Air India plans to vaccinate its entire staff by the end of the month, according to senior officials in the airline. The move comes after employee unions threatened to stop flying if the airline did not begin vaccinations. India is currently suffering a severe second wave that has deeply impacted aviation.
According to the Times of India, Air India will begin vaccinating employees starting early next week and aims to cover all staff by the end of May. India officially opened vaccine eligibility for everyone over 18 on Saturday, clearing the way for anyone to get their shots.
However, the decision comes the same day as some airline employee unions threatened to stop flying without vaccines. Air India leadership seems to have quickly heeded this demand, not wanting any disruptions to operations at this crucial time. Air India has been flying critical medical supplies into and around India to cope with a massive rise in cases.
Thousands have been struggling to secure slots in major cities as vaccine demand outstrips supply. To facilitate easy access for Air India staff, the airline will set up vaccine drives, although more details are currently unknown. The drives will be open to all employees and does not seem to be mandatory as of now.
As India battles a crushing second wave of COVID-19, Air India pilots have highlighted the tough situations they are operating under. In a statement, an Indian Commercial Pilots’ Association spokespersons said,
“We have gone above and beyond during this Pandemic, risking life and limb to ensure our citizens’ well-being. Due to our unwavering support, Vande Bharat Mission and relief operations continue to run smoothly even in the face of a resurgence of even deadlier strains of Covid-19. All we got in return for our dedication and sacrifices is a massive discriminatory pay cut.”
In addition to vaccine demands, the issue of pay cuts has become a recurring point of contention. In late March, pilots highlighted that their total salary is down 55% since last year, one of the highest among airlines. Considering these figures were before the second wave substantially reduced international and domestic traffic, pay cuts are likely here to stay for now.
Following other airlines
Airlines globally have been encouraging their crews and employees to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Carriers like Emirates, Qatar, Singapore Airlines, and others have all set up, or plan to, start vaccine drives for their staff to get their shots. Considering the danger frontline airline employees see daily, vaccines are the best tool to reduce infections.
For Indian airline crews, vaccines will be critical seeing the current surge in cases. Aviation is also a critical part of the COVID response, with airlines flying in medical oxygen, vaccines, and more.