American, Southwest pilots urged to end vaccine-mandate talk in the cockpit, focus on flying

The airlines have set an employee vaccination deadline of Nov. 24 in an effort to comply with an executive order from the Biden administration

Pilot unions for American Airlines and Southwest Airlines are warning their members to stop talking about vaccine mandates in the cockpit and focus on flying.

FILE PHOTO: Pilots talk as they look at the tail of an American Airlines aircraft at Dallas-Ft Worth International Airport February 14, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Stone (REUTERS/Mike Stone / Reuters Photos)

The move comes amid a significant increase in reports to the Federal Aviation Administration's Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP), which allows pilots to relay inadvertent violations and general safety concerns. In addition, another flight feedback system, known as the Line Operations Safety Audit (LOSA), has also confirmed the increase in distractions related to discussions about vaccine mandates.


"There are plenty of challenges in our lives, especially the last 20 months as a pilot for American Airlines. The introduction of the COVID virus has resulted in many changes and created potential for conflicts in the flight deck. However, as professional pilots, we have handled these challenges admirably," the Allied Pilots Association, which represents approximately 15,000 American Airlines pilots, said in an Oct. 19 memo reviewed by FOX Business. "The latest hazard we face may be the hardest, regardless of your personal views concerning the vaccine mandate. We are seeing distractions in the flight deck that can create dangerous situations." 

Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA), who issued a similar message on Oct. 9 to approximately 9,000 Southwest pilots, noted that while staffing issues and inefficient scheduling by the airline have led to higher than normal operational risk, talk about the COVID-19 vaccine mandate in the cockpit has exacerbated the safety issues. 

"Every month we hit new records for fatigue pulls, which are now triple the levels of historical norms. Just yesterday, we had 37 fatigue pulls in a single day. All of these challenges have led to an added distraction in the cockpit," SWAPA said. "We are not here to debate the merits of the vaccine mandate. We are here to emphasize that the focus of each SWAPA Pilot must be on operating the aircraft at the highest levels of safety in the industry. There is absolutely nothing more important or sacred."


The debate around vaccine mandates at Southwest and American began after President Biden implemented an executive order requiring the employees of federal contractors to get fully vaccinated by Dec. 8. While both Southwest and American have set a Nov. 24 deadline for their vaccination mandates, SWAPA has filed a lawsuit and asked a court in Texas to delay it. 

"If you find yourself in a situation where the circumstances are taking you out of the green, it is time to act decisively and consider your options. We cannot allow distractions to potentially affect the safety of our operation," APA said. "As professional pilots, we are expected to safely handle threats and demanding situations in the flight deck – which we do every day and night, in all types of conditions, regardless of the destination. We must eliminate distractions in the flight deck to ensure that we continue to operate at the highest levels of safety. There are no other options."

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An FAA spokesperson told FOX Business that it is "aware of the concerns raised by the pilots’ unions."

"We take all reports seriously and will follow up through our well-established safety programs," the FAA added.