United CEO: “We’re Prepared” For Passenger Vaccine Mandate

by SharonKurheg

United CEO Scott Kirby was interviewed by Margaret Brennan on CBS’s Face The Nation TV show on Sunday. The vast majority of the discussion was about airlines, airports and COVID, although they did speak about the $3.5 trillion infrastructure package that could affect not only airports but airlines’ impact on the environment.

Here are some things to take away from the interview:

Back in August, United mandated that all its employees must be vaccinated against COVID. So far 90% of its employees have gotten their shots. Brennan asked about contractors, since they’re not employees. Kirby suggested that because of the Biden administration’s orders, everyone working in the airports will be vaccinated soon enough.

Brennan focused on fewer people buying plane tickets due to the uptick in COVID cases, thanks to the Delta variant. Kirby clarified that the variant had affected business travel most of all. Whereas they were hoping business travel would be coming back by September (read: now), they’ve now pushed their expectations to January 2022.

Regarding when international travel can resume (read: international travelers coming here), Kirby said the government is in contact with the airlines quite a bit and neither has a specific timeline. Kirby understands the governments (both U.S. and European, for example) are, “just trying to take a cautious approach and really put safety first as they go through the crisis.” He also said he thinks, “they’re just focused on trying to do the right thing here, and this is a lot of uncertainty around what it means, and I think they’re just focused on the right thing.”He said that international travel will happen as cases go down and he hopes that will happen so.

When Brennan asked about the infrastructure package, Kirby said he’s in support of anything that will help modernize our country’s airports. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had real investment in the airports. Our air traffic control system, you know, still flies in a lot of ways the same way we flew 50, 60 years ago. And there’s real opportunities to make it more efficient and it’d be good for the economy, good for customers, really kind of good for society as a whole,” he said. He also said that for the climate change initiatives, they need the government’s support to fund the investments (as opposed to the airline that’s charging its passengers for it).

What I found most interesting was when Brennan asked Kirby about mandating COVID vaccines for flight. She wondered if he favored such mandates and, of course, he skirted that issue ;-). However he did say that if the government did roll out such a mandate, they’re prepared to do so.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Would you advise the administration that they roll out another wave of mandates, this time for passengers? You know, if TSA screened you to make sure you’re not hurting your other passengers, potentially should they also check your card to see if you’re vaccinated?

KIRBY: Well, I think the administration is doing a really admirable job of trying to find all the levers to push to get the whole country vaccinated, and they have really gotten better data and science.–

MARGARET BRENNAN And they’re discussing this, should they do it?

KIRBY: They- you hear it sometimes. But I think the administration’s perspective has been that getting people vaccinated at work, it’s a one shot and you can really get a whole bunch of the country. You can get a high percentage of the country as opposed to making it a burden on people that are vaccinated every time you get a plane, a train, any kind of public transportation to prove that you’re vaccinated. So, for now, I think their approach of focusing on the employment and focusing on work is probably the right way to go. But they’ve got great data and science, and if they tell us that they want us to check everyone, we’re prepared to do that as well.

The federal government is already looking into requiring COVID vaccines for incoming international travelers. Will the federal government eventually require them for domestic air travel, as well? Frankly, despite those who say it’s definitely or definitely not going to happen, none of us know for sure; there are just way too many moving parts to say either way. If nothing else, just about every government person who’s commented on it has said the possibility remains on the table. And if it ever becomes a reality, the CEO of United Airlines, at least, says they’ll be ready for it.

Here’s a transcript of the full interview.

Feature Photo: United Airlines

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