Sunday, December 18, 2016 by Ethan Huff
More than 70,000 new uniforms released as part of a long-awaited American Airlines employee apparel reboot are the subject of a potential recall after flight attendants, pilots, customer service agents, and airline club workers reportedly began experiencing serious adverse health effects as a result of their use.
The fresh uniforms, which don a sharp slate gray, cobalt, and “crisp white” color scheme, are apparently far more appealing to the eye than they are to the skin and body, as complaints have been pouring in from airline employees who say they’re breaking out in hives, experiencing headaches, and developing rashes, among other symptoms.
American Airlines has since launched an internal investigation, surmising that the issue may have something to do with the wool fiber used in the clothing that may be triggering allergic reactions. The nation’s largest independent flight attendant union, which represents some 25,000 airline employees at American Airlines, is also conducting its own investigation on behalf of its members.
“We have received over 1,600 flight attendant reports of suspected uniform reactions that include headaches, rashes, hives, burning skin and eye irritation, itching, and respiratory problems – to name a few,” wrote the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) in an internal memo to its members.
“The growing number of reports of suspected reactions, triggered by both direct and indirect contact with the uniform, has prompted APFA to ask that all uniforms be recalled until further joint testing with the company can be completed.”
In a recent interview with The Dallas Morning News, American Airlines spokesman Ron DeFeo claimed that the company has already conducted three rounds of testing on the new uniforms, none of which have found anything out of the ordinary in their materials, all of which, he says, are “in line with normal standards.” But American Airlines employees beg to differ, and many are calling for a full recall of the affected clothing.
DeFeo further told the Star-Telegram that, because of the problem, American Airlines is allowing 200 of its flight attendants to continue wearing their old uniforms in this interim investigatory period, as well as ordered 600 non-wool versions of the new uniforms to furnish to the most sensitive employees.
As to what’s really going on, though, there seem to be more questions than answers. Wool has been a staple material in flight attendant uniforms for many decades, so why now would it suddenly be triggering “allergies?” The real problem, a growing consensus claims, is more than likely the use of abrasive chemicals in the new uniforms.
A memo received by American Airlines back in October from Twin Hill, the company that supplied the uniforms to the airline, reveals that the new uniforms are loaded with all sorts of harsh chemicals like benzyl benzoate, anthracenedione, dimethylanthracene, benzaldehyde, (phenylmethylene)-octanol, and C.I. Disperse orange 30 that are known to cause ill effect in humans.
Twin Hill insists that the levels of these chemicals were “at low levels of concentrations” and “consistent with the amounts typically present in normal, everyday clothing.” But based on what American Airlines employees are experiencing, it’s probable that these levels are much higher.
“APFA will continue to explore all legal options and consult with additional experts in the field to better understand the results of our ongoing independent testing as well as joint testing moving forward,” APFA added in its memo, also nothing that “a remedy that excludes a full recall of the uniform fails to adequately protect our members.”