Get ready for a snarled mess at airports around the country if airlines are forced to verify that passengers are vaccinated.
After Dr. Anthony Fauci threw his support behind a COVID-19 vaccination requirement for airline passengers, industry watchers on Monday warned of a “logistical nightmare” — lines out the door and a wave of delays and cancelations.
The burden of vaccination checks could weigh on airlines already hammered by the pandemic: Big carriers warned just last week their business could be off by 30 percent of normal by the start of fall.
Conor Cunningham, a senior travel industry analyst at trading firm MKM partners, said a vaccine mandate would be a “logistical nightmare” for airlines and the Transportation Security Administration — and told The Post that a requirement would lead to “a lot of cancellations.”
“The experience at the airport would already go from being really, really awful to even worse,” Cunningham said, arguing that many airports and airlines are understaffed and that making workers check vaccine cards would be an additional burden.
“The logistics of it are very hard,” he added.
Fauci, the White House’s chief medical adviser, first threw his support behind the idea in an interview on Friday, while the Biden administration’s coronavirus response team coordinator Jeff Zients has said he has not “ruled out” vaccine mandates for air travel.
“I would support that if you want to get on a plane and travel with other people that you should be vaccinated,” Fauci said.
Domestic air travelers in France and Canada are already required to show proof of vaccination, and 61 percent of Americans support the idea, according to a September Gallup poll.
But airlines and analysts have pushed back against the idea.
Executives for American, Delta and United Airlines have all publicly pushed back on the idea in recent months.
“It’s very difficult for us to come in and mandate a vaccine that isn’t even federally approved yet,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian said on CNBC in August, shortly before the FDA approved the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine.
American Airlines CEO Doug Parker, meanwhile, told the New York Times in August that a vaccine mandate “wouldn’t be physically possible to do without enormous delays in the airline system.”
And United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby has punted, telling CNN the same month that its up to the US government to decide whether to require vaccines and speculating that “it won’t happen domestically.”
Cunningham, the analyst, said that a potential mandate would mean lower-level employees like gate agents or flight attendants could be asked to “pick up a lot of the slack” when it comes to ensuring airline compliance. Labor union the Association of Flight Attendants did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Airlines for America — a lobbying group that represents major US airlines including Delta, Southwest and American — opposes requiring vaccines for domestic flights, the New York Times reported in April.
Yet spokesperson Katherine Estep did not answer a question from The Post about whether the group still opposes such mandates, instead saying that companies represented by Airlines for America “comply with all CDC guidelines and requirements, and remain committed to leaning into science to guide policies and protocols that prioritize the wellbeing of all travelers and employees.”
The impact of a potential vaccine mandate could vary by airline, Cunningham said.
Carriers like United — which has hubs in blue states with higher vaccinations rates like Illinois, California and New Jersey — may have an easier time weathering a mandate than rivals like Southwest, which is concentrated in the less vaccinated state of Texas.
Nonetheless, he said a vaccine mandate for air travel would be “just bad, period,” regardless of where companies are concentrated.