Support for LAist comes from
We Explain L.A.
Stay Connected

Share This


United Says 3,000 Employees Have COVID, But Its Vaccine Mandate Has Saved Lives

A person in a mask points to a United kiosk at LAX. A United employee is helping.
A United Airlines employee helps a passenger at LAX in October 2020. United's CEO said this week that the airline's vaccine mandates have helped protect employees from serious illness when they do contract COVID-19.
(Mario Tama
Getty Images)
We need to hear from you.
Today during our spring member drive, put a dollar value on the trustworthy reporting you rely on all year long. The local news you read here every day is crafted for you, but right now, we need your help to keep it going. In these uncertain times, your support is even more important. We can't hold those in power accountable and uplift voices from the community without your partnership. Thank you.

Amid a flurry of flight cancellations, United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby offered a window into the staffing challenges employers are facing due to the omicron surge.

"We have about 3,000 employees who are currently positive for COVID. Just as an example, in one day alone at Newark, nearly one-third of our workforce called out sick," he wrote in a memo to employees on Tuesday.

U.S. airlines have had to cancel tens of thousands of flights in recent weeks due to a combination of winter weather and staffing shortages, leaving travelers stranded and frustrated over the holidays. Now, Kirby said United is working to cancel flights early when necessary, before customers arrive at the airport, and is reducing flights to ensure there is enough staff on hand to handle customer needs.

In the memo, Kirby also took the opportunity to emphasize that the airline's vaccine mandate is working — despite the large number of employees testing positive.

Support for LAist comes from

He noted that among United's 3,000 employees who currently have COVID-19, zero of its vaccinated employees are currently hospitalized.

Moreover, he revealed that prior to the airline's vaccine mandate, which took effect in September, more than one United employee was dying from COVID-19 every week, on average.

"But we've now gone eight straight weeks with zero COVID-related deaths among our vaccinated employees," he wrote, noting that based on available data, that means approximately eight to 10 lives were saved by the vaccine requirement.

"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," Kirby wrote.

United was among the first companies in the U.S. to require COVID-19 vaccinations for all of its employees, rolling out its policy in early August. By late September, more than 97% of its 67,000 U.S.-based employees had gotten the shots and a couple thousand were granted religious or medical exemptions.

What questions do you have about vaccines?
  • Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Most Read