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A uniform problem for a popular airline

After decades of employees wearing the tried and true navy blue the company was known for, American Airlines finally updated the attire of their staff. Employees were happy to don new, more modern gray uniforms in the fall of last year.

However, for many staffers, the much-anticipated action was met with an opposite and extreme, health-related reaction. American Airlines “scratched the itch” of employees wanting new uniforms. However, the carrier ended up not being the only one scratching.

Almost immediately after donning their short-sleeve jackets and gray pants manufactured by Twin Hill, employees reported rashes, hives, migraines, respiratory issues and thyroid problems. Many have attended multiple office visits with a variety of doctors.

In response, American Airlines established a hotline for employees to call regarding problems with their uniforms. In response, the manufacturer added polyester and cotton versions for employees who had severe reactions. The airline also allowed employees to wear their old uniforms or similar-looking clothing.

Another option was offered by Aramark. However, the carrier’s fourth solution did not end their uniform problems. Flight attendants wearing the new uniform started reacting similarly to others wearing the re-introduced clothing.

The Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) that represents American’s 26,000 flight attendants reported 3,000 individual complaints. Specific issues range from skin irritations and respiratory problems to imbalanced thyroids, migraines and endocrine issues.

Little is known about chemical exposures through apparel. Combining chemicals at different concentrations may have health effects unique to individuals. The altitude flight attendants work at with different ventilation, humidity, temperature and other exposures may also play a role.

American and Twin Hill claim that the airline uniforms are safe to wear based on testing of the chemicals. The APFA countered with results that showed formaldehyde, nickel and chromium present within acceptable industry standards. However, cadmium was found at higher-than-normal levels.

To date, more than 800 on-the-job injury claims have been filed with the company that include 600 flight attendants and 200 customer service agents.

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