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American Airlines Transports its First COVID-19 Vaccine

An American Airlines 777-200 at Chicago O’Hare (Photo: Greg Linton)

On Sunday evening American Airlines conducted its first transport of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. The company flew the shipment from Chicago O’Hare to Miami International Airport on a Boeing 777-200, with the vaccine scheduled to arrive in a U.S. Caribbean territory the following day. The flight comes two days after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the vaccine for emergency use, and just hours after the Center for Disease Control (CDC) gave the final nod to begin the first round of shots.

American Conducted Trial Flights to Prepare

American has been preparing for the shipment since November, conducting trial flights that simulated the conditions under which the vaccine had to be transported. According to the airline, this included “stress-testing the thermal packaging and operational handling process” to ensure it would remain stable and secure en route. According to the World Airline News, the vaccine’s handling is critical as it must be kept at -94 degrees Fahrenheit.

American Cargo President Jessica Tyler commented on the transport flight, saying, “The American team is proud to be a part of the critical effort to get lifesaving vaccine safely and quickly to people around the world. We were able to mobilize within hours of getting the call to move thousands of doses. We know this is the first of many shipments to come, and we are ready to scale our operation as the additional vaccine is produced and ready for distribution.”

American an Expert in Temperature-Critical Shipments

According to American, the airline is an “expert in cold chain logistics with an established network of facilities and team members who specialize in temperature-critical shipments.” The carrier ships pharmaceuticals to 150 cities in 46 countries worldwide and also runs the largest temperature-controlled shipping facility of any U.S.-based airline. Its expertise in this type of shipping has earned the airline the International Air Transport Association’s Center of Excellence for Independent Validators in Pharmaceutical Logistics certification (CEIV Pharma). The certification is awarded to airlines and cargo carriers with well-established tools, policies and staffing to ensure life science pharmaceuticals, such as the coronavirus vaccine, arrive at their destination fully intact and effective.

Other Airlines Transporting the Vaccine

United Airlines was the first commercial airline to transport the vaccine in November – before regulators approved the shot. According to the Wall Street Journal, the airline charted a handful of flights from Brussels Airport to Chicago O’Hare to help with the vaccine’s rapid distribution once it was given the green light for use.

In addition, FedEx Express delivered its first shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine on Sunday. Flight 884 departed Gerald R. Ford International Airport at 11 AM local time and arrived at Memphis International Airport at 11:33 AM local time. The life-saving vaccine was carried on Airbus A300F4-605R. Grand Rapids is a solid choice for transporting the vaccine because of its proximity to Pfizer’s Kalamazoo manufacturing plant and its favorable infrastructure, including a 10,000-foot runway, a dedicated cargo facility and the necessary support and capacity to transport millions of doses of the vaccine.

Torrance Richardson, Gerald R. Ford International Airport Authority president and CEO, said, “This is a big day for West Michigan and a historic milestone for the world that marks the beginning of the end to the global pandemic. The Ford Airport is honored to play a key role in ensuring the vaccine gets into the hands of healthcare professionals around the country. Our continuing investment in infrastructure has ensured we are able to meet the demands of the aggressive delivery schedule. We train and prepare for this all year long to ensure we are ready for whatever challenges come our way.”

Taylor Rains


  • Taylor Rains

    Taylor Rains graduated from Florida Institute of Technology with a B.S. in Aviation Management in 2017. She has worked in the aviation industry for the past five years and has a specialty in safety analytics for part 121 airlines, but she has also worked for a part 135 company in Alaska. Her experience has allowed her to work in many areas of aviation, including airport operations, flight operations, security, inflight, dispatch, and maintenance. Taylor is also an avid traveler and has used her flight benefits to fly on as many airlines and aircraft types as possible. So far, her favorite flight has been aboard KLM’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

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