Southwestern vaccination policy could affect tourism in Las Vegas


Southwest Airlines has many fans among its passengers. Many like its low fares, friendly demeanor, and policies like free baggage check-in and no flight cancellation fees.

But the Dallas-based airline is walking in uncharted waters these days, after thousands of passengers were inconvenienced earlier this month when Southwest had to cancel hundreds of flights due to air traffic control issues. and weather in Florida. Now, its COVID-19 vaccination policy could test customer support again.

Southwest – and another Texas-based carrier, American – could potentially lose more goodwill with the public with the companies’ COVID-19 vaccination policies.

Southwest President and CEO Gary Kelly had a lot to say about it during Thursday’s third quarter earnings conference call with investors and the media. The bottom line: Despite a White House executive order that all federal government contractors have their employees vaccinated by December 8, Southwest says it will not force its employees to be shot and not will fire anyone who does not.

It’s complicated for Texas carriers because Republican state governor Greg Abbott issued his own executive order banning vaccination warrants.

“We’re not going to fire anyone who doesn’t get the shot,” Kelly said. “How we work with people who do not get vaccinated or who are not looking for housing (religious or medical), we are going to have to find a solution and we are working with the (federal) government on this subject. It doesn’t make sense that we don’t respect that and find a way to work with our people, and that’s what we’re determined to do, to find the right balance between taking care of our people and maintaining our government contractor status.

Southwest has a heavy government contract, serving as a charter for the military and other government agencies, serving as part of the civilian reserve air fleet, and shipping mail. The loss of the status of contractor would be a financial blow for the company.

Political question

Kelly recognizes that policies requiring vaccinations are a political issue.

“My duty is to take care of Southwest Airlines,” Kelly said. “My duty is to take care of our employees and our customers and we are not going to let that disrupt our customers’ travels, especially during the holiday season.”

It is a political question and a polarizing question, he said. “And there are very strong feelings among some on both sides of this issue,” said Kelly, who has publicly stated that he has been vaccinated.

McCarran International Airport officials remain out of the question. Although the airport has its own rules for wearing masks in terminals, it has no reason or desire to be embroiled in a controversy over vaccination.

United and Delta see it differently from Southwest, setting a deadline by which their employees had to be vaccinated or face layoff.

United, the first major carrier to require its employees to be vaccinated, has started laying off around 200 workers who have never been vaccinated or requested an exemption. Delta says it plans to allow employees to undergo regular testing, which will cost each unvaccinated worker an additional $ 200 per month in insurance payments.

United says its workforce is 96% vaccinated and 3% in search of exemptions. Delta employees are 90 percent vaccinated, but executives say that level will rise to 95 percent next month.

Meanwhile, Southwest says it will continue to negotiate with the federal government to keep its contracts while finding a way to convince their workers to get vaccinated without threatening them with dismissal. Kelly said Thursday he was unsure what percentage of employees have been vaccinated, but noted that number is irrelevant due to the company’s belief the company shouldn’t force them to do something they don’t want to do.

Effects on tourism

The big picture, when it comes to Las Vegas, is how all of this is going to affect the city’s tourism since Southwest has a 39% market share of the people who travel here, and the airline has more flights. to and from McCarran than any other commercial air carrier.

Will there be any backlash against Southwest, especially after the October 9-10 flight cancellations debacle, which incidentally cost the airline around $ 75 million? Will potential passengers think twice before booking on Southwest, knowing that their pilots and flight attendants may not be vaccinated or there may be disruptions that ruin their vacation travel plans?

Would Las Vegas, desperate for more convention traffic to fill hotel rooms midweek, suffer from Southwest’s plans or would travelers be willing to fly on a more expensive and less convenient alternative airline? ?

The answers to these questions remain to be seen.

Meanwhile, Southwest’s Kelly said the airline is doing what it can.

“We want this pandemic to end,” he said Thursday. “We definitely want to do everything we can to encourage people to get vaccinated. For my part, I believe that this is the way and it is the way that we are promoting. We have tried to encourage people to get vaccinated and further with incentives instead of using a more punitive approach, like making employees pay if they are not vaccinated.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at [email protected] or 702-477-3893. To follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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