United losing $1.4M every two weeks by placing unvaccinated pilots on paid leave

Vaccinated pilots refuse to risk their safety flying with unvaccinated pilots, carrier said

United Airlines is losing over a million dollars every two weeks by keeping unvaccinated pilots on paid leave, according to court documents.  

In court documents filed on Oct. 22, the Chicago-based carrier argued that because of a temporary restraining order on its vaccine mandate, it has "been forced to place unvaccinated pilots on paid leave, which costs approximately $1.4 million every two weeks."     

United Airlines employees work at ticket counters in Terminal 1 at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, on Oct. 14, 2020.  (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File / AP Newsroom)

The carrier further explained that "vaccinated pilots in United’s workforce refuse to risk their safety flying with unvaccinated pilots," according to the court documents.  

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Earlier this month, a federal judge extended a ban on the carrier putting employees on unpaid leave for seeking a medical or religious exemption from the airline’s vaccine mandate. The order was in favor of the six workers who are suing the airline, claiming that it is discriminating against employees who get exemptions by placing them on unpaid leave.

A United Airlines Holdings Inc. pilot walks past the check-in counter at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020.  (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images / Getty Images)


As part of the airline’s comprehensive policy, about 67,000 U.S.-based employees faced a Sept. 27 deadline for getting vaccinated, or they would be placed on unpaid leave by Oct. 2. It made an exception for those with medical and religious reasons, which a handful of employees argue has not been the case.

Plaintiffs in the case had requested a temporary restraining order against the mandate in a lawsuit, arguing that United has failed to approve accommodation requests regarding the vaccine and instead offered six years of unpaid leave for those wishing not to get the vaccine. 

In the recently filed court papers, United said it had already "already suffered irreparable damage" from the case.  

However, United CEO Scott Kirby and President Brett Hart told employees in a joint memo in early October that more than 99% of its U.S.-based employees, aside from those who submitted for accommodation, have been vaccinated since the airline rolled out its policy on Aug. 6.  

A United Airlines passenger pushes a luggage cart past closed check-in kiosks at San Francisco International Airport on July 8, 2020 in San Francisco, California.  (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images / Getty Images)

"For the less than 1% of people who decided to not get vaccinated, we’ll, unfortunately, begin the process of separation from the airline per our policy," the memo read. 

A United spokeswoman said that the company was working with vaccine-exempt employees on safety measures including testing, face masks and temporary job reassignments.

"For a number of our employees who were approved for an accommodation, we’re working to put options in place that reduce the risk to their health and safety, including new testing regimens, temporary job reassignments and masking protocols," the spokesperson said. 

FOX Business' Audrey Conklin and the Associated Press contributed to this report.