Pilots Lead America’s Pushback Against Vaccine Mandates
12 Oct 2021
AIRLINE PILOT: I’ve heard from fellow pilots all over, from all airlines, and a lot of us are facing the same situation. But this goes far beyond the pilots, because it’s not just airline pilots. Sure, there’s airline pilots speaking out and you’re seeing it kind of in the forefront of news. But it’s the flight attendants. It’s ground personnel.
It’s everyone who works for these major airline corporations. My health and my medical choice is more important to me than my career at this point. And I believe standing up for this and all the Americans who feel the same way as I do, my career is a small sacrifice.
BUCK: Welcome back to the Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show. There you had an airline pilot talking about why he is making the decision to not show up and essentially have a sick-out strike. Now, it’s not officially a strike ’cause there are union rules, there are laws actually that prevent pilots from doing it. So we know it’s not officially a strike but it’s a de facto collective action?
Clay, we gotta drill down into this, and if there are any pilots out there. You can call in; you can say your name is Bob, whatever. You don’t have to give us your name, but if there are pilots out there — and obviously we want people who really are pilots or anybody who’s part of the airline who’s been staying out of this stuff, please call us: 800-282-2882 — staying out of work so that they shut down Southwest flights for a day or two ’cause, Clay, right now the CEO is saying, “No, it was just some mess-ups.” You buying it?
CLAY: (laughs) No. And first of all, let me say this. We want to hear from pilots. 1-800-282-2882. You could be anonymous. We’re not asking you, “Hey, give us your name and your badge number” or something for Southwest. But let me say this. I fly Southwest everywhere, because I live in Nashville, and Southwest is the primary airline that has serviced Nashville for basically the last 20 years.
So I am on their airplanes all the time, and I understand the frustration that comes when your flights are getting canceled. But I have to tell you, I support these pilots as much as you can support anyone for standing up to this covid vaccine mandate. It is a phenomenal decision.
BUCK: Let’s get to our pilots, ’cause we asked for them. Steve down in Florida, an American Airlines pilot. What’s up Steve?
CALLER: Hey, Clay and Buck, how are you guys doing?
BUCK: We’re good. What’s on your mind?
CALLER: Hey, I just got back off a four-day trip with American Airlines and a lot of us are discussing what’s going on in the cockpit, got quite a bit of time up there. Having said that, I have recently said — sent about 10 emails to our CEO Doug Parker, to the Robert Isom, to Kimball Stone, to Chip Long, to our leadership in Miami, and I’ve gotten crickets pretty much.
I have one little three liner saying, “Thank you for your great work and for taking care of our customers.” But I think what it boils down to the majority of pilots in American Airlines the fact that a lot of Americans have had that virus. I had it back in April; I gave it to my wife and my daughter and since then…
Well, since beginning of it all I’ve done a lot of reading. I’m military. I had anthrax shoved into my veins and now I definitely have these antibodies, and I just think it’s ridiculous and a tyrannical overreach of the government to force us to get it.
BUCK: So, Steve, I gotta ask you. Do you believe — and if you want to give us a probability, that’s fine — the explanation? You’re with American Airlines. The explanation you’ve heard given by — and we mentioned here on the air. The Southwest airline CEO has come out and said, “Oh, it wasn’t anyone staying out for any reason about the vaccine mandate.
“It was because of airline traffic control issues in Florida or something.” Do you buy that at all? Is that even vaguely possible in your mind? Where are you in your confidence level about what happened over the weekend to Southwest?
CALLER: Let me give a couple of my Southwest pilot friends a phone call. But having heard the news report saying it was a Jacksonville air traffic control that shut down an entire sector of Southwest flying; that sounds highly improbable. I know that with this lawsuit that Southwest is going forward, it’s highly probable that they’re doing a little bit more maneuvering with their schedule — and really, according to the federal aviation regulations, we’re not allowed to go to work if we’re not a hundred percent fit for duty. So I’m finding myself less fit for duty psychologically because of all this garbage that’s being thrown at us.
CLAY: What will you do, by the way — we appreciate you calling — if you are mandated to have to get the vaccine and other pilots, who I’m sure you’re friends with that you have talked to? Do you think it could become an issue for other airlines, these covid vaccine mandates for pilots such as yourself? What choice will you make?
CALLER: Right now, I just got off the phone about an hour ago with my union saying that in light of the recent Project Veritas uncovering that they’ve been utilizing fetal parts in the testing and the administration of this vaccine, I’m gonna apply for a religious exemption.
I’m also weighing what I would do with my family and my young daughter is 4-year-olds and my church, because I think it’s atrocious. And I’m hoping that Rick Scott continues with his legislation or there’s a lawsuit also going forward on Wednesday filed by some United pilots against this mandate.
And I think there’s a lot that’s gonna happen. The fact that American Airlines chose November 24, the day before Thanksgiving, to have everybody fully vaccinated is a slap in our face. And mentally, I’m just not there right now.
CLAY: By the way, thank you for the call. That could be a disaster for air traffic, Buck. I didn’t know the deadline there. But you know how crazy it is around the holidays anyway. Can you imagine if a huge number of airline pilots call out right in advance of Thanksgiving for health related reasons?
BUCK: This is why I think you also might see the federal government, which still hasn’t ruled out what the OSHA rule is.
CLAY: That’s right.
BUCK: We still don’t really know.
CLAY: It has been over a month since the mandate was put in place.
BUCK: Any business over a hundred employees has to get the shot. But I also believe if we also see a surge in cases if that actually happens in the wintertime — and that’s expected by a lot of folks. We’ve been talking about it. I think it’s very that they will do the vaccine passport for interstate travel on planes, and they’re gonna do it right before the holidays.
You can already hear — whether it’s Dr. Wen or some of the others that are appearing on TV a lot saying, “Sorry, you have no right to travel, and this is about health and safety.” So just think about that. We have these issues, Clay, travel issues. We also have the supply chain issues coming to a head for this holiday season. This could be a really frustrating, economically painful —
BUCK: — and rage-inducing (because of all the bureaucracy and all the regulation and nonsense) holiday at a time when the Biden administration cannot afford the public to see just how incompetent and stupid they are, beyond what they’re already seeing. John in Key Largo, Florida, another major airline pilot. John, what’s up?
CALLER: I just want to let you know I actually work for Delta Airlines. I’m a captain with them, and at Delta, the company decided that you’re gonna pay $200 each paycheck if you didn’t get the vaccine, ’cause it cost $50,000 per person once you get covid. So that was one way, and we have had a lot of pilots come over and get the vaccine ’cause they don’t want to pay $400 a month towards —
CLAY: You’re talking about insurance premium increase if you’re not getting vaccinated?
CALLER: Yeah. Yeah, it’s actually it’s like a charge for it.
CALLER: Yes. Yeah. So that worked pretty well over at Delta, and I had my vaccine. I was out for 15 months ’cause I have asthma, and so as soon as the vaccine was available, I went and got it and then I went back to work.
CLAY: Do you buy the excuse…? Sorry to cut you off.
CALLER: That’s okay.
CLAY: You’re a pilot. When you see Southwest having the issues that they’re having and there are no major weather-related conditions of a substantial nature, do you think this is directly related to covid vaccine issues with Southwest pilots.
CALLER: Well, the president of their unit said it was not, that the sick leave is still the same. It hasn’t gone up. I think it’s mismanagement on the company. They just didn’t reroute correctly and all that. And it wasn’t Jacksonville that shut down because I flew yesterday.
BUCK: Okay. So it’s apparently… So we have one pilot saying it’s major mismanagement. Look, Clay, there’s some things that when someone will talk about different functions of the government they’ll say that something happened over at the National Security Council, whatever, I can kind of say whether it’s BS or not. I don’t know about air traffic control stuff, but I do find this whole thing very, very suspicious that all of a sudden this comes up and you have just Southwest with 2,000 flights get canceled over the weekend.
CLAY: I want to hear from Southwest pilots. I know we got a bunch of pilots that wanted to weigh in, but there have to be anonymous Southwest pilots out there listening to us right now that can give us the real guts, the real juice here on what’s going on. I think we got tons of them.
BUCK: We gotta know, ’cause, look, if for some reason it isn’t what we thought which is that this seemed to be a sick-out situation, a collective action, pilots who are saying “enough is enough” and people say, “How can they do that?” It’s pretty easy. A bunch of people decide they’re gonna text or email each other, it spreads from there, and they decide they’re gonna stay home.
It wouldn’t be that hard to do. But if that’s not what happened, we gotta know that, too, because people looking at this saying, “All right. This is the turning of the tide. The mandate’s gone too far. If Southwest has 99.5% of their pilots vaccinated in the next few weeks, we’re gonna know that that’s not what is going on.” I do want to track this down. I’m still with you this. Doesn’t add up to me. I don’t buy what the CEO is saying.
BUCK: Jared in Alabama is a Southwest pilot, exactly what we have been looking for to weigh in here. Jared, thanks for calling in.
CALLER: Hey, thank you for having me. This is my EIB hat trick. I never thought I’d have to spend it talking about this subject but glad to be here. Hey, I wanted to point out a couple things here because first off let me get to right to the overall sentiment. Basically, yes, what you’re seeing is true. You are seeing pushback. Don’t doubt it for a second.
BUCK: So there are Southwest pilots that are trying to push back against the mandate. You know this to be true?
CALLER: Absolutely. But I also want to be perfectly accurate. There was no conspiratorial job action that has been discussed, initiated, voted on, nothing like it whatsoever. What you’re seeing is kind of a perfect confluence of conditions coming together for a perfect storm. Yes, the airline did suffer a malady this last week with air traffic control.
And we’re not a traditional hub-and-spoke carrier so for those of us things reverberate in a different way and unfortunately just happened to be a perfect sequence of events. But! But! With that combined, there are a considerable amount of pilots that are not taking this vaccine. Many of them are willing to give their jobs away if they have to, especially the more senior captains.
I’ve flown with many lately that are willing to go. And what’s happening here is our sick-time and a lot of benefits, a lot of stuff gets left on the table when you retire if you don’t use it. So sort of out of a just-in-case mind-set, they’re starting pick up trips, call in, and start kind of clawing into their time while they can and convert it to dollars while they still can, just in case. This is not over, and I think that’s the overall —
CLAY: Sorry to cut you off. This is fascinating, Jared. Thanks for calling in. When is the deadline by which Southwest pilots would be required to be vaccinated? Is there one set yet?
CALLER: Yes. Last week that came out, and they are giving us the opportunity to file for religious or a medical exemption. They’ve sent out a form now, which is very tedious. But, yes, there is a deadline to upload your covid vaccination card. If you fail to do so — and there’s actually a couple of dates in there.
If you fail to do so, it’s going to ultimately initiate a process. My understanding of that process, it’s not hard and fast. It’s a couple of sit-downs and reviews and they’re gonna give you all kinds of opportunities at the last second, so to speak, to take this thing and end it.
CLAY: Based on your interaction with other pilots, what percentage — and I know it’s just anecdotal, but what percentage — of pilots do you think are opposed to the vaccine mandate at Southwest Airlines?
CALLER: I think you’re easily, easily well over 50, 60%. And keep in mind, most of the ones I’ve spoken to a lot of people that are vaccinated, and they don’t care about vaccinated, not vaccinated, take it, don’t take it. They care about the mandate.
BUCK: Yeah. It’s about the freedom issue. We get you on that. Jared, thank you so much for calling in as a Southwest pilot. One more Southwest pilot before we come back and talk about the Texas anti-mandate mandate, which I love. Don’t mess with Texas. Terry in Florida. Another Southwest pilot. What’s up?
CALLER: Hey, Clay and Buck. Thanks for having me on, and thanks for your service to our country by talking about some of this stuff. I wanted to echo what Jared had to say about that and add a little bit of context to that. So, as you know, huge impact to the airline industry. Southwest searched for new revenue, opened up a bunch of new stations.
That kind of stretched our network really thin, and because of that and with people taking voluntary leave and retiring early and flight attendants. It’s multiple of factors — rampers, ops agents, all of those factors — compiled to make the perfect storm. It’s death by a thousand cuts, basically.
BUCK: So it’s multiple factors.
BUCK: So it’s some people are staying out but there are stresses on the system; so it’s almost like there’s some truth to both sides of this? Is that where we are?
CALLER: Yes. I’m actually seeking a religious exemption through Southwest to try to keep a job there, but I’m not gonna get the vaccine. I just listened to a New England Journal of Medicine podcast last week Wednesday, their weekly update. They have more questions than answers about this thing.
BUCK: I appreciate it.
CLAY: Appreciate these guys calling in.
BUCK: We’re gonna come back. This is a great thing it’s because of the reach of this show we could ask for an expert in fifth century Ptolemeic Egyptology or something and we can get somebody on in about 30 seconds.
CLAY: Babes? Is that right? Babes? I hope I’m allowed to say it. Babes in Lubbock, Texas, hello.
CALLER: Hi. How are you? Thank you so much for taking my call.
BUCK: Thank you.
CALLER: I just wanted to say as a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines that there are hundreds of other flight attendants and hundreds of other employees across the company that are standing behind our pilots. And we are standing up against getting the vaccination for all kinds of different reasons. It’s important that if we don’t push back right now, that we may never be able to say, “Push back.”
CLAY: Amen. Thank you for calling in. Why do you think Southwest, among all of the airlines…? What is it about the Southwest culture that is making the fight here more prevalent for Southwest than it might be for other airlines?
CALLER: Obviously we are a domestic airline, and we were started in Texas.
CALLER: And I think that we do have so many pilots that they are the voice for being able to stand up for this that have started in Dallas.
CLAY: So, this is a Texas, freedom-based airline in many ways that may be different than other airlines. I’m just kind of fascinated —
BUCK: They’re communists over at United. Communists, I tell you!
CLAY: — by the culture, Buck, and the Southwest Airlines culture I think serves red state America a lot more, maybe, than some other airlines. I support the pilots and I support the flight attendants and the CEO. I think we should mention again, Gary Kelly, one of the first CEOs, Buck, I can remember of a multibillion-dollar company to come out and say, “We’re opposed to vaccine mandates.”
BUCK: Babes, thank you so much for calling in and showing your perspective on this. We appreciate it.
BUCK: It's all so arbitrary, and they pretend it's not judgment calls when it clearly is.
BUCK: I've seen some people trying to politicize, in some way, the fact that he was double vaccinated.
CLAY: I was on talking about the importance of the First Amendment and why freedom of speech mattered in media circles.
CLAY: Man, we are making a big difference in the way that we are talking, and even other media are starting to follow our lead.
CLAY: I wonder what it’s like — and I hope I never know, and some people might say it’s already happened — to be past your mental faculties and end up with a big job.