United is the first US airline to require all employees be vaccinated against COVID-19

By Thomas Pallini

United Airlines is requiring all US-based employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, the first US carrier to do so for existing employees. 

"This fall, every US-based United employee will be required to receive a COVID-19 vaccine and upload their vaccination record to Flying Together," the airline wrote in a memo to employees provided to Insider.

United employees will be required to show having received a full course of Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson vaccination no later than October 25 if the drugs remain under emergency authorization through September 20. If the Food and Drug Administration formally approves a vaccine sooner, workers will have five weeks to get vaccinated from that date. 

"One really clear fact has emerged, which is the best way to protect people from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated," Josh Earnest, United's chief communications officer, said in a media briefing.  

Other airline chief executives have taken differing courses in ensuring a vaccinated workforce. Doug Parker, chief executive officer at American Airlines, told the New York Times that he preferred using "great incentives" to get employees vaccinated. 

"Anyone who is vaccinated by August 31 at American Airlines gets one day of extra vacation in 2022," Parker said. "They get a $50 gift card. And that, we think, is the right way to motivate people to get vaccinated, and we're pushing that really hard."

"We certainly encourage it everywhere we can, encourage it for our customers, and our employees, but we're not putting mandates in place," he said. 

"We're taking a decidedly different approach," Earnest said of Parker's comments, without directly naming the chief executive. "It will result in more people getting vaccinated. And more people getting vaccinated is good." 

Despite mandating the vaccine, United employees will still receive an additional day of pay for employees that meet the new vaccination requirement. 

"It is crystal clear that a policy like this makes all of our employees safer," Earnest said. Documentation will be required for United employees claiming religious and medical exemptions. 

Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian has required new hires to be vaccinated against COVID-19 since May there is no requirement for current US-based employees. 

"This is an important move to protect Delta's people and customers, ensuring the airline can safely operate as demand returns and as it accelerates through recovery and into the future," the airline said in a statement. "Delta will not be putting in place a company-wide mandate to require current employees to be vaccinated."

Bastian stopped short at requiring vaccines for customers, citing the difficulty with potentially requiring a vaccine that hadn't been fully authorized by the Food and Drug Administration

"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," Bastian said on "Squawk Box." "So stay tuned."

"Over the last 16 months, [CEO] Scott [Kirby] has sent dozens of condolences letters to the family members of United employees who have died from COVID-19," United said. "We're determined to do everything we can to try to keep another United family from receiving that letter."

In verifying the vaccine cards, United pointed to a sweepstakes it ran earlier this summer where flyers could submit their vaccine cards in a bid to win free flights, adding that it used technology and visual identification to spot fraudulent cards. "There are some things that we learned over the summer because of the sweepstakes and we will apply those lessons," Earnest said, 

Employees that do not adhere to the requirement will undergo "separation from the company," Earnest said. 

Passengers will also not be required to show proof of vaccination, with Earnest saying that kind of requirement would likely need to come from the government. 

Read More: Airline workers have lower rates of COVID-19 than the general population — and airline CEOs say it's proof that flying is safe