White House, Airlines Say Vaccine Mandate Won’t Impact Holiday Travel

White House, Airlines Say Vaccine Mandate Won’t Impact Holiday Travel

LAURIE BARATTI | TravelPulse.Com

Troy Warren for CNT #Travel

 

Recent speculation about Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and airline staffing shortages due to upcoming vaccine mandate deadlines would seem to be unfounded. The White House and two major U.S. carriers have just stated that they don’t foresee the Biden administration’s vaccination order for federal and federally-contracted employees causing holiday travel complications.

To clarify, the vaccine mandate for federal employees dictates that they be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by November 22 without an approved exemption, while the deadline for employees of federal contractors is December 8.

With the deadlines falling around the busy Thanksgiving and end-of-year travel periods, fears emerged that a substantial number of unvaccinated airline and TSA employees might cause staffing shortages just when loads of Americans are trying to travel.

But, according to Reuters, White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters on Wednesday that, “Vaccination requirements will not impact holiday travel.” He explained, “The requirements for federal workers and contractors will not cause disruptions to government services that people depend on. Agencies have the flexibility necessary to enforce the mandate without impacting critical operations.”

Zients added, “The point here is to get people vaccinated, not to punish them. So, agencies will not be removing employees from federal service until after they’ve gone through a process of education and counseling.”

On Thursday, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly likewise asserted that the vaccination issue would not disrupt holiday travel. “We are not on a campaign here to force everybody to get vaccinated…We want our employees to know that nobody is going to lose their job on December 9 if we’re not perfectly in compliance,” he explained. He also said unequivocally, “We’re not going to fire anybody who doesn’t get vaccinated.”

On an earnings call yesterday, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said that he doesn’t expect any employees to leave the company because of the vaccine mandate. “We think we’re not going to see anyone leaving American. I don’t think anyone’s going to want to leave American because either they choose not to get vaccinated or they don’t have a religious or medical (exemption),” he said.


 

Parker disclosed, “We don’t anticipate any operational impact,” and said that American is “highly confident” that it will have enough staff to fly its holiday schedule as planned, even if unvaccinated workers with approved exemptions have to comply with new testing requirements.

Since “fully vaccinated” means 14 days need to have passed since receiving the final dose of a vaccine, federal employees, including TSA workers, must receive their second dose (or single dose with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine) by November 8. Employees of companies that contract with the federal government, meanwhile, can receive theirs by November 24 at the latest.

The Cargo Airline Association, a trade group that represents FedEx, United Parcel Service and other cargo carriers, on Monday expressed in a letter to the White House that, “It will be virtually impossible to have 100 percent of our respective workforces vaccinated by December 8…Sliding this date into the first half of 2022 will allow association members to meet the demands of the e-commerce revolution during the holiday season.”

FedEx told Reuters yesterday that it’s “engaged with the relevant government agencies” about implementing the vaccination guidelines in a way that won’t interfere with deliveries during the bustling holiday shopping season.

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By Troy Warren

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