An Open Letter About American Airlines’ Uniform Crisis

Dear Kerry Philipovitch:

I’ve been a flight attendant for over 21 years. I’ve loved my job so much that I wrote a bestselling book about it, but that all changed in September when American Airlines rolled out new uniforms for flight attendants and pilots.

Now I dread going to work. I don’t know how much longer I can go to work. The uniform makes me sick.

In the congressional hearing this week you used the word “team member” four times in 60 seconds. Here’s something a lot of people don’t know about me. I played soccer first grade through college. I went to Plano Senior High School. We were Texas State Champions in soccer two years in a row. What I’m trying to say is I know what it’s like to be a teammate, and I also know what it’s like to be on a winning team.

That said, American is not going to win this game. Team members are supposed to support each other. Team members work together. Team members listen to each other. Team members don’t push each other in harm’s way and pretend everything’s okay. Last time I checked team members wear the same uniform. If you were wearing the uniform, Ms. Philipovitch, I have a feeling you’d take this a lot more seriously because it would be your health on the line, your health at stake, your health keeping you out of the game because you’d be too sick to play. Which reminds me, team members don’t threaten to fire other team members when they get sick.

You mentioned that 75,000 team members like the new uniforms. Doug Parker has said the same thing to the media multiple times. “Over 75,000 people like the way it looks.” As if that matters. LOOKS. Only in airline world can an executive get away with making a statement like that. Do you think if over 8,000 people were sickened at work anywhere else a CEO could get away with focusing on looks over health? We’ve come a long way, baby — NOT.

For the record, I also liked the way the uniform looked even after it affected my thyroid. I get my TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) tested every 3 months. I can prove my thyroid was stable for years. In November, after wearing the uniform six days, my TSH tested outside the normal range. If I hadn’t read about the Alaska Airlines flight attendants developing thyroid problems after being issued a new uniform by the same manufacturer (Twin Hill) I probably wouldn’t have connected the dots so quickly.

My doctor upped my medication, and I started wearing my own lookalike pieces from Calvin Klein. Problem solved, right? Wrong.

Being in close proximity to co-workers in uniform makes me sick, which is why I developed a nonstop cough, felt short of breath, and why my heart raced — only at work. In December, I ended up in the ER after I felt like I was breathing through a straw and became too dizzy to walk after a trip. The official diagnosis was RAD (restrictive airways disease). Like so many of my co-workers I was issued an inhaler and a prescription for steroids. I wonder if other airlines have seen a dramatic rise in flight attendants’ being issued inhalers, steroids and epipens since September? I wonder if so many flight attendants at other airlines have developed as many health issues since September like we have? Someone should look into it.

I’ve never had a rash, but in January I started getting pin pricks all over my body. Sometimes I want to scratch my head and my butt and my boob and my foot all at the same time. Other times I want rip my face off while I’m serving drinks. Even then, I like the way the uniform looked — far away from me.

I liked the way it looked when my son ended up on beta blockers to slow down his racing heart. By the way, he’s 10! This happened while I was test-wearing uniform option 4, the Aramark version, to see if I could wear it to work. During that hour, I had a mild reaction to the Aramark uniform. My son, on the other hand, had a terrible reaction. He became dizzy and couldn’t breathe. His heart rate went from 80 to 130 to 150 to 170 in seconds. The doctor did an EKG and issued him a beta blocker.

How many 10-year-olds do you know on beta blockers? That night I threw the uniform in a garbage bag and put it in the garage. My son and I both liked the way it looked — outside of the house. Forty-eight hours later, his mysterious heart condition disappeared. Needless to say, there’s no way in hell I’ll be wearing the Aramark uniform.

Yes I did wash it FIVE TIMES before I wore it, before I had to rush my son to the doctor. These chemicals don’t wash out. That’s why the uniform looks so good and lasts for years. You know that.

Which brings us to the industry standards that you said in the hearing that the uniform meets and exceeds? What industry standards are you talking about, exactly? I’ve seen the uniform test results. I know for a fact the uniform wasn’t tested to any standards. In December, Hector Adler mentioned the uniform was tested to Oeko Tex standards but that is false. No standard was used to test the uniform. If the uniform meets and exceeds industry standards, why does the union have to agree to the test interpretations BEFORE the uniform is tested?

The scariest thing about all this is we have no idea what is happening to us. American continues to mention the million of dollars it has spent testing the uniform…to prove it’s safe. Not to get to the bottom of what’s making over 8,000 people sick. American continues to say it’s safe. Regardless of 8,000 sick flight attendants, agents and rampers, 500 pilots who have reported a reaction, and 26% of the regional flight attendants who wear the same uniform. Did you know foreign national flight attendants are also having issues? Probably not because they don’t have a way to report it.

What I want to know is what’s the magic number, the magic sick people number? How many people have to become seriously ill before American Airlines can no longer deny there’s a problem. How many people must suffer before American will acknowledge the uniform is unsafe and the uniform is recalled?

I look forward to getting your answers.

Heather Poole

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Heather Poole View All →

Yeah, that's me, the one standing in the aisle wearing flammable polyester...

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