Delta Air Lines will charge employees on its company health plan US$200 a month if they fail to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, a policy the airline’s top executive says is necessary because the average hospital stay for the virus costs the airline $40,000.

Chief executive officer Ed Bastian said all employees who’ve been hospitalized for the virus in recent weeks weren’t fully vaccinated. The airline said Wednesday it will stop extending pay protection to unvaccinated workers who contract the virus on Sept. 30 and will require unvaccinated workers to be tested weekly beginning Sept. 12, although Delta will cover the cost. Unvaccinated employees will also have to wear masks in all indoor company settings.

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Delta stopped short of matching United Airlines, which will require employees to be vaccinated starting Sept. 27 or face termination. However, the $200 monthly surcharge, which starts in November, may have the same effect. “This surcharge will be necessary to address the financial risk the decision to not vaccinate is creating for our company,” said Bastian in a memo to employees.

Delta is self-insured and sets premiums for its plans, which are administered by UnitedHealthcare. Bastian said 75 per cent of Delta employees are vaccinated, up from 72 per cent in mid-July. He said the aggressiveness of the leading strain of the virus “means we need to get many more of our people vaccinated and as close to 100 per cent as possible.

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“I know some of you may be taking a wait-and-see approach or waiting for full [Food and Drug Administration] approval,” he told employees. “With this week’s announcement that the FDA has granted full approval for the Pfizer vaccine, the time for you to get vaccinated is now.”

A growing number of companies, including Chevron Corp. and drugstore chain CVS, announced they’ll require workers to get vaccinated after Monday’s FDA decision.

Delta and United both already require new hires to be vaccinated. Two smaller carriers, Frontier Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines, have said they’ll require either vaccination or regular testing for current employees. Other major U.S. airlines, including American Airlines Inc. and Southwest Airlines Co., said Wednesday they’re encouraging employees to get vaccinated but haven’t required it. Delta’s requirement for weekly testing of unvaccinated employees will start Sept. 12 and the requirement that the unvaccinated wear masks indoors takes effect immediately.