3,000 United Airlines Employees Have COVID—The CEO Says This Is What’s Keeping Them Alive

Three thousand employees of United Airlines are currently COVID-positive, according to an open letter from the company’s CEO, but a company-wide vaccine mandate is saving lives. 

On Tuesday, United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby published an open letter to United employees, sharing an update on how the recent surge in omicron cases—which has caused thousands of cancelled flights and countless travel disruptions—was impacting the global airline. “While we have about 3,000 employees who are currently positive for COVID, zero of our vaccinated employees are currently hospitalized,” Kirby wrote. “Since our vaccine policy went into effect, the hospitalization rate among our employees has been 100x lower than the general population in the U.S.”

Kirby said that prior to United’s vaccine requirement, which the company announced in August and was held up by a court ruling in November, more than one United employee, on average, was dying from COVID every week. But even as omicron cases are skyrocketing across the country, the company has had zero COVID-related deaths among its vaccinated employees for the past eight straight weeks, the CEO noted. “Based on United’s prior experience and the nationwide data related to COVID fatalities among the unvaccinated, that means there are approximately 8-10 United employees who are alive today because of our vaccine requirement,” he wrote. “While I know that some people still disagree with our policy, United is proving that requiring the vaccine is the right thing to do because it saves lives.”

Employees at any airline, regardless of whether the airline enacted its own vaccine mandate, must now be vaccinated or submit to weekly COVID testing, thanks the Biden administration. (The White House enacted a vaccine mandate on January 4, which requires all employees of all U.S. companies larger than 100 people to get vaxxed or get weekly COVID tests in order to continue working.) 

But not all travelers are required to be vaccinated before boarding a flight. Travel restrictions currently dictate that non-U.S. citizens are required to be fully vaccinated before boarding a flight to the U.S. but no such requirement exists for Americans to fly domestically, per CNN. (You are, however, required to wear a mask while on a plane while not eating or drinking, per federal law.) 

The gap between the vaccinated and unvaccinated across the country—in both hospitalizations and deaths—is growing, according to an analysis from the New York Times. Getting vaccinated (and boosted) remains the best way of protecting yourself against hospitalization and death from COVID-19.