A group of airline pilots protested President Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate outside a major airport in North Carolina on Saturday even as the industry is facing shortages of staff amid a frantic push to get personnel inoculated.
A rally organized outside Charlotte-Douglas International Airport by a group called US Freedom fliers saw pilots with several major airlines as well as their supporters called out Biden over his government’s mandate that businesses with 100 or more employees require them to be vaccinated beginning Jan. 4, according to FOX8. The protest came as the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Louisiana granted an emergency stay of the requirement on Saturday that was issued by the Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
“We’re out here today because we’re tired of the mandate. We’re tired of being told that our bodies are not ours,” said Artemis Coburn, who flies for a major airline, in an interview with the local outlet. “It just comes down to enough is enough, and we’re going to make a stand, and this is our stand.”
Other pilots who were interviewed by the local outlet said they were not permitted to reveal which airlines they worked for because doing so would be a breach of their employment contract.
While the federal appeals court issued the stay, it doesn’t take effect immediately; the next deadline under the vaccine mandate is Dec. 5, when businesses with more than 100 workers must require unvaccinated employees to mask up while indoors.
Should the mandate survive court challenges, then it will affect some 84 million workers in the private sector to would be required to take the jab or be subjected to weekly COVID testing.
“If it actually comes down to that, it’s going to be catastrophic for the airline industry,” said Joshua Yoder, a co-founder of US Freedom Flyers. “They can’t afford to lose 10 percent of their people, much less 20-30 percent across the various workgroups.”
He went on to say that those figures come from an estimate of the number of workers in the airline industry who have so far resisted the vaccine because of medical or religious reasons, as well as other factors.
“Our governments, our companies, our union, and even a lot of our fellow employees, are not defending freedom, so we have to fill in the void,” another co-founder, Robert Soudher, said.
In recent weeks, several airlines have been forced to cancel thousands of flights due to ongoing staff and pilot shortages. Over Halloween, for instance, American Airlines had to cancel almost 2,000 flights over staffing shortages at the carrier’s main Dallas-Forth Worth hub.
“Travel this Halloween weekend has become a nightmare for a lot of passengers who plan to fly in and out of DFW airport,” CBS-DFW reported.
One official with American cited “high wind gusts on Thursday that cut capacity at its Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport hub and that crew members ended up out of position for their next flights,” according to CNBC.
Earlier in October, Southwest Airlines also canceled nearly 1,000 flights over Columbus Day weekend following speculation that staff and pilots were calling in sick because they were protesting the vaccine mandates, though Southwest’s pilot’s union vehemently denied that, according to reports.
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