Delta Tries to Walk a Tightrope With New Employee Vaccine Rules

Delta

Now that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given full approval to the Pfizer COVID vaccine, people are running out of excuses to avoid getting vaccinated. It’s not just people, however… it’s also companies that are running out of reasons to avoid a vaccine mandate, and in the airline industry that means companies are going in different ways.

United has been the boldest and most decisive. It said clearly that if employees weren’t vaccinated by October 25 (or 5 weeks after the first vaccine gained FDA approval), they would not be welcome to work at United. Now that the Pfizer vaccine has been approved, the drop dead date is September 27. Get vaccinated, have a legitimate health or religious reason why you can’t get vaccinated, or you’re out. Now, Delta is getting into the game with a much more subtle twist.

Delta will not block people from working for the company if they are not vaccinated, but it is going to make it more difficult and more expensive to do so. In a memo to employees, CEO Ed Bastian outlined what will happen to those who refuse the vaccine:

  • Unvaccinated employees must wear masks indoors at all times “until community case rates stabilize.”
  • Unvaccinated employees will be forced to take a weekly COVID test “while community case rates are high,” and if they test positive, they have to isolate at home. They will NOT be eligible for pay protection while they’re sick so they’ll have to use their leave.
  • Unvaccinated employees who have company healthcare will be charged an additional $200 per month to offset the costs of hospitalizing those with COVID.

United has gone with the stick while Delta has chosen the carrot. Which one is better?

From a pure health perspective, United’s plan is obviously better. The more employees get vaccinated, the less likelihood there is of people getting sick. And having no unvaccinated employees means that the likelihood of severe illness drops even more dramatically. Yes, the Delta variant — or as Delta hilariously and noticeably refers to it in the letter, the B.1.617.2 variant — can create breakthrough infections, but Delta (the airline) notes that not a single vaccinated employee has ended up in the hospital with COVID.

If this were based on health alone, I imagine Delta would have followed in United’s path. I assume that Delta’s Chief Health Officer Dr. Henry Ting would be a big fan of the vaccine mandate, but I don’t really know since this is coming from Ed and not from the guy with the medical degree.

On the other hand, having unvaccinated employees continuing to work at the airline allows Delta to create an exclusive new product that hearkens back to the days when vaccines were rare and flying was oh so luxurious. Here’s a look at the new Delta 1918 offering:

I kid, I kid… but there is a kernel of truth here. While it may not be about marketing a new luxurious product, it has to be about something else.

Delta says that it has made very little progress in employee vaccination rates since mid-July; the rate has only risen from 72 percent to 75 percent of employees during that time. With a vaccine mandate, Delta might find itself in a tough place from a staffing perspective if it has to lay off a quarter of its workforce. After all, it still can’t staff phone lines properly and says that won’t happen until late September. Losing more employees is going to be a challenge.

Of course, if you put out a mandate, not all of those unvaccinated people will walk away. I don’t know the numbers, but most people are going to just get vaccinated so they can keep their jobs, I’d assume. The question is… who won’t?

Delta doesn’t seem to be concerned about people who make lower wages. The requirement to pay an extra $200 a month for healthcare if you’re unvaccinated will hurt a gate agent, but it won’t hurt a pilot. This does seem like a fairly hefty penalty.

Delta has around 70,000 employees today, so that means 17,500 are unvaccinated. Let’s say half of those people won’t get vaccinated but stick around anyway. They will now pay an extra $200 a month for healthcare. And that will result in an extra $21 million in company coffers each year. Delta says that the average hospital stay is costing the airline $50,000, so that would pay for 420 people per year getting hospitalized from COVID. That seems like a lot since it would be 5 percent of unvaccinated employees. Then again, maybe a higher percentage of employees will choose to get vaccinated instead of paying the tax, and that is the ultimate goal of this program.

It will not be fun for employees who refuse the vaccine. A weekly COVID test will be very annoying, and the need to wear masks indoors at all times — even though seemingly unenforceable — will be a huge bother for those who refuse to get vaccinated and probably already object to masks. So, why can’t Delta just be like United and force the issue?

My assumption is that there is some workgroup with too many people who aren’t vaccinated that has Delta concerned. It’s probably not reservations or anything like that but more likely it’s something that highly-specialized. Maybe pilots? Mechanics? Whatever it is, it seems to be enough to get Delta tap-dancing around the vaccination mandate with something far more complicated.

73 comments on “Delta Tries to Walk a Tightrope With New Employee Vaccine Rules

  1. Delta has tried to use $$ incentives to get vaxxed already. They’ve also made it as easy as possible for employees to get vaxxed (in-airport clinics, paid time off to get jabbed, etc.). You could also test every week in most stations already. Now they’re going the other way.

    IMO, Delta’s play here is diabolical and brilliant. They’ve given every break room blowhard a face-saving opportunity. Those people can either pay $200/mo., drop their insurance (more savings for self-insured DL), or reluctantly get jabbed and say they couldn’t afford not to.

    People will scream about “their rights” or HIPAA, or whatever. The truth is, Delta is well within their rights to do this.

    1. dead on right, Kevin.
      Most importantly, Delta is allowing their employees to make choices about their own health – just as they do with smoking and other lifestyle choices which do result in higher risk to employers and higher premiums to employees
      The reality is that Delta and other employers AND the federal government as the largest insurer should be making people pay for the risks they take.

      Delta’s policy is twofold – making high risk people pay for a known risk via higher insurance premiums and to protect others via masking and testing requirements, even if it is highly doubtful if the former actually does anything to reduce covid19 given studies that show that no form of masking including N95 masks worn by the public do any good in slowing transmission.

      As much as some would like to believe otherwise, covid is not a reason to throw out every basis of the way health care, employee relationships and government intervention in personal decisions are made.

      The simple reality is that United’s policy is by far the most troublesome philosophically because there is absolutely no personal choice left in health care decisions. Even little Frontier is also allowing the testing option for unvaccinated.

      And if the standard was really even about infectious diseases, then the flu vaccine and masking should have been required years ago – but they haven’t been and still aren’t. There isn’t a single vaccine that all American adult workers are required to show in order to get or retain a job. There are dozens of infectious diseases, some of which are respiratory, that are harmful to others and there are hundreds of lifestyle choices that degrade health quality and increase costs to a company.
      It is beyond criminal that antibody testing is not being incorporated into decisions about covid vaccinations when it most certainly is as part of the treatment of other diseases and whether vaccinations are needed.

      Delta’s policy is the most sensible in addressing costs and risks but doesn’t bow to those that want to take health care decisions away from employees and their doctors or in considering all factors include natural immunity in vaccination decisions.

      1. Please link to “studies that show that no form of masking including N95 masks worn by the public do any good in slowing transmission”?

        That should make for some interesting reading.

        1. CF just posted a list of articles about masking.
          Not one included covid positive patients isolated for every other factor except mask wearing in a non-airplane environment.

          There are valid reasons why US hospital workers in covid units are not wearing just N95 masks. They use other devices including air filtration systems (those backpack type vacuum cleaner things). They know better. If your life depends on it, no mask alone is going to stop covid.

          And I’d love to see the data showing what workgroups at any airline are vaccinated or not (see below).

        2. Yup. Bill is right. Masks absolutely do work. Just ask Florida.

          Virtually all public schools require basic immunizations. Further I think if we had say mumps running around then we would see many more vaccination requirements for adults.

          I think Delta’s hoop jumping is ridiculous and sets a burden for management to enforce that is unworkable. I think they will probably do this for six months and just go with United. I bet the anti-vax die hards will quit, and I would be willing to bet that an anti-vax employee is likely a lower performing employee. Just a hunch, no data to back up this claim. . .

      2. I’m torn here – while I can appreciate that Delta’s position may be better for individual employees, United’s may be better for society as a whole.

        COVID-19 is still in the pandemic phase – spreading and (and this is key) mutating quickly compared to endemic illnesses. The Delta variant (sorry) is compared by some epidemiologists to measles, and measles is generally used as the example of extreme communicability. We could be one or two mutations away from a new variant that can bypass existing vaccines and natural resistance in those who have already had COVID, and be right back where we were last March…or worse. There’s also the question of “long COVID” – we’re barely beginning to undertand this.

        Here in Florida, our hospitals are getting hit worse than at the national peak of the pandemic. Here in Hillsborough County, we have lines of cars with COVID patients waiting for monoclonal antibody treatments, and doctors at TGH having to turn away other patients because of lack of space. We’re having to increase use of chlorine in our water because of liquid oxygen shortages due to massive increase in use by hospitals.

        When I was a kid, you got your measles, smallpox, and polio shots (or polio sugar cube) at school. Unless your doctor said they would make you sick, or your family practiced a religion (mainly Christian Science) that didn’t allow vaccines, you just did. No one talked about “personal decisions”, no one went on about their “freedom”…you just did it because it was the right thing to do. And if you didn’t, you didn’t go to public school. That bloody simple.

        Once COVID is reduced from a global pandemic to an endemic illness, like the annual flu, then personal choice will make sense again. I understand the philosophical arguments, and sympathize with them, but there is a lot of truth to the idea that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

        1. Your arguments make a lot of sense, Craig, and are not blind embracing of establishment thinking.

          Masks don’t work to stop covid 19. from the Mayo clinic article above
          “Face masks combined with other preventive measures, such as getting vaccinated, frequent hand-washing and physical distancing, can help slow the spread of the virus.”
          They don’t say that masks of any kind can stop the covid virus because it is not possible to make that statement.
          The best any legitimate scientist can say is that masks MIGHT reduce the spread of contagious disease.

          Early in the pandemic, US health officials accurately said that masks won’t do anything to stop covid. They only changed their tune by trying to argue they were trying to save N95 masks for health care workers – and yet N95 masks are not recommended for the public.

          Given that people including CF have become infected even after following all CDC guidance including masking, masks don’t stop anything.

          Given that not a single licensed US hospital considers even an N95 mask as sufficient protection for health care workers to covid positive patients, no one should even begin to hope for masks to do anything.

          Multiple layers of protection which must include high quality air filtration and full PPE provide the best protection which is exactly what hospitals use.

          Vaccines work to REDUCE the impact of the covid 19 vaccine. Testing identifies covid positive people so they can properly quarantine.

          Masks are punitive health theater which provide no protection including from breakthrough cases.

          As for the comment about schools, how is it that 95% of private and parochial schools in the US managed to remain open for in-person classes in the 2020-21 school year but less than half of public schools could do the same?

          1. Tim – ” Given that people including CF have become infected even after following all CDC guidance including masking, masks don’t stop anything.”

            Do not bring me into your strange hatred of masking. We don’t know for sure, but we believe my wife picked it up when she was with her company in NY. The company requires vaccinations and so people were not masking. So it’s highly likely that she got it when masks were not in use, and then of course, we don’t mask around each other, so that’s how I got it, if this is correct.

            There is plenty out there showing that masking can be beneficial at slowing the spread. More importantly, it is in no way a burden. I wear glasses, so if anyone should feel burdened it’s me from getting fogged up. But it didn’t take long to figure out how to wear masks, and it is just not an issue. I will never understand why people freak out about masks.

            1. Did the vaccines fail or did she wear a mask even if others did not?
              You don’t need to answer because there are tens of thousands of people that will say that they did follow all of the guidance including masking and still got infected.

              You ultimately said what I said – and others below here have said – that masking MIGHT slow but isn’t close to being sufficient to provide meaningful protection.

              I am NOT an anti-masker. I am pro-science. you and others have repeatedly failed to show that masks STOP the transmission of covid. Framing masking as anything other than another layer of hope is fraudulent.

              I trust medical professionals in a legitimate licensed clinical setting to do their best to stop the spread of disease and that includes masking.

              No one should think that having an unvaccinated coworker wear a mask is going to protect oneself.

              and if masks really worked, why were they never required for public use for the flu or other infectious diseases? Covid is not and will not be the first or last contagious respiratory disease.

            2. Tim – So you don’t understand how vaccines work? Her vaccine worked perfectly. She got sick but it was a mild case and then she got over it.
              That’s what vaccines are designed to do. (And no, she was not masking with her coworkers.) Sure, they also help prevent infection, but they certainly don’t stop it. And we were early to get vaccinated, so there’s no doubt the effectiveness had begun to wane.

              You can claim to not be an anti-masker, but your words suggest otherwise.
              Even forgetting about outcomes, the flu is a different animal in that you are typically contagious only a day before you develop symptoms while COVID appears to be double that. There is also a higher percentage of asymptomatic cases of COVID than the flu. I can’t wait until we get to a world where people voluntarily wear masks in public when they feel sick, just as is common in several Asian cultures. It will help to slow the spread of a variety of diseases with virtually no impact on the mask-wearer. But there are many differences between the flu and COVID today which require treating it differently. We are getting much further along at improving outcomes, and if everyone would just stop whining and get vaccinated, we could make this a manageable disease much sooner.

            3. Poor Tim lives in the world of absolutes. It either 100% works or 0% works. Tim here probably doesn’t even wear a seatbelt because while it’s not 100% effective, it does reduce the chance of death or serious injury. Tim probably doesn’t even fly Delta because while they are safe by most standards, they are not 100% safe and that’s just not good enough for Tim.

            4. CF,
              I am glad you are willing to share your health decisions with the public but that isn’t what I was looking for.

              One more comment on masks and then I will give it a rest.

              The reason why I have objected to the use of masks during the covid era is because there is absolutely no data to show how effective it is – and yet it is been the single most imposed and embraced mandate in the covid era.

              In complete contrast, the FDA and CDC both required (as they always do) extensive peer-reviewed studies on the efficacy of the vaccines and of every one of the tests that have been approval for emergency use authorization. Those studies and tests are being continually re-evaluated and tested against each new variant that comes out – and that is science I trust.

              United Airlines early in the pandemic went to the trouble to do a study of droplet transmission that simulates covid particles in an operating 777 and they scientifically demonstrated that the air systems virtually eliminate transmission risk. That is science I believe and trust.

              18 months into the pandemic, we have yet to have any solid studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of masks in real world setting as used by the public. Given the magnitude of the risk to the public, it is simply beyond comprehension why there have not been solid studies using various types of masks using covid-size particles in a variety of settings – including office spaces, grocery and retail stores, and non-airplane public transportation. Some busses in Europe have already upgraded their air conditioning systems to use HEPA filters as have some US office buildings – and a few homes. There is solid science behind other steps that have been and are being taken to slow the transmission not just of covid but of all airborne pathogens. You and others should be asking why there has been so little real world testing of the effectiveness of masks and so much willingness to continue to impose something that isn’t proven to do anything on its own.

              And, you are free to dismiss the flu but it regularly kills 50k Americans even though vaccines have been around for years – and even among seniors, the vaccination rate is less than 50%. How many deaths does it take to change behavior? And, yes, people need to be much more conscious of their health when in public.
              NY’s new governor just said that more than 12k additional deaths have to be attributed to covid because of the lack of nursing home protocols in that state. Far more seniors have died from covid that any other group and the reason is a complete failure of basic disease transmission protocols.

              You and others are free to trust your or your neighbors’ masks; I trust science and demand that those that call for measures provide proof that what they are asking actually works. Testing, vaccination, and legitimate social distancing and separation work.

            5. “Did the vaccines fail or did she wear a mask even if others did not?
              You don’t need to answer because there are tens of thousands of people that will say that they did follow all of the guidance including masking and still got infected.”

              Tim by this quote has fallen for the “trap known as “the falsehood of huge numbers” despite believing in science. Simply put, just because a number of something may appear huge it doesn’t mean that number validates a statement, in this case breakthrough infections post vaccination. I would suggest watching the excellent 2011 film “Contagion” for a better understanding of what’s happening.

            6. Tim, demanding “proof” is not how science works. It’s always about probabilities. And we’re in a pandemic; doing a full clinical trial of real-world use of masks isn’t possible, so we’re left with balancing probabilities, the scientific equivalent of a preponderance of evidence test. Does the preponderance of evidence suggest that the probability of benefit from wearing masks in protecting both the wearer and everyone around them outweighs the risks of wearing masks? Absolutely. Frankly, beyond a reasonable doubt. Does the preponderance of evidence suggest that mask wearing alone will STOP COVID-19? Of course not; you are the only person in this thread who brought that possibility up.

              There are three major ways to reduce the probability that someone who is infected will transmit their infection to someone else:

              1: Ensure that the infected person is never sharing airspace with someone else. Essentially 100% effective, but achieving it is difficult and highly disruptive: stay-at-home orders, quarantines, testing that catches infections quickly, and effective contact tracing and isolation of contacts. By limiting in-person social interaction, limiting travel, working from home when possible, improving ventilation, interacting outdoors when possible, etc, we reduce time spent sharing airspace and therefore reduce the probability of getting infected. “Fewer faces, bigger spaces.” Every one of these things reduces the probability of sharing airspace and infecting someone.

              2: Vaccination. Roughly 90% effective against severe disease and pretty effective against infection, no disruption to life once completed, but requires getting a shot.

              3: Masking. Hard to put a number on it, but if the infected person wears a mask, it reduces the probability that they will transmit the disease appreciably, probably by somewhere between 50 and 90%, depending on the situation, the quality and fit of the mask, and other things. Me wearing a mask also protects me from getting infected, but to a lesser extent. Mildly disruptive, but no big deal in the scheme of things.

              And of course you multiply the probabilities (or one minus the probabilities). If I’m vaccinated, the chance that I’ll get infected is 0.1 * X, if X is the chance I would have gotten infected if unvaccinated. If I’m vaccinated and wear a mask, the chance that I’ll pass the infection to someone else is (0.1 to 0.5) * 0.1 * X, or 1% to 5% of X.

              That’s why it makes sense to both get *everyone* vaccinated and wear masks as long as transmission is rampant. And even something that reduces the probability by a relatively small amount helps, especially at the community level.

              Delta COVID is transmissible enough that no one of these alone will stop the spread, but suggesting that we should throw any of these tools out because it won’t completely stop COVID is asinine. Let the different tools work together.

          2. Tim,
            The best way to characterize mask-wearing comes from the Mayo Clinic quote you cited, “Face masks combined with other preventive measures, such as getting vaccinated, frequent hand-washing and physical distancing, can HELP SLOW the spread of the virus.”

            1. Desert Ghost

              If ” “Face masks combined with other preventive measures, such as getting vaccinated, frequent hand-washing and physical distancing, can HELP SLOW the spread of the virus.” is true, why are there not mandates and enforcement for washing hands for 20 – 30 seconds and maintaining social distancing everywhere (even when you a couple goes out to dinner)?

              See how ridiculous it sounds when you say mandates for EVERYTHING the CDC and Mayo clinic recommend!

              Seems like governments are mandating only a 33% solution at best.

              Let’s put enforcers in every restroom with stop watches and tape measures. After all, you need to “follow the science”

              I definitely agree with Tim on this one and have said the same thing on wanting a real world study on the efficacy of face masks, the type of face masks used and the way PEOPLE REALLY WEAR THEM.

              I’ll bet the number would be way South of even the 33%!

          3. Quote: Vaccines work to REDUCE the impact of the covid 19 vaccine.

            I believe you meant Vaccines work to reduce the impact of the Covid-19 Virus.

            As to your claim about masks, I can tell in my small sample at work, nobody has even caught the flu in the past year since masks were mandated by my company. Our staff of 9 people had two people who caught Covid from outside of work and even though we work in close contact with each other, we did not catch it from them. We were required to be tested at least once a month paid for by our insurance and the 2 people who were positive were exposed elsewhere based on contact tracing conducted after the exposure.

            1. You didn’t get the flu last year because you wore a mask but because global sources of flu activity were at historic low levels. Epidemiologists aren’t sure why but the primary sources of flu virus are in Asia, esp. the Pearl River delta.
              Flu vaccination rates in the US for 2021 were much higher than average in part because the CDC highly recommended it. I don’t normally get the flu vaccine but I did last year because I wanted to do what was best for me and because I took seriously the call to do all possible to not do anything that could increase my risk of needing medical treatment. I haven’t had any colds, flus or anything else in the past year – and have tested negative multiple times for covid. Flu vaccines, like covid vaccines, reduce the impact of the virus.
              There are theories that flu transmission was hindered because most people were in lockdown and the flu is not as transmissible as covid.
              There are also theories that there is some cross immunization between covid and the common flu.

              There is no certainty whatsoever about what the 2021-22 flu season will look like.

              As I noted, I want people to take disease transmission and their role in it seriously in the future.

              Just please don’t draw conclusions as to why you didn’t get the flu because scientists have not at all proven why.

            2. Tim, The number of cold and flu cases where I live is markedly lower than at the same time last year. That’s most likely because people are distancing, washing their hands, and wearing masks when distancing can be difficult. By the way, if I’m ever diagnosed with cancer, I’ll be sure to go to a politician for my treatments instead of a medical doctor.

            3. Ghost,
              there’s that “most likely” “language.
              We are in the 21st century, not the Middle Ages.
              Science can say with certainty why something happens. There was far less cold and flu virus circulating in the world last year which means there was less circulating near you. Global factors, not what you did or do, are far more significant on you – just as whether Brazil keeps cutting down Amazon forests or China and India pollute at levels far above the US – but that doesn’t change whether it is the right thing for Americans not to turn off their cars rather than idle like in carpool lines.

              As for the comment some suggested about connecting government financial aid to airlines to vaccination status, there was talk about doing the same for the trillions in federal aid that was handed out to Americans over the past year – but that wasn’t done, in part because not everyone got the aid.

              btw, one of the largest unvaccinated demographics in America right now is pregnant women with less than 1/4 of them vaccinated. Now that the Pfizer vaccine has full approval, the CDC is focusing on OB doctors to convince them to get their patients vaccinated esp. since nearly all will need close contact in health care settings.

              Let’s get over this disease, hold those accountable that allowed it to spread as aggressively as it did and not protect the most vulnerable people, and then learn how to protect the world from future global viral spreads.

            4. “Science can say with certainty why something happens. ”

              Speaking as a scientist, there is just about one thing I can say with absolute certainty: your statement is completely false. Certainty is not how science works. Are there things we’re highly confident of? Of course. But there’s always a probability we’re wrong; we never wait for certainty to act on the thing that science tells us is most likely.

      3. Yes,Tim, masks (proper ones, not some random cloth from your home) don’t do anything to slow transmission transmission of diseases, either incoming to you or outgoing from you. That’s why millions of operating room surgeons and other medical personnel worldwide for 100 years have worn masks. Because masks don’t do anything to reduce the spread of infection. Good news, because now all the hospitals and clinics worldwide can save a lot of money by not having to buy those pesky things.

          1. I have repeatedly said that I completely support the use of medical-grade masks by medical personnel in a health care setting.
            The strategic errors in requiring masks for the general public are that 1. sufficient supplies of medical grade masks are not available for the general public to use and non medical grade masks haven’t been proven to do any good in real world wearing by the public. 2. the public isn’t trained in how to properly use masks and many people clearly don’t use them properly as anyone can see and 3. making statements that masks do any good provide false hope.

            I support scientifically proven solutions for managing covid that have been validated in the covid era. Vaccines, tests, air filtration and appropriate social distancing do that.

            As for your comment below, the reason why companies won’t tout the safety of a vaccinated workforce is because they cannot prove with certainty that everyone is fully and properly vaccinated; the CDC keeps changing what is acceptable and companies could be held liable for damages if they fail to deliver the safety they promised. Plus, vaccines have a high probability of reducing the negative impacts for vaccinated people but clearly do not prohibit someone from carrying the virus.

            It is no different for why airlines don’t compete on the basis of safety; they can’t prove that a failure in procedures won’t ever happen.

            and, airlines pushed for federal mask mandates even though they were required by individual airlines and now some airlines say they want the mask mandates to end. Mask wearing by the public is not the norm in western society and convey the image that something is not right.

            Federal money is over for the airlines. They now have to figure out how to make their businesses survive through what will be a thin fall and winter – this time w/o federal money.

            1. First, my condolences on the passing of your colleague in Wisconsin and your neighbor. Incredibly sad and quite possibly preventable deaths.

              I remember when you and the author of this blog publicly stated there should not be a SECOND PSP. That you both could not read that writing on the wall, both economically for the airlines and politically for ALL the aviation stakeholders, shows how distanced you both are – as outsiders – from the day-to-day operations and needs of our carriers and their employees. I correctly predicted PSP 2 AND PSP 3 and I’m here to tell you that by NO MEANS is PSP 4 out of the question. If either we can achieve herd immunity or the Delta variant begins to wane, then yes, I would be inclined to agree with you on no more Federal Aid to our airlines. However, if the Delta variant increases its stranglehold or if another variant arrives that is immune to currently available vaccines or if Covid really rears up this winter, then there is every possibility of PSP 4. That aviation is essential to the commerce of this country is unanimously agreed upon by ALL the stakeholders, including Labor, Management and politicians on BOTH sides of the aisle and in The White House. If the airlines need it, it WILL come.

  2. If you apply the national statistics of who is unvaccinated to the Delta workforce, pilots and ground crews are most likely to be the least percent vaccinated.

    1. Not that I have contradictory information, but just intuitively it surprises me to see pilots mentioned. Aren’t they the part of the workforce with the highest understanding of and presumably trust in science and scientific processes (on avg)?

      (and of course, they are also for hours in a relatively small enclosed space with the same coworker)

  3. I’m not sure I know which approach is better both of these airlines have stated they already have a high number (over 65%) of employees already fully vaccinated. United Airlines was raked over the coals for mandating their employees be fully vaccinated by a certain date, Delta perhaps was looking to avoid that publicity but their approach is just as questionable. I am fully vaccinated but in my opinion it appears as though Delta wanted to do a vaccine mandate without actually doing a vaccine mandate instead they will take money out of unvaccinated employees paychecks. Either way the employer Delta and United are still twisting the arms of their employees to gain compliance. How many Delta employees are will to pay an extra $200 dollars per month and should they test positive be held out of work without pay for at least 7 days. Employees at the higher end of the pay scale like pilots, dispatchers, high seniority flight attendants, high level managers and perhaps mechanics can afford to go a week or more without pay, but as you work your way down in to airport operations many of those employees, especially those who are part time who aren’t making over for example $85,000 a year (pulled that number out of thin air don’t know why) can they afford to go a week or more without pay? For those who can’t afford to risk going without pay should they test positive or the additional $200 dollars per month in insurance cost Delta’s new policy is a de-facto mandate for them.

    1. I only remember people being happy with United’s decision to require all employees to be vaccinated.

  4. There is a loophole with Delta’s policy, a fairly large one. You mentioned it, “ Unvaccinated employees who have company healthcare” what if you are unvaccinated but on your spouses external healthcare plan? Are they no longer subject to the $200 and can just test? I like United’s strong and decisive stance on this, but Delta did play it smart politically with this somewhat mandate in the south where they hate mandates

    1. Masking and testing requirements, so far as I read, are not dependent on who you get your insurance from.
      Delta’s policy is about financial risk to the company and employee responsibility to protect others – and the two sets of policies are separate.

      As for avoiding wrath from southern governors, should we assume that United then doesn’t care what Texas thinks? Does that just give Southwest more runway for growing its IAH operations?

      1. United Airlines doesn’t have its Headquarters in Texas their HQ is located in Chicago a place that just mandated vaccines for all city employees. Look at the hesitancy from major carriers like American, Southwest, and even Delta’s approach, I would be surprised if any of these carriers with HQ’s in the South actually do a vaccine mandate like the one United put in place.

        It is one thing to operate a hub at IAH it is a total different animal when your company is HQ’d in the state. If United were HQ’d in Houston I can promise you there would be no vaccine mandate, they would need to come up with a clever solution like the one Delta has come up with. The moment you start throwing the word mandate around in the South it is over.

  5. This is politics too. Delta needs to avoid angering the Republican-controlled GA legislature as much as possible.

    1. Ding ding ding. Being based in Georgia is the biggest difference here IMO. Both from this standpoint and the attitudes of a lot employees based in ATL. Even if those employees are not so right-leaning themselves, they’re definitely subject to much more peer pressure from those of that ilk that surround them.

    2. Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner. I believe this to be far more likely than a large, unvaxxed employee group.

    3. Sad, but true. Since United is based in Chicago, they don’t have to worry about Illinois since they would actually have support from state and local governments. AA and Southwest will have similar issues to Delta being in Texas.

  6. I don’t think Delta cares much about angering the GA legislature. What they are afraid of, and Cranky alluded to this, is that they anger a group of (selfish, stupid, ignorant, misinformed, brainwashed) employees working at a company based in the (selfish, stupid, ignorant, misinformed, brainwashed) south. Most likely elderly, conservative pilots and mechanics. Can’t fly the planes without them, so this is the compromise.

    1. Wait a minute, wasn’t Delta threatened by the Georgia legislature with the loss of tax breaks not all that long ago do to there stance on Covid?

      Also lets not forget recent & past supreme court rulings that allow businesses to decide who they serve & employ such as the “gay wedding cake case.” Hard core conservatives loved the ruling until the same standard was applied to masks/ vaccines & now they are outraged by it.

    2. Delta also angered the GA legislature in 2018 when they ended NRA discounts in the wake of the Parkland shooting and didn’t reverse the decision when state politicians threw a tantrum. If I’m not mistaken, they lost out on a proposed tax break and that’s the last anyone heard of it. Delta is one of the most well-known and largest GA-based corporations, so I would think the legislature would be very conservative (no pun intended) in any retaliations. They’re a private corporation well within their rights to mandate vaccinations if they wanted, so I agree with others who say the policy we’re seeing from DL is due to issues with staffing and employee groups.

  7. This will be interesting to see if this applies to the pilots. They are unionized and something like this would likely have to be negotiated with the union (although that really depends on whether or not ALPA decides to force the issue).

    However, a company-wide vaccine mandate would *not* have to be negotiated. I wonder if this played a role in the decision as well in relation to current and projected future pilot staffing issues. Pilots are the only unionized group at Delta as far as I know.

    Current vax rate among pilots in 71%-80% depending on crew base.

    1. Dispatchers are represented as well (by PAFCA).

      I have no idea what the vax percentages are by workgroup.

    2. People are making way too much out of geographic location of airline HDQs.
      I don’t know of any other airline that has provided a high level percentage of vaccinated employees but Delta’s pilot number is in line with what UAL ALPA said of its pilots.
      At 75%, Delta’s vaccination rate is above the national average and above the average for Georgia. Given the size of Delta’s workforce in Georgia, it is mathematically impossible for their vaccination rate to match GA’s for GA employees but still be above average for the nation.
      Further a high percentage of airline employees don’t live in base and that esp. includes northern hubs such as NYC, DTW, and ORD (MSP has a much higher percent of local crew members than other northern tier hubs). Many of those people live in, wait, wait Florida and the south where their dollar goes further.

      Airline employees are much more alike re: covid management regardless of their hub or airline than they are different and data will show that as it becomes available.
      There are airline employee anti-vaxxers just as there are people on the news that are in the hospital and weren’t vaccinated. I want them all to get vaccinated because it works – just as I wish my 70 year old neighbor had gotten the jab but she didn’t and is in the hospital worse off than her husband who did – but is also in the hospital.

      If Delta’s decision was political and based on geography, then United is at a disadvantage at least in Houston but probably throughout the South.

      I would be surprised if AA or WN will mandate vaccines and I would bet their policies – when they come out – will be closer to DL’s than UA’s.

      UA just happened to go first on mandatory vaccines for employees which simply means that someone was going to come by and soften the impact.

      And I wouldn’t be surprised if UA is forced to dial back its “… or you’ll get fired” language in exchange for alternatives including regular testing.

      1. Tim – United has said that its pilots are about 90% vaccinated. I have not seen anything talking about Delta’s % for pilots alone. Just that the overall is 75% for the company.

        All that being said, I don’t think the headquarters thing is a huge issue either. After all, do we think that Georgia’s governor is somehow going to be happy with this financial penalty for those who won’t get vaccinated?
        You’re never going to make every constituency happy. But if you’re a large company with a headquarters in a state, you have a lot more heft to be able to do what’s right instead of what the politicians want.

        1. Show the data for all airlines and we can make valid comparisons.

          I doubt if there is much of a difference in the vaccination rates between UA and its southern US headquartered competitors – AA, DL and WN.

          Remember that many airline employees are in the military reserves and presumably will have to be vaccinated under the military’s mandatory orders.

          Also, many airline employees love to travel and realized early on that traveling internationally would be heavily dependent on being vaccinated.

          I fully expect that every US airline has higher vaccination rates than the US population as a whole and I wouldn’t even be surprised if those rates are higher than other comparably sized or larger nationwide employers. ie I trust airline employees far more than retail workers or other people at the gym or other public places.

          thanks for the stimulating discussion. Response to the past two articles were a little slow. :-)

  8. FDA did NOT give full approval. They merely expanded the EUA (letter is public record). It is widely, and falsely reported as full approval.

    1. This is a common mistake for reasons that are beyond me. The EUA was extended for children, and the vaccine from Pfizer was given full approval.

      If you have an alternative source that cites this then give it.

  9. I agree with United here. Get vaccinated or leave – simple & to the point. The one exception would be for those who cant for medical reasons, but that is a small percentage of the over all population.

    Remember pandemics care not about ones feelings.

    1. Agree with you, Sean. And I will take it a step farther, if your airline receives any additional Federal financial assistance, that assistance should be predicated on 100% employee vaccination rate.

  10. It’s not unusual for companies to incentivize healthful behavior via their health care benefits plan. Delta’s employees have choices: They can get vaccinated and spend $200/month less. They can opt to pay the extra $200. Or, they can leave the airline. This isn’t rocket science.

    Masks work to slow (not stop) infection. Vaccines also work to slow (not stop) infection. But there are no magic bullets.

    People are different. They react differently to infection. Covid is no different than other viruses in most ways, but viruses also differ. That’s why some bring on colds and some bring on influenza for example.

    Too many people want to have someone else take care of everything for them instead of taking responsibility for their actions, evaluating the evidence, and taking reasonable precautions.

  11. I wish they would just have made the vaccine mandatory. But, this is the next best thing. Didn’t Delta require that all new hires must be vaccinated?

    As for enforcing the mask mandate on unvaccinated employees, you can make their corporate ID badge a different color that stands out so you know who is not vaccinated and have them wear it so that it is visible at all times while at work. I heard that some companies are going to do that.

  12. I favor UA’s approach to all of this, but I would suggest it go further, particularly as to exemptions for “legitimate health or religious reasons.” Will you be OK flying with a crew that is made up of some, or all who are working under health or religious exemptions? I would not.

    These exemptions may be perfectly legitimate, but are still capable of producing financial risks to the company, lost labor, sick customers, and bad publicity, the “booking-away.”

    Let people with these exemption work at company jobs, if there are such things, that avoid the risks of interpersonal contacts, whether with other employees, any customers, whatever. Won’t accept alternative positions? Zap, no vaccination, no further employment!

    DL’s plan, the one addressing B.1617.2 variant, looks like a lot of administration. Probably has a Fare Code. lots of rules. and “we have the right to limit…………………………………………!”

  13. There is already a 25+ page thread you can read through on the Delta airline pilot forums that will give you a pretty indicative idea of where many of them stand on the vaccination front. It’s the typical pilot egos blowing this up to be an outrageous affront to them or their liberties.

    But they correctly realize there is not much the Union can do (in the current contract) other then including provisions in future contract negotiations. Because there’s always an angle and they’ve got to stick it to the company/management wherever they can, right?

  14. Tim Dunn had left for a while and I got back to enjoying the comments section where comments are posted by people from planet earth. Now that Mr. Dunn is back, I will show myself out.

    1. @Bill Show the data that you enjoyed the comments more when Tim didn’t post. Unless you can definitively prove you enjoyed them more, I’m not sure anyone can take your thoughts seriously. Speaking of enjoying things, did you know it is proven through DOT releases that people that fly Delta are 4.7x happier in their daily lives than those that don’t? If you aren’t seeing it that way, you probably just don’t understand their data. Just trust me. Blah, Blah blah, blah blah, blah. Have a good weekend :)

  15. United did the right thing making the vaccine mandatory. Delta should be ashamed for trying to “walk the fence”. Tim Dunn posted 10 different times on August 26. I take it all of you were impressed since he was trying so hard to impress us all. One day this week Florida had over 17,000 Covid patients in hospitals, while Texas had 13,300. The news reported this week (those of you who watch and read the real news), that Mississippi and Oregon hospitals are overwhelmed. Last week, Texas (believe in Houston) had to fly a toddler to Waco (150 miles away) to find a pediatric hospital room. I am truly sick and tired of hearing about people’s RIGHTS. No one in America has a right to cause the unnecessary death of another simply because they wish to be selfish, stupid, ignorant, misinformed, brainwashed, and I will add another…hard headed. I am 85 and I was petrified enough to stay inside my home for 12 months (except for going to the grocery store and bank). I refused to eat restaurant food for a year. I would not see family or friends for a year. Many my age insisted on having their groceries delivered. And yes, my normal, inexpensive mask, along with washing my hands and trying to practice social distancing did keep me from getting covid…thank God. Furthermore, I deeply resent people comparing covid to the flu. I do not believe the flu in our country kills 620,000 people in 18 months, While leaving thousands of others with major health problems. Any non-vaccinated person who is not afraid of getting covid is a fool. My 35 year old healthy granddaughter got covid on January 15 and she is still not fully recovered. She spent 3 weeks in a FL hospital in ICU and on a ventilator, had a traceotomy, then 2 weeks in rehab. When she was finally able to return home she was in a wheelchair, later on a walker, and later on a cane. Stop comparing covid to the flu…you should be ashamed and are showing your ignorance of the situation. It is indeed sickening to hear the unvaccinated talk about their right to not get the vaccine. They do not have the right to endanger the lives of our doctors and nurses in 50 states who have been stressed out treating people with covid and watching them die everyday now for 19 months. Every one who refuses to be vaccinated should have to go without pay for 2 weeks while observing covid patients in our ICUs. Doctors keep reporting that their covid patients, while dying, regret not having taken advantage of the vaccine. It is too late for them. Do people not even care about the children under 12 who cannot get a vaccine and are now dying? And children who have lost both parents to covid? How heartless can people be?Houston is now paying people $100 to get the 1st shot, and $50 to get the 2nd shot. I strongly object to my tax dollars going to such selfish and ignorant idiots. The only way we can all get back to a normal life is for everyone to get vaccinated.

  16. So far the most sensible comment on here is the first one from Kevin. Then everything went off the rails and into the weeds when folks started commenting about American, Southwest and Delta being based in the south so the airlines based there would not want to anger the local populace by mandating vaccines. Pretty ridiculous I would say. Last time I checked, Dallas, Houston and Atlanta were pretty cosmopolitan large cities and not very representative of the south in many ways.

  17. I wish all of the airlines would take Delta’s stance on only hiring vaccinated employees. This would prevent the unvaccinated from jumping to other carriers.

  18. Mary,
    in your passionate remarks, you failed to note that the Texas border is open and there are communities throughout Texas that have ICUs fill with people that have crossed the border and are unvaccinated. Florida officials know that the majority of immigrants that are leaving Texas are going to Florida. Not every covid case is a long time US resident that has chosen not to be vaccinated. California identified months ago that the counties with the highest number of original covid cases (before transport to other parts of the state) were border counties. Please be careful about your judgments. Covid in the US is a highly complex intersection of multiple issues.

    Crew members are speaking out about the unwillingness of passengers on the current CRAF US airlift to wear masks even though they are being provided.

    Second, there is a new study from Israel showing that people that have had covid have longer lasting and stronger immunity than those that gained their immunity via vaccination – but the CDC has never acknowledged that there are significant number of Americans that have immunity because of having had covid.

    Finally, a growing number of insurance companies are not now or will stop providing no deductible coverage for covid treatments because they know that the vast majority of hospitalized covid patients are unvaccinated.

    As hard as it is for some to accept, the free enterprise system most publicly led this week by Delta might result in stronger incentives for people to get vaccinated than the vaccine mandates of the federal government and a few large companies.

    1. I am replying to my own previous comment here. I know Delta is not forcing everybody to get vaccinated but they are highly incentivizing everybody to get vaccinated

    2. The number of new immigrants at given time is a miniscule fraction of the population of the US. The COVID pandemic is raging in the US where 50% of the population is unvaccinated, not the less than 1% of people who are very recent immigrants and unvaccinated. Blaming the COVID pandemic on immigrants is race-baiting, plain and simple.

      Obviously when there are no or very few cases in a country (eg Australia for most of the pandemic; the US in January 2020), border controls are important. But once the disease is widespread in the country, border controls are closing the barn door after the horse left. (Now, the border is still a convenient place to strongly incentivize things like vaccines, and new variants not already in the country can come in through the border, but there is no way in which the border is driving the pandemic in the US in 2021. The embarrassingly-low vaccination rate (given the enormous advantages the US has in access to vaccine) combined with active opposition to other containment measures like masks is what’s driving it now. Employers like United who protect their bottom line and their workforce by requiring vaccination are doing themselves and the country and the world a favor. Financial incentives like Delta is using help, but to me feel like an unnecessarily-complicated kludge.

      1. Alex,
        with all due respect, we really have no idea how many unvaccinated, covid positive people have come into the United States over the past 18 months. If you know, let us all know.
        Infectious disease theory says there is a minimum threshold of people that it takes to be immune to an infectious disease in order to stop the expansion of a disease. It doesn’t tell us the number of people it takes in order for disease to begin to spread but we know it has taken very few positive cases for covid to begin aggressively spreading.
        The reality is that it is impossible to completely shut the borders to the US or the EU. The measures that have taken place in Australia and New Zealand haven’t worked even by those governments’ own goals – and Australia is trying to back down from its goals and facing opposition from some states in doing so. They are embracing vaccination, not lockdowns.
        Let’s be clear that I absolutely support all scientifically proven measures specific for covid to end covid and not models and extrapolations of other disease management techniques.
        I spent yesterday in Wisconsin at the memorial service of a colleague that was slow to get vaccinated and spent almost 3 months in critical care before no more medical technology could help him. His wife spoke at the service and her two key words are that we all face death at some point but his illness and his death at this time was completely preventable. She got the Pfizer vaccine as soon as she could and has had no problems.
        I awoke this morning to the news that my unvaccinated neighbor passed away last night.
        As I have said, I don’t understand why anyone that hasn’t specifically been told by their doctor that they should not be vaccinated has not gotten a covid vaccine.
        Covid is not just the flu and I never said it was – but people do die from the flu; it just has been in much lower numbers. That is in part why covid is a global pandemic.
        I truly hope that whatever steps Delta and United and everyone else takes to convince those that haven’t rec’d the vaccination works.
        I don’t like weekends like this anymore than Mary does.

        1. “Scientifically proven” is simply not a concept. “Scientifically shown that the probability is high that the benefits outweigh the risks (by a lot)” is most definitely a concept. Models and extrapolations of other diseases management techniques are one of the main ways we determine that it is very likely that the benefits of an action (like masking) dramatically outweigh the risks, especially with a new virus that is killing people in large numbers right now; waiting for a perfectly-controlled, peer reviewed study instead of going on the best available evidence we have (which by now is very strong) kills people. This isn’t a disease that’s been around forever like measles, but it’s also not April 2020 anymore. We know quite a lot about COVID-19.

          One thing I find strange is that some people insist on “scientific proof” that masking is effective before masking but they don’t insist on “scientific proof” that masking is not effective before not masking. Doing something and not doing something are both choices.

          1. Alex,
            another aviation related blog linked to an article from an NBC site that said that, although UA’s pilots are 90% vaccinated, AA’s pilots are only 60% vaccinated. I have not seen a pilot-specific number for any other airline but there are multiple WN pilots that say that the mindset among WN pilots is heavily anti-vax and their union opposes any vaccination mandates. WN pilots are escalating their opposition to company moves re: scheduling and quarantine and pay.
            DL has said that 75% of its employees are vaccinated but 5-10% of employees can legitimately provide documentation for a medical or religious exemption to a vax mandate. DL is undoubtedly like any large company in that regard which means that it is impossible to sell a company as 100% vaccinated – and even if a company could be 100% vaccinated, it doesn’t mean that employees cannot carry or transmit the virus to others.

            As for masks, the simple reason that a lack of data about their efficacy as worn by the public is dangerous came in a story on my local news last night. A father angrily lashed out at others (and institutions) that were not enforcing mask wearing among children and which he believed caused his child to get covid. Young children cannot get the vaccine and, even with vaccines, there is not a 100% elimination of risk – but simply a reduction, but a well-calculated reduction. The danger is that, while vaccines have scientifically tested and proven efficacies, masks as worn by the public, do not have a measurable reduction in risk. Telling someone that masks work when it isn’t clear that they do for the public as worn by the public is causing some people to take risks they should not. Schools are closed and students are quarantined even in school districts that have mask mandates. The UK said that masks don’t work for kids and they don’t require them.
            If United and the DoD can come up with scientifically based tests to demonstrate the effectiveness of air filtration and circulation systems on commercial aircraft using simulated people and covid-sized particles, the efficacy of masks as worn by the public can be tested.
            As is the case on many issues, airlines are test beds for other parts of society. I’d love to see the data for what steps are working and have worked for different airlines using different strategies. Delta’s vaccine strategy is aimed to reduce its costs while masks are intended to reduce transmission of the virus based on current scientific theory.
            Given there are anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers in society and at airlines, but someone can be one or the other, it will be hard to calculate single factor risk but science does do that type of analysis on a regular basis.
            I trust CF will update this issue as data becomes available because it has implications for society.

  19. Lots of very insightful comments. Also think about the genius marketing they can use. They can say 100% of Delta employees are vaccinated. Genius marketing. No sarcasm intended. Especially for the international markets.

    There is no doubt in my mind people will pay a little bit of extra money to buy a ticket on an airline that has 100% of their employees vaccinated

    1. I’m surprised there hasn’t been more discussion about this. A fully vaccinated workforce is certainly a selling point (or at least a marketable one).

      1. Vaccines are intended to reduce the impact of the virus on the vaccinated person and not to eliminate the potential to transmit the virus.

        1. They reduce the impact on the vaccinated person and reduce the potential to transmit the virus. Of course, they don’t eliminate anything, but they help (very much) with both.

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