American Is *Finally* Dropping Their Controversial Uniform Supplier

Last September American Airlines introduced new uniforms for their 70,000+ employees, which was one of the first steps in unifying the workforces of the “former” American and US Airways. Prior to that employees of the two airlines wore different uniforms, so this was a nice way to unify them, not to mention to give them a more modern look, given how outdated the two airlines’ old uniforms were.

While most employees seem to like the style of their new uniforms, over 5,000 American employees have reported problems with these new uniforms, which have resulted in health issues. That represents about ~7% of employees, which is a sizable percentage. That’s why you may notice many some American employees “on duty” not wearing the uniform, but instead a replacement that looks somewhat similar.

While American has acknowledged the problem, up until now they’ve insisted that they won’t change uniform suppliers, and that the uniforms are safe, despite reports from employees. The airline has spent over a million dollars testing these uniforms since September, and hasn’t been able to replicate any of the problems.

It looks like American has had a change of heart when it comes to this, though. Chicago Business Journal reports that American will not be renewing their Twin Hill employee uniform contract (which is due to run out in 2020), and is seeking a new uniform supplier immediately.

Twin Hill has released the following statement regarding the situation:

“We are confident of the quality and integrity of our products. However, Twin Hill has determined that the reputational risk, management distraction, and legal and other costs associated with serving American in the future would be unacceptable to our business, given the likelihood of continued unfounded allegations about the safety of our garments.”

Meanwhile the head of American’s flight attendant union has released the following statement:

“We’re pleased that American Airlines has announcement today that it will begin the process of ordering and delivering new uniforms for flight attendants and other American employees. This isn’t the first time — and it won’t be the last — that effective and determined advocacy by APFA members has led to improvement in working conditions for all of our members.”

This scandal might sound minor to some, but it has been a major point of contention among employees at the airline. For example, in April American’s Vice Vice President of Global Marketing, Fern Fernandez, resigned. He was one of the people behind American’s uniform debacle, and I suspect his resignation was linked to this.

Bottom line

This whole uniform situation is a real mystery to me, as someone who was never especially good at science. I don’t understand what could cause this. I fully believe that employees are experiencing problems as a result of these uniforms, but I also believe that American management is doing testing and isn’t able to pinpoint what the problem is.

It’s good to hear that American management is giving in. Hopefully their next uniforms come with fewer issues.

(Tip of the hat to TravelinWilly)

Comments

  1. I heard the Uniforms had formaldehyde in them and a lot of the crew got rashes or felt ill when wearing them. Though this is just what an AA flight attendant told me.

  2. From Twin Hill’s comment it seems like they no longer want to be part of this partnership. So is this a one-sided move?

  3. To be sure, AA isn’t ‘dropping’ these actual uniforms till 2020. They are just not going to renew the deal with current vendor.

    Furthermore, the problematic uniforms will remain in place for another 3 years at least. The seeking of a new vendor ‘immediately’ isn’t supposed to take any less than 2-3 years. Delving into the article you linked attests to that.

    I just think this leaves scope for the 7% employee number to increase till the actions are actually executed and that leaves AA vulnerable to any lawsuits.

  4. I have no information specific to AA, however many uniforms (and other cheap but formal-looking attire) are treated for wrinkle-resistance. The most common way of accomplishing this is by incorporating in the fabric a resin that releases formaldehyde. For a minority of people, formaldehyde will cause allergic contact dermatitis. This could be exacerbated by the dry-air conditions of an airplane (causing chapped skin) and/or the use of skin moisturizers that are, themselves, preserved with formaldehyde.

  5. Of course, 4 years (yes 4 years) after the merger with US Airways was completed, they still can’t mix US Airways crews and planes with AA crews and planes which result in significant operational complexities and inflexibility. This demonstrates the level of management incompetence and union intransigence at AA. Their big accomplishment was having the same uniforms and they botched that.

  6. Good. Maybe they can use this as a chance to make the uniforms actually look good and fashionable and cutting edge. What is it with US carriers and their need for these matronly, dark-blue business/pantsuit combinations? Dark blue everything, white shirt, red-ish neckerchief. So avant garde! :-/ I get it that many (most?) FAs have less-than-stellar physiques or are legitimately fat, but surely something better than these quasi-caftans can be designed? Lane Bryant has a lot of good stuff for larger ladies. Why not get one of those designers.

    And while I’m ranting, let’s just stop with the 100 variations of the uniform. Have ONE uniform for all women and another for all men. Skirt, undershirt, neck doodad, coat (jaunty hat?) for women. Slacks, undershirt, vest, tie, coat for men. It really is that simple. Then they can adjust for portion of flight – boarding/deplaning, meal service, mid-flight non-meal service. Coat off, serving apron on. Serving apron off, service vest on. Service vest off, coat back on. There, I just solved their uniform problem.

    /rant

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