. “We’ve always known that vaccinations are the most effective tool to keep our people safe and healthy in the face of this global health crisis. That’s why we’re taking additional, robust actions to increase our vaccination rate.”
In a statement to AIN, the Air Line Pilots Association's Delta Air Lines unit insisted that the airline should respect pilots' rights to consult with their personal doctors over the need for a vaccine, adding that it must negotiate any vaccine mandate with the union through a formal bargaining process. It did not specifically address the issue of the surcharge. The Association of Flight Attendants did not immediately respond to AIN's request for comment.
On Tuesday Swiss became the first European airline to mandate vaccinations for all flight crew starting on November 15 due to what it described as increasingly onerous entry restrictions at many of its international destinations. Hong Kong recently became the first Swiss destination to require with immediate effect proof of Covid vaccination from certain countries including Switzerland.
While acknowledging the Swiss mandate and the operational difficulties it and other airlines have encountered due to the emergence of the Delta variant of the virus, the European Cockpit Association (ECA) has taken a position against vaccine requirements for pilots. The group represents multiple pilot unions from across Europe.
"As pilots, we get to experience first-hand the Covid-induced inconveniences of quarantines, hotel lockdowns during layovers, immigration restrictions, and a multitude of tests," said ECA president Otjan de Bruijn. "But we do not believe that mandating vaccines for crew is the solution to the operational challenges our airlines may be facing.
"First, a mandatory requirement might go against the national laws of some EU member states. Second, the vaccination rate among pilots in Europe is already quite high, thereby limiting the actual operational issues that an airline may face. Finally, there will always be a small minority of unvaccinated people who are not able to get vaccinated due to medical reasons or who are unwilling to do so due to ethical or other concerns, including pilots. Airlines have a legal and moral obligation to find pragmatic solutions for these employees and to do so in close dialogue with their pilot unions."