Is AA’s New Uniform a Toxic Threat?
Your Report Requested
Long before the new uniforms were issued last fall, APA documented and reported to management that wear-testers were having adverse physical reactions.
The reactions ranged from hives and rashes to shortness of breath and vomiting. All symptoms subsided when testers stopped wearing the uniforms. The following are the reports filed with management more than two years ago:
- “After wearing the uniform all day at work, I find myself with a sore throat and a cough at night. It will go away in a day or so, then return after I wear the uniform to work again.”
- “I have been suffering with shortness of breath and have been sick with vomiting, aches and flu like symptoms after wearing the uniform.”
- “I could never stop itching from the fabric of the pants rubbing against my skin.”
- “I got sick earlier this month. I had some sort of respiratory issue. I have noticed when I go to work it is exaggerated. I have not experienced this previously. Shirt is causing skin irritations.”
- “The shirts are not wearable for me. I developed a horrible rash around my neck after two days of wearing the shirts.”
At that time, APA recommended a different uniform manufacturer with a long history of successful uniform rollouts. Management ignored our request, and the new uniforms went into production.
Initially, pilots did not report as many adverse reactions as flight attendants did. In fact, up until about two weeks ago, APA had received approximately 100 pilot reports of adverse reactions. However, within the last couple of weeks, that number has doubled. We’ve even received reports of several pilots who have been unable to work. (Management has denied those pilots’ “injury on duty” claims, so they have been forced to use personal sick days to recover.)
We now suspect that increased pilot awareness combined with long-term exposure to the chemicals embedded within the uniform will lead to more pilot reports.
Newly reported symptoms are consistent with what the flight attendants have experienced, including watering eyes, respiratory distress, rashes, hives, itching, coughing, sneezing, headaches, bloody noses, flu-like symptoms, and fatigue. Some pilots are having such severe reactions that they not only can’t wear the uniform, they can’t be near anyone else wearing it.
In some cases, afflicted pilots were questioning their ability to legally sign off on the FAA’s pre-flight “Fit for Duty” requirement: “Section 117.3 defines ‘fit for duty’ as being physiologically and mentally prepared and capable of performing assigned duties at the highest degree of safety.”
A common theme seems to be that when the pilot is off for several days, the symptoms subside. Some have had to completely remove the uniform from their home in order to stop their reaction.
Some pilots are now reporting an inordinate amount of time and money spent on doctor visits and medicine for their uniform reactions, with some having to resort to using up precious personal sick time. A few have raised concerns over the danger to women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant.
To date, management’s response has been more meetings.
I recently received the latest chemical report for testing done late last year. It shows a list of potential irritants and sensitizers, as would be expected. Our uniform contains trace amounts of chemicals that are known carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, and allergens. The company that management hired to test the new uniforms said the uniforms had trace amounts of individual chemicals but that those chemicals alone were unlikely to cause the issues being experienced.
However, this chemical testing doesn’t really help us, as it just tells us which chemicals are embedded in the uniforms. It doesn’t tell us what happens when these chemicals are heated up or become damp from rain or perspiration and uniquely react with a human body over time. That’s when things get interesting.
Bottom line: It doesn’t matter how much formaldehyde, cadmium, and chromium are found in our uniforms. If pilots and other American Airlines workers are getting sick from wearing the uniform or being around it and can’t perform important duties that include protecting the operation’s safety margin, then something must change.
Management’s previous response to anyone reporting a health issue has been to order a non-wool version. Most that have the non-wool uniform are reporting similar symptoms. These alternative uniforms are also made by Twin Hill and may contain the same dyes and chemicals as the first version. These pilots are then told to go back to wearing their old uniform until they receive a replacement. We’ve yet to hear from management what the replacement would be.
In a recent media story on this issue, a corporate spokesman said AA was in the “process of adding a fourth option for pilots.” This brings a new perspective on the “someone’s got to be fourth” management philosophy. It appears that there may be four different uniform options, which goes against the very definition of “uniform.” The four choices:
1. New uniform with toxic threat
2. New “non-wool” alternative uniform with similar toxic concerns and an indefinite back order
3. Old uniform
4. Yet to be detailed by management
We’re beginning to wonder if it’s time for a fifth option: a complete recall.
It is important to note that new-hire pilots don’t have the old uniform. Many are just buying a pair of pants and a jacket that are close in color and throwing together a make-shift uniform in order to be able to go to work and earn a living. The APA Uniform Committee has queried management about approving reimbursement for these items but has not received a response.
In an effort to protect you, your family, our passengers, and the safety margin of our operation, we are asking for your assistance in documenting any and all reactions that you and/or others around you have had while wearing the new uniform or being near the new uniform. Yes, we are now receiving reports of family members suffering from adverse reactions when near the new uniforms.
Please submit your narrative report to the APA Uniform Committee as soon as possible at:
Additionally, if you’ve noted a threat to the operational safety margin as a result of your uniform, we encourage you to consider filing an FAA ASAP report.
We will keep you posted on any developments as we call on management to follow through on their commitment to “validate and elevate the trust.”
APA Uniform Committee Chairman