American Airlines subsidiary Piedmont Airlines discouraged pilots from gettingvaccinations last weekend “due to high demand” for flights, according to a memo obtained by CBS News.
In the memo sent last Wednesday, Piedmont Airlines chief pilot John Pursell told the regional airline’s 500 pilots: “Piedmont will not be able to release any additional pilots for COVID vaccination during the weekend of 19-21. March due to high demand. “
Demand for travel has been on the rise throughout March, reaching a pandemic high of more than 1.5 million passenger screens at TSA checkpoints on Sunday.
Pursell told the pilots they would have to “try to schedule later in the month” so the airline could maintain “operational reliability.”
Piedmont is a wholly owned subsidiary of American Airlines with bases in Charlotte, North Carolina and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The regional airline operates 50-seat Embraer E-145 aircraft.
An airline source told CBS News that several pilots were denied time off to receive a COVID vaccine last weekend due to a lack of enough reserve pilots to cover their shifts. The source added that while employees are happy that the airline is busy again, “the pilots must be able to be protected … without retaliation.”
The FAA does not allow pilots to fly for 48 hours after receiving an injection of the COVID-19 vaccine, a regulation that could affect the airline’s ability to keep up with the growing demand for travel that had it “operating almost at capacity of both the aircraft and the crew available “. “according to the note.
“We fully recognize the desire to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” said another memo titled “COVID-19 Vaccination Policy” sent to all Piedmont pilots on March 11 and obtained by CBS News. “While we encourage all pilots to get vaccinated, the requirement to wait 48 hours before returning to flight duty is causing serious concerns about crew coverage.”
The memo says the airline will provide “maximum scheduling flexibility,” but told pilots that they “should do everything possible to schedule their single-shot vaccine or the first shot of a two-shot vaccine during their free time and when necessary, the one-hour posting period will not interfere with your flight schedule. “
Vaccine appointments in many states remain rare.
The airline said the Charlotte airport last weekend hosted a vaccination clinic for airport employees, including those who work for Piedmont. The airline has a crew base at Charlotte Douglas International Airport and says it granted permission to as many pilots as it could without canceling flights, prompting the March 17 email.
“Piedmont strongly encourages all members of our team to get vaccinated and provides an incentive to do so,” Piedmont director of corporate communications Crystal Byrd said in a statement. “Due to the FAA’s requirements for our pilots to remain out of work after vaccination, we are doing our best to provide flexibility while serving the needs of our customers.”
Byrd said pilots are “encouraged to work with their leadership team to ensure the necessary time off to receive their vaccination.”
The airline believes that a similar situation involving a large vaccination event at a central airport on a busy travel weekend is unlikely to occur again.