In recent months, large numbers of American Airlines flight attendants have mysteriously fallen ill with symptoms ranging from throat and eye irritation to headaches and vertigo. Many associated with the airline believe this is the result of the new uniforms the American introduced in September.
According to the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, the union that represents American’s 25,000 flight attendants, more than 2,300 of its members have reported experiencing health issues that they believe are linked to the uniforms.
However, an American Airlines spokesperson told Business Insider that only 450 employees have reported experiencing issues with their uniforms and that the airline could not verify the union’s figures.
In total, 70,000 employees, including gate agents and ground staff, have received the uniforms. It’s unclear how many of the non-flight attendants have experienced uniform-related health issues.
The new uniforms are made of a wool blend while skirts and blouses are cotton. They are manufactured by Twin Hill, a subsidiary of Tailored Brands which also own Jos. A. Bank and Men’s Warehouse.
Over the past few months, American Airlines has spent upwards of $1 million on three rounds of toxicological testing on its entire range of uniforms. However, the airline has not been able to successfully determine the cause of these health problems. A fourth round of testing is in the works.
“The Uniforms are safe,” an American Airlines spokesperson told Business Insider. “The safety and comfort of our team members is the top priority and any issues will be addressed individually.”
“We encourage anyone who is experiencing a reaction to the uniforms to report it,” the spokesperson added.
As an alternative, American Airlines will allow flight attendants who have experienced issues to wear their old uniforms or buy over-the-counter substitutes that don’t cause a reaction. Unfortunately, these alternatives are temporary in nature.
“These uniforms continue to put our members at risk,”APFA president Robert Ross wrote in a letter to American Airlines general counsel Paul Jones. “The Company’s actions thus far have been appreciated but remain insufficient to address this ongoing hazard.”
The union is also working on its own toxicological testing protocol for the uniforms.
At this point, neither the airline nor the union have a permanent solution for these mysterious health issues.