The airline is the first to require employees to be vaccinated.


United Airlines will require all United States-based employees to get vaccinated going forward, the company shared with Travel + Leisure on Friday, spurred on by data showing how effective vaccines are at preventing severe illness and death due to COVID-19.

United said the requirement will go into effect five weeks after a COVID-19 vaccine is fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration or five weeks after September 20, whichever comes first. Employees will then have to upload their vaccine cards to an employee website.

Those who refuse to get vaccinated will be terminated, however, exemptions will be granted for religious or health reasons.

So far, about 90% of United pilots and nearly 80% of flight attendants are fully vaccinated.

"We know some of you will disagree with this decision to require the vaccine for all United employees. But, we have no greater responsibility to you and your colleagues than to ensure your safety when you're at work, and the facts are crystal clear: everyone is safer when everyone is vaccinated," United's CEO Scott Kirby said in an employee letter provided to T+L. "Over the last 16 months, [United] has sent dozens of condolences letters to the family members of United employees who have died from COVID-19. We're determined to do everything we can to try to keep another United family from receiving that letter."

United Airlines employee
Credit: Courtesy of United Airlines

United said eligible employees who already got their vaccine and employees who get vaccinated before Sept. 20 will receive an additional day of pay as an incentive.

The decision comes as the delta variant of the coronavirus has continued to spread throughout the country, causing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to recommend people wear masks indoors "in areas with substantial and high transmission," regardless of their vaccination status.

But while vaccines are now being required for employees, United has no current plans to require them for customers. Rather, passengers are required to wear masks on board planes and in airports, and the Transportation Security Administration has extended that mandate until at least Sept. 13.

In May, fellow U.S. carrier Delta Air Lines said it would require all new U.S. hires to be vaccinated against COVID-19, but added it would not mandate vaccines company-wide.

"It's very difficult for us to come in and mandate a vaccine that isn't even federally approved yet, the authorization hasn't been final yet, so stay tuned," Delta's CEO Ed Bastian told CNBC earlier this week. "We're continuing to encourage as much as we can amongst our own people and our customers to get vaccinated. The numbers are picking up."

A representative for Delta did not immediately respond to a request from T+L in response to United's announcement.

Alison Fox is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure. When she's not in New York City, she likes to spend her time at the beach or exploring new destinations and hopes to visit every country in the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.