On the heels of full U.S. Food and Drug Administration
approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, Delta Air Lines plans to
charge higher health insurance premiums for employees who choose to remain
unvaccinated. It also will impose a weekly testing regimen for unvaccinated workers
in locations with high Covid-19 case counts, according to The Wall Street
The airline in early August announced that all newly hired
employees would take a Covid-19 vaccination as a prerequisite for employment,
but it left the choice to vaccinate or not open for the carrier’s existing
employees. The new policy, again, stops short of a mandate, but puts a steep
financial motivator in play, upping insurance premiums by $200 every month,
starting in November, for unvaccinated workers who participate in the carrier’s
health insurance program.
Come Sept. 12, the carrier will require weekly Covid-19
testing for all unvaccinated employees and will require those with positive
tests to isolate away from the workplace, without Covid pay protection. The carrier
will extend paid time off for Covid-19 sick days only for vaccinated employees.
The new policies were outlined to Delta Air Lines employees
via an email from CEO Ed Bastian on Wednesday morning. They have since been published online.
According to the memo, the average hospital stay for
Covid-19 has cost Delta $50,000 per person.
“This surcharge will be necessary to address the
financial risk the decision to not vaccinate is creating for our company. In
recent weeks since the rise of the B.1.617.2 variant, all Delta employees who
have been hospitalized with Covid were not fully vaccinated,” the memo
Airlines have been split on how to handle vaccine
requirements for employees, despite the fact that Covid-19 decimated the travel
business in 2020, and the new B.1.617.2 variant, which is also known as the ‘delta’
variant has threatened to put ice on what looked to be a fairly robust travel
sector rebound this summer.
Airlines was an early mover in mandating Covid-19 vaccinations for U.S.-based
workers, even before the jab got full approval from the FDA, or risk being
fired. American Airlines, Delta and Southwest Airlines, however, held back. American
offered an extra day off and a $50 incentive for employees to get vaccinated. Southwest
has “strongly encouraged” its employees to get vaccinated, according
to multiple news reports quoting CEO Gary Kelly. Delta’s move after the FDA
approval of the Pfizer vaccine may pave a path forward for other companies
considering mechanisms that will compel but not force hesitant employees to get
According to the Airlines Reporting Corp., airline ticket
sales across all sales segments in the United States have dropped since the
delta variant began to rise in July. For the week ending Aug. 1, ticket sales
were down 33.5 percent from the same week in 2019. For the week ending Aug. 22,
sales were down 41.5 percent over the same week in 2019.