How Airline and Hotel Vaccine Requirements for Staff Will Impact Travelers
August 23, 2021
By Sarah Kuta, Conde Nast Traveler
As the coronavirus pandemic drags on and the highly contagious Delta variant continues to spread, more and more companies in the travel industry are requiring their staff and guests to show proof of vaccination. Major airlines, restaurants, and even some hotels are enacting policies aimed at keeping their employees and customers safe—and keeping their lights on.
“The science is clearly telling us that the key to getting past the pandemic is vaccination of everyone who’s eligible,” says David Harris, CEO of Ensemble Travel Group, a consortium of travel advisors across the U.S. and Canada. “It’s certainly good business and good for humanity to require people to be vaccinated so as to not spread this disease any further.
But keeping up with who is requiring vaccines—and who those rules apply to—is far from straightforward, with new companies announcing their policies every day. The rules are further complicated by other ever-changing vaccine proof and testing requirements for travelers, such as those imposed by international governments, individual states, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many countries require proof of vaccination or a negative test result for travelers to enter and some, like France and Italy, also require vaccine proof for indoor dining and other activities. U.S. cities like New York City, New Orleans, and San Francisco have also implemented city-wide vaccine requirements for access to indoor dining, recreation and entertainment venues.
If you’re planning to travel in the near future, here’s what to consider about proof of vaccination requirements.
Who's requiring proof of vaccination?
Some of the biggest names in travel are now requiring proof of vaccination for staff, guests, or both. United, Frontier, and Hawaiian airlines have given their employees fall deadlines for getting vaccinated (or, in the case of Frontier, submit to regular testing), and with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s full approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on August 23, at least one carrier, United, has already shortened that deadline by several weeks. Delta is requiring vaccines for all new hires in the U.S. but has not implemented the same rule for existing employees. Other major airlines, including Southwest and American, have not mandated vaccines for any employees.
Amtrak is also requiring that its employees get vaccinated or submit to weekly testing. So far, none of these companies has implemented vaccination rules for passengers, but travelers flying to some countries need to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for entry, and all travelers returning to the U.S. from another country need a negative test result, too.
New York City’s Public Hotel became one of the first hotels to require proof of vaccination for all staff, guests, and visitors. Anyone staying at the hotel or dining at its restaurant must show a vaccine card or passport upon arrival. “We need to beat COVID-19 together,” said owner Ian Schrager in a press release. “After all, looking after people is our business. We just didn’t see how to fulfill this responsibility without taking action.”
The Urban Cowboy Lodge in the Catskills, New York, is also requiring proof of vaccination for guests of the hotel and those dining indoors at its on-site restaurant, along with Pilgrim House Inn in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and Equinox Hotel in New York City. Hotel group Elite Islands Resorts, which has nine properties in the Caribbean, is also requiring guests to show proof of vaccination upon arrival, and Puerto Rico is mandating vaccine proof for visitors staying at hotels and short-term vacation rentals.
Restaurants are also starting to require vaccinations for staff and guests. Union Square Hospitality Group, which runs restaurants in New York, Washington D.C., and other cities, is requiring all employees and diners to show proof of vaccination or, “you can dine somewhere else, and you can also go work somewhere else,” Danny Meyer, the company’s CEO, told CNN. Many independent restaurants across the country are now requiring diners to show proof of vaccination.
Similarly, other travel-adjacent events and attractions are requiring guests to show proof of vaccination. The Las Vegas Raiders team will require all spectators at its NFL football games to show vaccine proof—or get a shot at the stadium. Whether of their own accord or because of city-wide mandates, concert venues, casinos, museums, and even some state fairs are requiring proof of vaccination for patrons. As more and more cities and private companies within the travel sector follow suit, travelers can expect proof of vaccination to become an increasingly common part of travel and daily life.
What does this mean for travelers?
These new—and growing—vaccination requirements from travel-related businesses add another layer of complexity to planning a trip. To navigate these rules, first research the country, state, or city guidelines for vaccine proof or testing requirements; also look into whether a destination requires a specific vaccine pass or certificate, which requires sending or uploading vaccination proof or a negative test result in exchange for a digital or physical QR code that can be presented and scanned at museums, restaurants, and entertainment venues. Next, lay out a detailed itinerary for the trip and check individual businesses’ websites and social media accounts for their most current vaccination policies. Working with a travel advisor or specialist can also help.
Travelers should bring their country’s official vaccination card or digital health pass and expect to show them at a business’s door or entrance. Prepare for delays and some potential confusion while companies work out the kinks of enforcing these measures. “These are unchartered waters,” says Peter Vlitas, executive vice president of global airline relations for Internova Travel Group.
For many, these rules signal a higher level of care and safety. “Protective measures and protocols are an indication of quality of care—that’s true for restaurants, that’s true for airlines, that’s true for other companies,” says James Ferrara, co-founder and president of InteleTravel, an online platform that hosts more than 70,000 independent travel advisors around the world. “Ultimately, it’s up to us to protect ourselves and that means not only making decisions to be vaccinated or wear masks or wash our hands, but it’s also to choose responsible partners in our lives—airlines, hotels, restaurants that demonstrate that duty of care.”
Most of the vaccination proof requirements apply only to guests who are over the age of 12, but parents of children who are too young to be vaccinated should still exercise caution and carefully weigh the pros and cons of traveling. For unvaccinated children, the CDC recommends following travel recommendations for people who are not fully vaccinated—wearing masks in public spaces and around people they don’t live with, avoiding crowds, and washing hands often and using hand sanitizer.
What does this mean for the travel industry as a whole?
COVID-19 vaccine requirements in the travel sector, like many other COVID-era changes, are likely here to stay until the pandemic is squarely behind us, says Harris. And they shouldn’t be too surprising for travelers, who have long been required to show proof of vaccination for diseases like yellow fever when traveling to certain countries. Harris also likened the situation to increased security screening measures at airports after the September 11 terrorist attacks. “We don’t have a choice, just as we didn’t post-9/11,” says Harris. “You had to be screened for whatever you were carrying or you didn’t get on an aircraft. There were a lot of things that shifted after 9/11 that people believed were inconveniences and maybe even some people viewed them as a violation of their civil liberties. Well, this is the way it has to be.”
Beyond that, some confusion among travelers is likely to continue—and the industry’s full recovery efforts will likely remain slow—until the U.S. government or an international group like the World Health Organization steps in to implement standardized rules, says Ferrara. “Travel-related, tourism and hospitality companies are being forced to step in and develop their own policies and enforce them, which to me is really a big issue,” says Ferrara. “As a result, the landscape is fractured and that creates consumer confusion around [questions like] where can I travel, what’s required of me to travel? And that extends to restaurants and all sorts of businesses.”
In the meantime, tourism and hospitality companies hope travelers will hang in there, be patient and kind to the staff who are thrust into the role of enforcing these policies, and keep their wanderlust alive, despite the complicated rules and regulations. The past year and a half has forced the travel industry to be nimble and adaptable for the sake of our safety—this is just the latest measure of that effort.