Initially, the Harvard Flight Attendant Health Study set out to learn how flame retardants in the home affect the endocrine system. Who better to study than people overexposed to flame retardants? Airplanes are covered in flame retardant.
Enter flight attendants.
Harvard teamed up with the Association of Flight Attendantsunion (AFA) and surveyed hundreds of flight attendants at different airlines. A few years later, Harvard surveyed the flight attendants again. One group stood out: Alaska Airlines flight attendants. Their health had drastically declined and only one thing had changed: A new uniform manufactured by Twin Hill.
That’s when Harvard shifted gears and began to study how chemicals in uniforms affect our health. You can read the Harvard study on Alaska Airlines HERE. It’s the first study that linked chemicals in clothing to health.
On September 20, 2016, American Airlines rolled out a new uniform made by the same company that had manufactured the Alaska Airlines uniform. Is it just a coincidence that employees at American Airlines began to experience the same strange symptoms Alaska Airlines flight attendants had when they wore a uniform made by the same manufacturer?
Almost two years later, over 4,500 flight attendants at American have reported serious chemical reactions to the Twin Hill uniform. The Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) tested the uniform and demanded a total recall. Instead of a recall, American offered four temporary uniform options (cotton, non-wool, Aramark, the old blue uniform OR grey look-alike pieces) to employees who had reactions and filed reports. This did not solve the problem: many flight attendants continued to exhibit symptoms because of reactions to the Twin Hill uniforms that their co-workers wore.
In June 2017, American Airlines announced it would replace the Twin Hill uniform by 2020. Issuing a new uniform four years after the problem uniform rolled out, is, in essence, doing nothing. That’s still two years away. Many of us won’t make it that long.
Each week APFA updates the number of flight attendants who’ve had reactions to the new uniform, and each week the number increases. People are having first-time reactions almost two years after the new uniform came out, which is proof that cumulative effects matter, proof the problem will continue to get worse until the uniform is recalled. How many sick people are too many sick people? 10,000? 20,000? What’s the magic sick person number to make American acknowledge there’s a problem and do the right thing?
“While A few complaints about a consumer clothing item can prompt a fix, airlines have been slow to respond to flight attendants’ concerns. That’s emblematic of the limited health and safety protection that flight attendants receive even from bodies such as the Occupation Safety and Health Administration,” stated Eileen McNeely, Harvard Flight Attendant Health study’s lead author.
In January 2018, Harvard received a grant from the Hoffman Foundation to test the American Airlines Twin Hill Uniform after flight attendants contacted Harvard and volunteered to send their uniforms to be tested. A prestigious green chemistry lab has committed to doing the tests using innovative methods that will try to better simulate actual flight conditions (perspiration, ozone, etc).
NOTE: Uniform reactions are under reported. Here’s why…
- 600 pilots at American Airlines reported having reactions to the Twin Hill uniform. In November 2016 the Allied Pilots Association (APA) dismantled the uniform committee that kept track of how many pilots were affected to create a new uniform committee that doesn’t track their numbers.
- American Airlines customer service agents union doesn’t keep track of the number of people who’ve had reactions to the Twin Hill uniform, even though members have filed reports.
- American Airlines foreign national flight attendants and customer service agents who work overseas have no way to report their reactions.
- Regional carrier flight attendants and pilots who work for Envoy, PSA and Piedmont (American Eagle) wear the same Twin Hill uniform as American Airlines employees. Over a year ago the Association of Flight Attendants union (AFA) reported that 30 percent of their workforce had reactions to the Twin Hill uniform. American Airlines and the Association of Professional Flight Attendants union (APFA) do NOT include these flight attendants in their count because they legally do not work for American Airlines, even though they wear the same Twin Hill uniform and represent the American brand.
This is how American Airlines skews data.
American Airlines flight attendants filed a toxic tort lawsuit last year over their uniforms.
Meanwhile, the uniform crisis continues.