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Vaccine Mandates: How Delta got 90% of staff vaccinated without compulsory shots

Delta Airlines has been flying against the wind when it comes to getting its staff vaccinated against Covid-19 – but it appears to be paying off. At present, Delta is the only U.S. airline yet to implement President Joe Biden’s executive order for companies with more than 100 employees to require vaccination. However, CEO Ed Bastian revealed in an interview with Fox Business News last Friday that 90% of the airline’s workforce are presently fully vaccinated, with expectations that this will rise to 95% by November.

Commenting on these figures, Bastian said on Fox, “We’re proving that you can work collaboratively with your people, trusting your people to make the right decisions, respecting their decision and not forcing them over the loss of their jobs”.

This strategy is still currently legal, as President Biden’s order has yet to be formally imposed by OSHA (The Occupational Safety and Health Administration), a branch of the Labor Department. However most airlines have chosen to implement the rules early, with a view to getting all staff double-vaccinated by the end of the year.

Many airlines are requiring staff to get vaccinated or risk losing their jobs.

So what exactly have Delta done to achieve this astonishing vaccination rate? Firstly, Bastian told Fox that, “a month before the president came out with the mandate, we had already announced our plan to get all of our people vaccinated. And the good news is the plan is working.”

This pre-emptive strategy allowed Delta to implement a number of incentives to inspire vaccine uptake aside from forcing employees with the threat of joblessness. These include making unvaccinated employees who are on the company’s health plan pay a $200 surcharge every month to compensate for their increased coronavirus risk, as well as requiring them to wear masks in the workplace and take weekly Covid tests - as per President Biden’s executive order for those who wish to remain unvaccinated.

Furthermore, Reuters reports that Delta has offered financial incentives such as an additional day of paid time off and $100 in health rewards to employees who get their shots. These measures allowed the airline to vaccinate nearly 70% of its employees by June - before the order was even delivered by the White House, let alone the Labor Department.

By way of comparison, United Airlines was one of a number of carriers that opted to pre-emptively impose a vaccine mandate before being legally required to, threatening to fire any employee who was not vaccinated by September 27th. As a result, 232 United employees have so far lost their jobs for failing to comply with the airline’s vaccine policy.

Southwest Airlines imposed a similarly tough mandate earlier this month and was forced to cancel over 2500 flights between the 8th to the 12th October, allegedly due to staff walkouts protesting vaccine mandates.

Delta CEO, Ed Bastian: "The plan is working. Delta today, we are 90% fully vaccinated across our company".

Delta, meanwhile, has been able to run their flight schedule more or less as usual. The carrier has delivered 116 so-called “brand days” this year, which is when the airline doesn’t suffer a single cancellation on the 4,000 flights it operates daily.

Speaking to Fox, Bastian said this figure was “right on par with where we were in 2019, pre-pandemic”.

Delta’s chief health officer Dr Henry Ting described the airline’s more nuanced vaccine policy as a “marathon” – nudging, persuading and (in Bastian’s words) “collaborating” with their employees at a gentler pace, rather than presenting them with ultimatums. The extraordinary levels of vaccine uptake, coupled with Delta’s strong service record during what has been a difficult year for the industry more widely, suggest Bastian was right to favour this approach.

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