United Airlines is ending its ban on unvaccinated employees returning to work, according to reports.
Sources told the Wall Street Journal that the world’s fourth-largest airline will begin to welcome back unvaccinated staff by the end of the month. United has not yet confirmed the report.

United’s U-turn

United was the first major carrier in the US to require all staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and the latest announcement likely be seen as something of a U-turn.
As recently as last month, the Chicago-based airline was sticking by its controversial policy, saying “there’s no doubt our vaccine requirement has saved lives and kept our employees out of the hospital – we will continue to vigorously defend [this] policy.”

200 lost jobs due to mandate

Late last year, around 2,000 employees were forced to take unpaid leave after failing to provide proof of their vaccination status. Subsequent reports followed that almost 600 staff were estimated to face termination, but according to the airline, the number dropped to nearer 200.

With rival American Airlines still enforcing a vaccination mandate for staff, alongside partners Alaska Airlines and JetBlue, it is uncertain whether United’s move will have knock-on effects across the North American aviation industry.

Covid vaccine vial
United was the first major US airline to introduce a vaccine mandate | © Agência Brasília

Some onlookers have argued that a policy change is long overdue, adding guidance was originally appropriate given the severity of the impact caused by the prevalent COVID-19 strain at the time, but no longer suitable given the less severe strains which now dominate.

Questions remain over legality

A previous ruling from the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals entitled employees with an approved medical or religious exemption to the mandate to continue to be paid, reportedly costing United almost $3 million a month. A review is also underway over an earlier decision not to block the airline’s policy entirely.

Furthermore, it remains unclear whether United’s reported policy shift will contravene US President Joe Biden’s executive order requiring all federal workers to enforce vaccine mandates.

Are vaccine mandates appropriate for airlines? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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