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United Airlines CEO Tells Biden: Vaccine Mandates a ‘Basic Safety Issue’

A United Airlines Boeing 737-900ER takes off from Los Angeles International airport, March 28, 2018. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

During a meeting with President Biden Wednesday to discuss national vaccination efforts, United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby suggested that he believes vaccine mandates for companies and organizations will become more normalized in the coming weeks as the COVID wave triggered by the delta variant escalates.

“A few weeks from now, this is going to be something that’s widespread across the country because it’s really just a basic safety issue,” Kirby told CNN after the meeting concluded.

Leaders from other industries and institutions, such as Howard University President Wayne Frederick and Kaiser Permanente Chief Executive Gregory Adams, also attended the meeting to share their strategies for increasing vaccination rates within their workforces and among their customers, Reuters reported. Kirby said Biden asked those participants about the efforts they’re taking and to persuade more-hesitant business leaders to follow in their footsteps.

Biden has applauded companies and localities that have required verification of vaccination from employees and has set the example himself by mandating vaccination for all federal staff. He endorsed the action taken by Democratic New York mayor Bill de Blasio to force private recreational establishments and enterprises, such as restaurants, gyms, and theaters, to ask for proof of inoculation at the door as a condition of entry.

“I will have their backs and the backs of other private- and public-sector leaders if they take such steps,” Biden remarked last week.

United Airlines recently announced it will require its staff to get the shot to maintain their employment. For the airline industry, United Airlines has departed from the standard set by competitors American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and Southwest Airlines, which are encouraging and even monetarily incentivizing vaccination for employees but not requiring it. Beyond employees, Kirby seemed to acknowledge at the meeting that mandating vaccines for customers could be difficult to implement  as well as unpopular.

However, SouthWest Airlines said Wednesday that earnings performance has slumped because of the spread of the delta variant, which has decreased demand for travel. The major airlines are facing greater pressure from the Biden administration to accelerate their vaccination drives to curb the spread of COVID.

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