Fact check: Did Biden inflate United Airlines vaccination numbers?

Posted October 15, 2021 4:35 p.m. EDT
Updated October 15, 2021 4:51 p.m. EDT

During a recent speech, President Joe Biden said that in the less than two months since United Airlines announced it would require its workforce to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, the percentage of vaccinated employees increased from 59% to 99%.

Social media posts responding to the speech have suggested that this jump was not due to more employees getting vaccinated.

"He really is this stupid," conservative commentator Jack Posobiec tweeted on Oct. 7. He shared a screenshot of what Biden said and an image of a bar graph that suggests most of the unvaccinated people just left the company, causing the percentage of vaccinated employees to grow.

But that’s not true, according to United.

"Any claim that we lost 40% of our employees due to the mandate is completely false," Charles Hobart, a spokesperson for United, told us.

Hobart couldn’t confirm whether 59% of employees were vaccinated before the mandate, because the company couldn’t ensure that all vaccinated employees had uploaded their vaccination cards.

"However, we did incentivize pilots and flight attendants to upload their cards, so we had reliable data for them," he said. "Prior to the mandate, pilots were at 90% vaccinated and flight attendants were at 80% vaccinated."

The rest of the company’s workforce had until Sept. 27 to get vaccinated or face termination. On Sept. 28, NPR reported that 2,000 United workers, or less than 3% of its U.S.-based workforce, had applied for an exemption. Another 593 had neither gotten the vaccine nor applied for an exemption.

As of Oct. 13, Hobart said, 232 were facing termination for failing to comply with the mandate.

A day earlier, a federal judge said United must delay its plan to put unvaccinated employees on unpaid leave if they requested an exemption from the mandate.

But the claim that the airline achieved a 99% vaccination rate because nearly 27,000 unvaccinated employees left the company is wrong.

The "overwhelming majority of our employees chose to get vaccinated," Hobart said, "and the numbers back that up."

We rate this claim False.

PolitiFact: False

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