Flight Attendants Sue American Airlines Over Uniforms, Claiming They Cause Health Problems

Jennifer Gerson Uffalussy
Contributing Writer

This week two American Airlines flight attendants filed a class-action lawsuit against the manufacturer of the company’s in-flight uniforms. The suit is the latest in the mounting controversy surrounding the uniforms, which many flight attendants say are causing them major health problems.

For months many flight attendants with American Airlines have gone public with claims that the new uniforms, issued in September 2016, are making them sick. Over 1,600 flight attendants have reported everything from rashes to headaches to respiratory issues since they began wearing the new uniforms. Initial testing done by American Airlines found that the composition of materials in the new uniforms was “in line with normal standards.”

The flight attendants, however, tell a very different story.

In January 2017, American Airlines flight attendant Heather Poole, a prolific online presence, began blogging about her experience with how the new uniforms were impacting her health. 

In her first post, “My Uniform Makes Me Sick (Literally),” Poole wrote that she is one of the 10 percent of American Airlines flight attendants who say that since being issued the new uniform, they get sick every time they go to work. 

“Let the record state that I can’t prove that any of my health problems are in fact caused by my wearing the uniform. This is how the uniform manufacturer continues to get away with it. The burden of proof lies on me. It’s also why American refuses to recall the uniform. Because we have not yet been able to prove what, exactly, is making us sick,” Poole writes.

Poole goes on to explain that in the 20 years she has worked as a flight attendant, she has never experienced these kinds of problems before. Since being issued the new uniform, however, her long-stable hypothyroidism has once again become a problem. Even after switching to wearing a look-alike uniform, she reports that she still feels sick just being around her co-workers who are wearing the company uniform.

Poole explains, “When I go to work my chest gets tight. My heart races. I feel short of breath. I have to clear my throat constantly, and I cough all the time. After my last flight, I lost my voice. I didn’t have a sore throat. I went to the ER when I started to feel dizzy. I felt like I was breathing through a straw. I felt like I might pass out when I tried to speak. That visit set me back $800. The official diagnosis was laryngitis and RAD (reactive airways disease). Now I’m the proud owner of an inhaler and a prescription for steroids.”

Poole also writes that what she wants the airline to do is really quite simple. 

“All I want is for the uniform to be recalled. Setting up a call center and spending a million dollars on testing is not enough. It won’t stop me from getting sick and ending up in the ER again. All I want is to be able to go to work without having a reaction to … we don’t know what it is yet.”

In a February 2017 post, Poole offered some more insight into the potential problems with the new American uniform.

“Since the uniform debuted on September 20, I’ve seen more doctors than I’ve ever seen in my life and I’ve learned things about toxic chemicals I never knew before. Before the new uniform I didn’t know what ‘sensitizers’ were or what ‘synergy’ meant, and I sure as heck would have never dreamed I’d develop ‘MCS’ (multiple chemical sensitivities). Now I’m practically an expert on the subject,” Poole writes.

She continues, “Maybe one uniform piece tests safe, but all of it worn together is unsafe. Chemicals on top of chemicals. Layers upon layers of chemicals. Then mix in the chemicals we come into contact with on the airplane that are in the carpets and seats: Flame retardants and more formaldehyde.”

In a May 2017 post, Poole talked about the connection between some of the chemicals found in the uniform and infertility as well.

A Chicago-based U.S. District Court judge will determine whether the class-action suit filed on Wednesday, Aug. 2, by the two American Airlines flight attendants may proceed.
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