United Is Getting Rid of This Safety Precaution, Starting March 28

The airline will no longer be enforcing this COVID restriction.

The last two years have been a hectic time for airlines. In order to safely cart millions of passengers daily as COVID spread, carriers have had to adapt in a number of ways. As a result, several restrictions were placed on travelers during this time, from not allowing you to fly without a mask to preventing you from ordering alcohol during your flight. Slowly but surely, airlines have been rolling back some of their COVID-based rules as case numbers rapidly decline. Now, United Airlines has just announced that it will be pulling back one of its biggest safety precautions later this month. Read on to find out what the airline will no longer be enforcing in the coming weeks.

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United Airlines is getting rid of its strictest vaccine policy.

United airlines flight USA; a flight attendant is seen helping travelers in first class on an airplane in mid flight
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United Airlines will modify its vaccine mandate by allowing some of its unvaccinated employees to return to work soon, Insider recently reported. According to the news outlet, the airline will bring back more than 2,000 workers who did not get the vaccine in accordance with its mandate but received exemptions from the company, starting March 28. In Aug. 2021, United announced that its more than 67,000 employees would have until Sept. 27 of that year to get vaccinated against COVID or be fired.

According to Insider, more than 99 percent of the carrier's workers ended up getting vaccinated by the deadline, but around 200 employees remained unvaccinated and were terminated. An additional 2,200 unvaccinated workers requested religious or medical exemptions, and those who were approved were allowed to keep their jobs with United, but had to work in a non-customer-facing position or take unpaid leave. On March 28, unvaccinated employees will be able to return to their former roles even if they work directly with customers, per The Wall Street Journal.

The carrier says it's reversing this policy in line with the current state of the pandemic.

A doctor performing a nasal swab for a COVID test on a senior man
iStock

The substantial decrease in COVID numbers over the last month has aided United Airlines in its decision. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in just the last week alone, infections have fallen by more than 28 percent and hospitalizations are down by more than 30 percent.

"We expect COVID case counts, hospitalizations and deaths to continue to decline nationally over the next few weeks and, accordingly, we plan to welcome back those employees," Kirk Limacher, United's vice president for human resources, said in a note sent to employees on March 10, which was obtained by Insider.

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United could choose to bring this precaution back.

Vaccine card
Shutterstock

This isn't a free pass for unvaccinated people to start applying for jobs with United Airlines. According to The Wall Street Journal, a person familiar with the carrier's decision said that newly hired workers for United will still have to be vaccinated. And if COVID starts to surge again, the company could choose to pull unvaccinated employees away from customer-facing roles once more. In his note to employees, Limacher said that "if another variant emerges or the COVID trends suddenly reverse course," then United would "re-evaluate the appropriate safety protocols at that time."

United's CEO has stood firmly behind the airline's vaccine mandate.

UNITED AIRLINES STAR ALLIANCE sign at check in location RDU International Airport
Shutterstock

United has faced some criticism over the last year over its vaccine mandate, which was viewed as one of the most stringent among any company or any other airline. According to The Wall Street Journal, most other major U.S. airlines stopped short of terminating employees. But Scott Kirby, the airline's CEO, has stood firmly behind his company's decision even amid backlash.

"Our vaccine requirement is working—and saving lives," Kirby wrote in a Jan. 11 company note. "Since our vaccine policy went into effect, the hospitalization rate among our employees has been [100 times] lower than the general population in the U.S. Prior to our vaccine requirement, tragically, more than one United employee on average per week was dying from COVID. But we've now gone eight straight weeks with zero COVID-related deaths among our vaccinated employees."

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