United Airlines (UAL) - Get United Airlines Holdings Inc. Report Chief Executive Scott Kirby became the first major industry executive to advocate for a requirement that all 60,00 of the carrier's employees receive the coronavirus vaccine while also encouraging his peers to follow suit.
Kirby made the comments at an employee town hall on Thursday, after rival Southwest Airlines (LUV) - Get Southwest Airlines Company Report said last week that it did not currently require employees to get one of the available vaccines.
“The worst thing that I believe I will ever do in my career is the letters that I have written to the surviving family members of coworkers that we have lost to the coronavirus,” Kirby said, according to a transcript reviewed by CNBC.
"I think the right thing to do is for United Airlines, and for other companies, to require the vaccines and to make them mandatory.”
Airline employees are considered essential workers and therefore have first access to the vaccines under the current rollout protocols.
Kirby noted issues with his vaccine-requirement stance.
“I don’t think United will get away with and can realistically be the only company that requires vaccines and makes them mandatory,” he said.
United also offered employees new buyout deals with pay and health benefits, Reuters reported Friday.
"Given the continued, near-term variations in travel demand, we’ll look for new ways to give our employees flexibility by introducing voluntary options that help reduce costs and may reduce the number of furloughs of recalled employees," a company spokesperson told Reuters.
United Air shares at last check were down 1.8% to $41.82.