As the pandemic prolongs, travel companies first required their staff to be vaccinated to deliver a safe travel experience. Now the tide is shifting towards customers to be fully vaccinated as well. Just as cruises COVID vaccine mandate policies in the U.S. based on regulation to only allow fully vaccinated adult travelers in order to resume operations, airlines are now joining the bandwagon to enable a similar policy in order to comply with local and international health security guidelines. As more countries transition their risk mitigation approach from a zero-COVID to living with the endemic, and international borders re-open, airlines are announcing their right to transport passengers to contain transmissions both within and beyond their borders.
THE DOMINO EFFECT
Vaccine mandates are already a major discussion within the travel industry, and a handful of airlines are taking the logical next step by flying only fully vaccinated passengers. In September 2021, Australian-based Qantas Airways announced its intentions for a COVID vaccine mandate for passengers when it resumes long-haul international flights later this year. Alan Joyce, CEO, Qantas Airways emphasized that the airline’s policy aligned with Australia’s health security requirements. He said, “We have a duty of care to our passengers and to our crew, to say that everybody in that aircraft needs to be safe.”
On October 3, 2021, followed suit announcing a similar mandate. The country’s flag carrier said that the ‘no jab, no fly’ policy will come into effect for customers travelling anywhere on the carrier’s international network from February 1, 2022. “We’re getting ready to reconnect with the world and letting customers know what they need to do to be ready to take off when we can,” said Air New Zealand’s CEO Greg Foran.
In preparation for the full resumption of its domestic and subsequently international flight services, AirAsia too has made it mandatory for only completely vaccinated adult guests to be allowed to board its flights, effective immediately. AirAsia’s CEO Tony Fernandes announced on October 8, 2021, “We are taking steps to reassure the government of our commitment to curb the spread of COVID. This is part of our COVID-19 mitigation plan, similar to other airlines around the world to ensure the highest level of safety for all passengers and employees.” This further aligns with Malaysia’s recent announcement of permitting fully-vaccinated individuals to travel across state borders and overseas.
Table: Airlines with Vaccine Mandate for Travelers
|Vaccine Mandate for Travelers||Implemented from|
|Air Canada||Canada||Yes||October 2021|
|Air New Zealand||New Zealand||Yes||February 2022|
|Qantas Airways||Australia||Yes||December 2021|
|Singapore Airlines||Singapore||Yes||November 2021|
View more about Airline Vaccine Requirements on Safe Travel Barometer’s Airline Dashboard
WHY A VACCINE MANDATE?
A vaccine mandate for air travel would likely present a host of logistical and operational challenges for airlines worldwide. A region-specific or country-specific record-keeping would make vaccination efforts difficult to verify across varied travel hubs. Requiring proof further raises the question of whether the government or individual airlines would collect the information. Yet it was the line of defense countries and their authoritative bodies took to safeguard the existing vaccinated population. Thus, the common observation was that countries with higher vaccination rates had policies around travel preferential for fully vaccinated travelers.
According to Johns Hopkins University and Medicine, 72.98% of the Canadian population was fully vaccinated as of October 13, 2021. Also, Canada was among the first countries to announce a vaccine mandate for domestic travel for all passengers traveling either by air, on trains between provinces and cruise ships effective October 30, 2021. These additional measures taken by countries could pave the way to encourage more people to get vaccinated.
ONGOING DEBATES ON THE POLICY
Even though some countries have made a lot of progress in their vaccination campaigns, others have just started. Thus, airline vaccine mandates may be lopsided for the time being. For example, in a country such as where only 19.8% of the total population is fully vaccinated, its regulators cannot logically impose mandatory vaccination as a pre-requisite for air travel. Such measure would bring down the travel sector that has already suffered terribly.
Meanwhile with the federal mandate in the U.S. to provide proof of vaccination to fly by the end of October 2021 has left some North American airlines wondering what it will mean for those living in remote communities where air transport is the only way in or out. Kyle Newhook, the operations manager and a pilot with North-Wright Airways, said “The air is pretty much in some cases, the only way to get from place to place up in the Arctic,” he said. “We are extremely different from flying Air Canada or WestJet.” This potentially included emergency travel for medical appointments from one state to another.
With the demand for air travel softening and customer cancellations on the rise on the fear of the Delta variant, implementation of a COVID vaccine mandate for travelers could be a blessing and a complex operational undertaking for airlines.