Regional aircraft discouraged pilots from receiving COVID vaccine in view of expanded passenger demand

American Airlines subsidiary Piedmont Airlines discouraged pilots from getting COVID vaccines a weekend ago “due to high demand” for flying, as indicated by a reminder got by CBS News.

In the memo sent last Wednesday, Piedmont Airlines Chief Pilot John Pursell told the local transporter’s 500 pilots, “Piedmont will be unable to release any additional pilots for COVID vaccination for the weekend of March 19-21 due to high demand.”

Demand for travel has been on the ascent all through March, hitting a pandemic high of more than 1.5 million passengers screens at TSA checkpoints on Sunday.

Pursell told pilots they would have to “attempt to schedule later in the month” so the airline could maintain “operational reliability.”

Piedmont is an wholly-owned subsidiary of American Airlines with bases in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The local transporter works 50 seat Embraer E-145 airliners.

A source at the airline told CBS News that few pilots were denied the downtime to get a COVID antibody a weekend ago because of an absence of adequate save pilots to cover their days of work. The source added that while workers are cheerful the carrier is occupied once more, “pilots need to be allowed to be protected…without retribution.”

The FAA doesn’t permit pilots to fly for 48 hours subsequent to getting a COVID-19 antibody shot, a guideline that could strain the carrier’s capacity to stay up with expanding travel request that made them work “operating at near capacity of both aircraft and available crews,” as indicated by the memo.

“We fully recognize the desire to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” said another memo titled “COVID-19 Vaccination Policy” sent to all Piedmont pilots on March 11 and obtained by CBS News. “While we encourage every pilot to get vaccinated, the requirement to wait 48-hours before returning to flight duty is causing serious crew coverage concerns.”

The memo says the carrier will give “maximum schedule flexibility,” however told pilots they “must make every effort to schedule their single-shot vaccine or the first shot of a two-shot vaccine during their off-time and when the required 48-hour post period will not interfere with their flight schedule.”

Vaccine appointments in numerous states stay hard to come by.

The carrier said that last end of the week the Charlotte air terminal facilitated an inoculation center for air terminal representatives, including those working for Piedmont. The carrier has a crew base at Charlotte Douglas International Airport and says it conceded authorization to however many pilots as it could without dropping flights, inciting the March 17 email.

“Piedmont is strongly encouraging all of our team members to get vaccinated and offering an incentive to do so,” Piedmont’s director of corporate communications, Crystal Byrd, said in a statement. “Due to FAA requirements of our pilots to remain out of work post vaccine, we are doing our best to offer flexibility while serving the needs of our customers.”

Byrd said pilots are “encouraged to work with their leadership team to secure the necessary time off to receive their vaccine.”

The carrier trusts it is unlikely a similar situation involving a large vaccination event at a hub airport on a busy travel end of the week will happen once more.