Chicago travelers react to vaccine mandate for Southwest Airlines employees

Southwest Airlines is the latest major carrier to require its employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Midway Airport employees said they had mixed feelings about the mandate but many passengers said It makes sense.

"That’s a wonderful idea," said Vonnie Travis, a Chicagoan heading to Biloxi, Mississippi Tuesday. "I think it will be much better for all Americans. I feel safer."

Southwest said in a statement that after "a thorough review of President Biden's COVID Action Plan [it] determined that the carrier's contracts with the U.S. government require full compliance with the federal vaccination directive."


The airline’s government work includes carrying mail for the US Postal Service and at times flying military personnel.

Southwest joins United, which just last week announced 97% of its workers have now had their shots.

American, JetBlue and Alaska Airlines are all following suit In requiring vaccines for their employees.

Alex Dertz said, as a passenger, he welcomes the mandates. 

"Absolutely, it’s a public health crisis and public transportation’s a huge part of everybody’s lives," Dertz said.

Another passenger said she has sympathy for workers who are opposed to getting vaccinated but thinks they have an obligation.

"I know that they don’t feel comfortable with it but sometime we have to do things for other people," said Laura Rawden.

Southwest employees can ask for exemptions due to medical or religious reasons. Any exemption request must be approved to continue employment with the airline.

However, it’s not clear whether they would still be paid. United put those employees on unpaid leave.

"I encourage all Southwest Employees to meet the federal directive, as quickly as possible, since we value every individual and want to ensure job security for all," said Southwest Chairman and CEO Gary Kelly.

The Dallas-based company employees 54,000 people.