More than 50,000 employees at American Airlines will put on new uniforms next week, three years after a botched attempt that had employees complaining of rashes, irritation and headaches.
It’s the first time since American’s merger with U.S. Airways in 2013 that customer-facing employees are all wearing the same uniforms, except for about a year starting in 2016 when employees had uniforms from supplier Twin Hill. More than 5,000 flight attendants complained that the Twin Hill uniforms gave them rashes, hives and headaches, and American eventually dropped the supplier.
American issued about 1.5 million pieces of the Twin Hill apparel.
“There were flight attendants that couldn’t come to work because they were having problems with uniforms other flight attendants were wearing,” said Lori Bassani, national president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents about 24,500 workers at American Airlines. “It covered all demographics. It wasn’t just people of one age or in one area.”
The new ones are supplied by Lands’ End, a popular apparel retailer based in Wisconsin. It beat out 20 other suppliers for the contract after input from unions representing uniform-wearing employees.
But in a strange twist, Lands’ End was sued by Delta flight attendants who said its uniforms made them sick. Last month, Delta decided it would look for new uniforms.
About half of all American Airlines employees are required to wear the new Lands’ End uniforms, including flight attendants, customer service and gate agents as well as workers in the carrier’s airport lounges.
This time around, American Airlines has gone to great extent to make sure the new uniforms don’t cause any issues, including offering different materials and opting for a strict international code to make sure they work with all workers, said American spokeswoman Lindsey Martin.
American will cover the cost for the first set of uniforms. The cost for replacements depends on which union contract workers are covered under.
“Everything has been tested right down to the zippers,” Martin said.
American picked Lands’ End in 2018 after more than 4,500 flight attendants logged complaints about the Twin Hill uniforms that they said caused breathing trouble and skin irritations. Since then, American employees have been wearing their old uniforms or they have been allowed to buy clothes from retailers.
“We’ve been a scrappy bunch, going out there and finding items that look similar that we can wear to work,” Bassani said.
The lawsuit brought by flight attendants and other Delta Air Lines workers said chemical finishes Lands’ End put in the new Delta uniforms were responsible for rashes, vertigo, respiratory issues, anxiety, trouble concentrating and headaches.
“These uniforms are high stretch, wrinkle and stain-resistant, waterproof, anti-static, and deodorizing. Lands’ End used various chemical additives and finishes to achieve these characteristics,” the lawsuit said. “The combination of these additives and finishes has an allergic and sensitizing effect on the human body, even if those several additives and finishes are relatively safe in their individual respective quantities.”
The lawsuit was dropped when Delta decided to pick new uniforms.
Delta‘s uniforms don’t have the same strict standards as the ones American bought, but Delta decided to go with the certification as it looks for a new uniform option.
American’s new apparel goes public Monday, Martin said. Employees have been testing out uniforms privately since October. One thing that could help is that American is offering materials such as a wool blend, microfiber and even a cotton option.
The new clothing drops the traditional American Airlines grey for a more colorful “aviation blue” color palette and employees can wear scarves and other complimenting pieces with the hue determined by what job they work.
American Airlines pilots have been wearing their new uniforms for about a year, made by a supplier called M&H.