Flight attendants at three regional airlines which operate flights on behalf of American Airlines are pressing ahead with a lawsuit over a “toxic clothing” scandal that stems from the introduction of a new uniform in 2016. Nearly 5,000 flight attendants at the mainline American Airlines brand have reported reactions such as rashes, hives, breathing difficulties and headaches from the uniform but the problem may be much more widespread when including wholly-owned subsidiary airlines.
The flight attendants at PSA, Piedmont, and Envoy Airlines operate regional flights on behalf of American Airlines and are provided the standard uniform that tests have revealed contain chemicals like formaldehyde, chlordane and chromium. Last year, the flight attendants who are represented by the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) filed a lawsuit against the uniform manufacturers Twill Hill and Aramark, as well as American Airlines.
The decision to file a lawsuit caused a rift between two rival trade unions – the organization that represents the 25,000 flight attendants at the mainline brand, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) believe that a lawsuit isn’t the right solution. Instead, they’ve tried to work with American Airlines to get the uniform changed and provide interim solutions for flight attendants suffering symptoms.
American Airlines has already taken action to replace the uniform and is working with a new uniform supplier on a refreshed design. Around 1,000 flight attendants started testing the uniform last November with the fall rollout coming in late 2019 and a new ‘signature’ dress following in 2020.
In the meantime, any flight attendant who has suffered reactions from the Twin Hill-produced 2016 uniform can either wear an alternate uniform or even their own clothing that matches the design and color of the standard American uniform.
The Association of Flight Attendants, which is led by firebrand leader Sara Nelson, says that simply isn’t good enough. Flight attendants are still being exposed to these dangerous chemicals and they want more action.
The biggest problem, they say, is that even if a flight attendant is allowed to wear an alternate uniform, they could still be exposed to the reaction causing chemicals because they’re working in close proximity with other flight attendants who are wearing the chemically treated uniforms. Chemicals like formaldehyde can also be released into the air when heated up.
The lawsuit is using California’s Proposition 65 which is officially known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986. It requires businesses to inform people of exposure to chemicals that are known to cause cancer, birth defects or reproductive harm.
AFA says American Airlines and the uniform manufacturer should have warned flight attendants about the potential exposure to formaldehyde because it is a known carcinogen that can also cause skin, eye, and respiratory symptoms. Formaldehyde is commonly added to clothing fabrics in order to reduce wrinkling or creasing.
“The primary goal of this lawsuit is to force either a recall of the formaldehyde-treated uniforms, or have American Airlines and its suppliers provide a warning as required by California law,” the union explains.
They would then be in a better position to negotiate with the airline on how best to protect flight attendants. At the moment, the lawsuit remains in the Discovery Phase. American Airlines is also facing a second class-action lawsuit over the toxic uniform, which claims some flight attendants have suffered serious and longterm health effects from being forced to wear or work around the uniform.
In recent weeks, concerns have been raised about the safety of a new uniform which introduced by Delta Air Lines last year. Some flight attendants have reported similar reactions as that seen at American Airlines, although Delta says the problems are not widespread and do not pose a serious risk.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.