American Airlines flight attendants say their new wool uniforms are giving them hives and headaches

Ready for the runway?
Ready for the runway?
Image: American Airlines
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Usually it’s the passengers who complain about air travel comfort, but flight attendants at the biggest US airline have a grievance of their own.

More than 2,000 American Airlines flight attendants have reported that new wool-blend uniforms that the company debuted in September—a symbol of American Airlines’ mega-merger with US Airways—have given them hives, rashes, headaches, coughs or other ailments, according to their union.

The Association of Professional Flight Attendants, in a formal complaint (pdf) to American Airlines last week, demanded that the company cease issuing the uniforms, and allow flight attendants to use their older uniforms indefinitely.

“These uniforms continue to put our members at risk, forcing them to use sick leave and affecting their overall health,” the APFA said in the complaint addressed to American’s general counsel. The union also asked for flight attendants to be reimbursed for any medical expenses and given adequate time off to recover from the reported health problems.

The issue has escalated since the new look hit runways a few months ago. The airline set up a hotline to field complaints, but said three rounds of tests—two conducted before the uniforms were distributed to employees—did not find anything harmful in them.

American Airlines has ordered some non-wool versions of the uniform, but it is taking another step to prove to its employees the uniforms are safe. About a half-dozen executive- and management-level employees are currently wearing the uniforms, a American Airlines spokeswoman told Quartz.

Twin Hill, the company that made the uniforms did not respond to a request for comment. In 2012, Alaska Airlines flight attendants complained about itching and other bad reactions to Twin Hill-made uniforms.

So, airline passengers: The next time you find yourself complaining about your tiny seat in coach, terrible food, or your loudmouth neighbor, spare thought for your flight attendants. They endure endless passenger grumblings on a good day but have gripes of their own—and never get to fly in sweatpants.