Uniforms Making American Crews Sick

American Airlines Crews Receive New Uniforms and Now They Are Sick

Before I get too critical of American Airlines I'd like to say that I've been a huge fan of the new look that American Airlines is presenting to their traveler base. The uniforms appear to be classy and represent our beloved red, white, and blue very well. I'm also a huge fan of their decision to emblazon a giant American flag on the empennage of each aircraft carrying the American Airlines brand around the world. That said, there have been reports in both the news and personal testimony on social media that convinced me that there is something with the new uniforms that are causing flight attendants to become sick.

In an article at Bloomberg.com:

American Airlines flight attendants filed a grievance with the carrier over new uniforms they say have caused headaches, skin irritation and other health problems since being introduced in September.

The airline should either stop issuing the clothing or allow workers to wear their previous outfits, Bob Ross, president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, said in a letter to American’s general counsel. 

Now anyone, especially those working in the Aviation industry, should hear these complaints and know that taking care of your crew is the most visible way of showing your customers just how invested you are in those on board. If you go above and beyond to take care of your employees then you'll take care of the passengers. And whether the health issues experienced by cabin crews wearing these uniforms are actual or perceived, it would be in the airlines best interest to show their employees and customer base that the safety and health of everyone on board any American aircraft comes before everything else. So of course they're going to take care of it, right?

According to TravelandLeisure.com:

After months of controversy around health concerns, American Airlines executives are testing the company’s new flight attendant uniforms.

Since the uniforms debuted in September, employees filed more than 2,000 complaints that the new clothes caused problems like hives, wheezing, coughing, and headaches.

In a public effort to stand behind the uniforms, half a dozen executives and middle managers have begun wearing the wool outfits to work.

“It’s insulting. Instead of acknowledging legitimate concerns of their employees, American Airlines management is pulling a publicity stunt,” Taylor Garland, a spokeswoman for the Association of Flight Attendants, told the Chicago Tribune.

The union issued a formal complaint last week, asking the airline to either allow employees to wear their old uniforms or completely stop issuing them. They also asked that affected employees be compensated for medical bills and allowed time off to recover.

American Airlines has already conducted three labs tests on the uniforms—two before introducing them in September and another one since—all of which deemed the fabrics “garment-safe.” The airline has agreed to conduct a fourth test as soon as union leaders pick a date.

All I can say to that is "wow". It would be one thing if American Airlines executives had received complaints about the uniform, exercised some caution in the huge decision behind any recall, and finally, after 2,000 complaints, decided to take action to show that the safety of their working cabin crews comes first. It's an entirely different issue however, when those executives believe that despite the thousands of complaints from their own employees, further testing on the new uniforms should take place to confirm that there is in fact an issue.

And three lab tests on the uniforms? Alright, so the first three showed the clothing to be "garment-safe" and let's assume that the fourth returns the same results; is it really that important for American to maintain the decided upon clothing manufacturer or materials? I think not.

This is obviously not an isolated incident and from a public relations standpoint it now appears that the airline is propping up loyal airline employees in clothing that they say is making them sick. One particular Flight Attendant, Heather Poole, who I follow closely on Twitter and regard as the ideal embodiment of who I want to look to for direction in an emergency, writes about her issues with the uniform:

Now let the record also state that every time I go to work I feel terrible. I’ve been a flight attendant for 20 years and I’ve never felt like this before. This is not a coincidence; so many other flight attendants have suffered a variety of ailments since the uniforms were introduced in September. From rashes and hives to serious respiratory issues.

In addition, flight attendants for Alaska Airlines had the same set of health issues a few years ago with uniforms made by the same company. Even though their uniform tested safe, those illnesses must mean something.

I agree. When Alaska Airlines crews were having similar issues with uniforms made by the same company and your own veteran flight attendants are saying that they, too, are getting sick, there should be alarm bells ringing at American Airlines. Additionally, the cost of the uniform tests seems to highlight a more economical point that justifies replacing the uniforms outright over using lab tests to justify keeping them in service.

In a memo reported on by BizJournals.com, American Airlines Vice President of Flight Service, Hector Adler, addressed the issue:

Adler's memo repeatedly stressed airline management's confidence that "our new uniform meets the highest safety standards," but went on to note "we are committed to resolving individual concerns together with APFA."

But getting to the root of the concerns AA flight attendants have about the uniforms won't come cheaply.

In an interview last week, Adler said fabric testing like that the uniforms have already been subjected to can cost around $130,000. And such tests take time — about two months.

So using the figure of $130,000 above and applying that to the three tests already performed on uniform fabric that has not cleared the issue amounts to $390,000. Almost half a million dollars has been spent with another $130,000 test coming and the issue remains regardless of the results. Why not instead take that money and find a new manufacturer or different material and issue out new uniforms? Fiscally speaking it's money that is scheduled to be spent anyway and lab tests aren't going to fix what flight attendants are proclaiming, sometimes from hospital rooms, is something that affects the performance of their duties.

Clearly what is important to the airline has been lost along the way. Again, whether the uniforms causing health issues is perceived or actual, it should be the duty of every airline to put the needs and safety of crew and passenger before anything else. Parading test results around in public view and claiming that you are an airline "committed to addressing individual concerns" while paying for tests that could instead fix the issue with new uniforms is absurd.

Furthermore, presenting lab results in contrast to 2,000 complaints of crew illness is a form of mockery in the face of every flight attendant who has chosen a profession dedicated to ensuring passenger comfort, while being the face that represents your brand, and most importantly opting to be the voice of reassurance in the event of an in flight emergency. 

The flight attendants of American Airlines, or any other airline, are the best insurance policy a "business in the skies" can have. They are the front line in fielding passenger complaints; they help the pilots to safely conduct the flight when issues occur quite literally off the face of the earth; and they understand they may have to remain calm if there's an emergency because they're the ones being looked to - even when the outcome of an emergency seems particularly grave.

They deserve better than what is being done. The least you can do is buy them a uniform they feel safe in. They take care of us; they take care of you; American Airlines - please take care of your flight attendants.

"Flying is so many parts skill, so many parts planning, so many parts maintenance, and so many parts luck. The trick is to reduce the luck by increasing the others." - David Baker
Uniforms Making American Crews Sick Uniforms Making American Crews Sick Reviewed by Joe Burlas on January 19, 2017 Rating: 5