I will soon be receiving a General discharge from the Army for refusing the Covid vaccine. I put in a religious exemption request that got denied. I’m currently waiting to hear back on my appeal, but I’m almost certain that it will be denied as well. I enlisted under a 6 year contract and will only end up serving about 3.5 years if I do in fact get discharged.
(I’m a student pilot about to start my commercial trainning in a few months.)
I will definitely request a discharge upgrade from the VA after I’m processed out and attempt to have it changed to an honorable discharge.
I know that the airlines are requiring pilots to be vaccinated but I also know that they have approved religious exemptions for some. The military has approved a very very small amount of religious exemptions but they seem to be in cases where the service member is close to their ETS date.
I know this will hurt my chances of getting to a major but I’d like to know if I still have a shot.
Obviously, this has become a very decisive and political topic, so I would appreciate it if the answers to this post, answer my question of wether or not I can make it to a major airline and not attack my religious reasoning for not getting the vaccine.
My record is otherwise clean. I never had a negative consulting In the military, I have good grades at a Part 141 flight school, I have not failed a checkride (at least not yet), my driving record is good besides my first year I got my license where I had a minor accident and a couple speeding tickets (have not had any tickets since then), and have had a consistent work history.
Also if I were to get vaccinated down the road, would this change anything?
Thank you and God Bless
The mentors will be able to chime in with their expertise, but in general, I would think that spending a lot of money on training for the possibility you may not be able to reach your end goal because of your vaccination status is something to consider.
If I remember correctly, American isn’t requiring vaccination but is placing severe restrictions on those who aren’t, whereas United is requiring them.
Who knows, once the pandemic is a distant memory, the restrictions could be removed, or they could even be strengthened in that all airlines require vaccination for employees. It is definitely something to consider that you would be restricting your goals and prospects due to your vaccination status.
While not ideal (an obviously an Honorable Discharge would be preferable), there are worse things than a General Discharge. I fly for a Major and know people who have been hired with them so it’s definitely possible.
The real issue might be when it comes time to explain your discharge. As you pointed out the mandates have been very devisive and depending on your panel you could have a pilot or 4 thinking “you’re one of those guys”. I’m a union rep and while I’m vaccinated, I worked very hard to support the pilots who were seeking accommodations. I can tell you I received a ridiculous amount of negative attention just for trying to help. That said, you’re quite a few years from applying and hopefully this will all be a distant memory so I wouldn’t let that stop me.
Btw, you don’t mention anything about having a degree? You may or may not be aware but the Majors desire a degree. While it’s sometimes possible to get hired without one, this is one of those times that’s a box you most definitely want to me able to check as you’ll need all you can on the plus side.
Thanks for the response Adam. I’m about 1-2 years away from graduating with a bachelor’s degree at Liberty University so that definitely won’t be a problem.
It’s encouraging to hear that you know of people who were able to be hired by a major with a general discharge. Like I mentioned before, I will be trying very hard to get it upgraded and I’m optimistic that it eventually will as I have heard of people getting theirs upgraded to honorable with much more serious offense’s such as failing a drug test.
As far as my eventual discharge, I went through the steps for a religious exemption. I didn’t just refuse it to get out. I applied for the religious exemption as soon as I heard about the mandate, and after that was denied, I appealed the decision. I’m not sure if that will matter at all but I know a good amount of people who just refused the vaccine without even trying for a medical or religious exemption. I hope that carries a least a little bit of weight when it comes to the application process to the majors.
Again, your response is much appreciated and I appreciate your support.
I think you’re going to have an uphill battle. Unfortunately the vaccine mandates have caused considerable controversy. Pilots at those airlines quit or stayed and faced tremendous penalties for their decision not to be vaccinated. Right now, there is a waiver at the beginning of the application for American that says if hired you agree to be vaccinated. Regardless of how you feel about the vaccine, you’re headed towards a job in mass transportation and travel. The company wants to know wherever the job takes you, you will be able to do your duties there. Even at a regional, there is flying internationally. When you land in foreign places, you must be in compliance with that country’s vaccine mandate.
The general discharge shows that you have a strong enough stance to risk the discharge and withdraw your commitment to serve due to the mandate. That paints a picture to the hiring board that you will be one of those pilots that won’t cave to the mandate either. Could you still be hired? Maybe, but I ask you, is this the battle you will risk your aviation career on? Are you willing to give up being an airline pilot in order to avoid the vaccine?
If so, I commend your commitment and wish you the best of luck. If not, I would seriously consider the effect it could have on your future. It would be such a shame to get all the way to a major interview and then have such a huge distraction on the table, the topic of your vaccination stance.
Thanks for the response Hannah
If I were to eventually get vaccinated and have my general discharge upgraded to honorable, would that make it much more likely that I will be hired?
I’ve never been on a hiring board but I’d imagine so. Simply because, the focus wouldn’t be on both of those items. Instead it would be focused on your training history, your hours, your character, etc. Getting hired is hard enough with all the right boxes checked. Do your best to not uncheck any on your own.
If both of those happen I don’t even think it’ll be a conversation.
With that (and I really don’t want to belabor the subject) you should know there are many pilots who share your feelings and beliefs on the subject. Im still hopeful things will change and you’ll have options your more comfortable with and again it’ll become a non event.
As an interviewer, I would be thinking: “So you refused the vaccine based on religious reasons, which got you out of the military, but now you got the vaccine so you can apply for a job making $300k per year. Either your religion changed or you were full of it.” Now no interviewer will ever admit to that, but I can guarantee you they will think that.
To my knowledge, all of the majors are requiring the vaccine and none are granting religious exemptions. My airline already requires pilots to have several other vaccines, so it is not a stretch to simply add one more.
*Full disclosure, I don’t like this conversation, I have VERY strong opinions on it, and have made a very strong conscious effort to make certain it doesn’t take off on this forum as people make many assumptions about people’s beliefs as soon as it comes up. That said again, as a union rep, I’ve been forced to become much more educated on the subject than I ever hoped.
The facts are only 2 airlines in the US (United and Hawaiian) were the only to not offer accomodations. All others did and both Delta and SWA never imposed a mandate. Further I know many who actually took unpaid leaves or were terminated for refusing the vaccine, BUT would be receptive to other options in the future (like Novovax) that are not mRNA based and therefore do not conflict with their religious or medical objections. Until that happens virtually all the pilots I know have been able to get jobs at other airlines and remain unvaccinated.
Sincerely, I thank you for your time and responses. It is a big relief to know there’s people like you in the aviation industry that really just want to help. I really appreciate the insight that you have provided.
God Bless you sir