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With the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approving the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine, more airlines will feel emboldened to mandate employee vaccines. Delta is trying to skirt that with higher health insurance costs for workers not vaccinated.

A rise in unvaccinated Delta employees hospitalized with the Covid-19 Delta variant is prompting Delta Air Lines to take aggressive steps to encourage vaccination among its workers but won’t go as far as a mandate.

These steps include adding a $200 monthly surcharge for unvaccinated employees using the company healthcare plan starting in November and weekly Covid-19 testing beginning in mid-September, Delta CEO Ed Bastian said in a memo sent to colleagues on Wednesday.

“The average hospital stay for COVID-19 has cost Delta $40,000 per person. This surcharge will be necessary to address the financial risk the decision to not vaccinate is creating for our company,” Bastian said.

Additionally, Delta said unvaccinated employees must wear masks while working indoors until community rates stabilize, effective immediately.

“In recent weeks since the rise of the B.1.617.2 variant, all Delta employees who have been hospitalized with Covid were not fully vaccinated,” Bastian said.

While not precisely a vaccine mandate like the one implemented by United in August, Delta appears to be giving employees a way out at a cost and encouraging compliance.

Bastian said starting September 30, Delta will only provide Covid-19 pay protection for fully vaccinated employees, in compliance with state and local laws.

Delta’s pilots, for one, will not be impacted by this. Officials say the union contract’s medical plan for pilots will be exempt from the $200 surcharge.

Delta said that the time for its employees to get vaccinated is now, with this week’s announcement that the FDA has granted full approval for the Pfizer vaccine.

UPDATED: This story was updated to include comments from the Delta pilots union.

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Tags: airlines, covid-19, delta air lines

Photo credit: Delta will be adding a $200 monthly insurance surcharge for unvaccinated employees. Eric Salard / Flickr

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