UK airline bosses say vaccines for staff will be optional

Airlines will promote jabs for staff, but won’t make them mandatory

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Thursday 18 February 2021 11:47 GMT
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Vauxhall Astra: a health worker at a vaccination centre in south London
Vauxhall Astra: a health worker at a vaccination centre in south London

Leading UK airline bosses say they will not demand that staff are vaccinated against coronavirus – though they will do all they can to encourage take-up of the jab among employees.

Speaking at an Airlines UK event, Shai Weiss, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, said: “My personal view is that the individual’s right to govern their own body is essential. 

“We will do everything we can to promote [vaccination], and explain the merits of being vaccinated for yourself and for your loved ones and for society as a whole.

“But before we take that extra step and say ‘If you don’t have a jab you don’t have a job,’ I think that’s a step too far.”

Steve Heapy, chief executive of Jet2, said: “I agree, and I think that may be subject to a number of legal challenges as well.”

Loganair, the UK’s biggest regional airline, allows flight crew to take time off to be vaccinated as early as possible.

Jonathan Hinkles, the chief executive, said: “As soon as people are offered a jab, assuming they want to take it – that’s their personal choice – we can get them off their flying roster without causing any disruption.”

Their views are not shared by all their counterparts at other carriers.

Scott Kirby, chief executive of United, said: “We were the first airline to require masks onboard – that was pretty controversial at the time.

“Because I have confidence in the safety of the vaccine – and I recognise it’s controversial – I think the right thing to do is for United Airlines, and for other companies, to require the vaccines and to make them mandatory.

“I know the vaccines are safe. I know that it’s the way to ensure the safety of our employees, ensure the safety of our customers, as we fly around the world.

“So, if others go along and are willing to start to mandate vaccines, you should probably expect United to be amongst the first wave of companies that do it.”

Last week Etihad said it was the first airline to vaccinate all its flight crew against Covid-19. The Abu Dhabi-based carrier claims to have vaccinated all its operating pilots and cabin crew with Sinopharm, one of the Chinese vaccines.

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