United Airlines boss hits back at Ted Cruz over vaccine mandate rant: ‘We did this for safety’

Republican senator called the airline CEO’s views on vaccines ‘disturbing’

Jade Bremner
Thursday 16 December 2021 21:19
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Ted Cruz says ‘character revealed’ during times of crisis

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby has defended his stance on mandating vaccines for employees after criticism from Ted Cruz.

"We did this for safety. We believe it saved lives," Mr Kirby said at a Senate Commerce hearing on Wednesday. "We don't compromise on safety." 

Republican Sen Cruz called Mr Kirby’s views on vaccines “disturbing” and “disgraceful treatment” of employees.

“There are going to be very few people that get through the medical and religious exceptions. There are some pretty strict rules about that, so I would encourage a pilot or any employee that has suddenly decided they are really religious … you are putting your job on the line,” said Mr Kirby ahead of the airline’s vaccine mandate deadline.

United Airlines has around 67,000 employees. Approximately, 2,000 people were granted religious exemptions – “non-customer-facing" roles for these employees will be found, according to Mr Kirby. If the workers reject their new positions they would be placed on leave. Two hundred United employees who refused the vaccine, and didn’t have an exemption, were sacked.

United Airlines was the first major air carrier to make Covid-19 vaccinations a mandatory requirement – employees were given a deadline of 25 October to get the shot. American Airlines and Southwest Airlines have not mandated vaccines.

There is a nationwide mask mandate for planes and all other transport in place until 18 March. 

Mr Cruz has been vocal on his anti-mask and vaccine mandate stance. In the summer introduced two bills to block President Joe Biden’s mandates – the No Mask Mandates Act and No Vaccine Mandates Act. Senator Cruz has chosen to have the vaccine, but believes taking the shot is a personal choice.

The Independent has contacted United Airlines and Ted Cruz for further comment

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