Following months of complaints from employees, Dallas-based American Airlines announced in a letter to employees Wednesday that it is seeking a new uniform vendor for flight attendants. Since the new uniforms debuted last September, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants received more than 3,500 complaints from American employees, blaming the uniforms for health problems such as headaches, rashes and trouble breathing.
As the number of complaints grew, American and the uniforms' manufacturer, Twin Hill, insisted that the clothing was safe, but the airline allowed employees to wear uniforms from a different manufacturer, Aramark, if they chose to. In the letter, American executives said the inconsistency led the airline to seek a new supplier.
“The current approach simply does not work. We now have team members in many different versions of the uniform, and that is just not a sustainable path going forward,” said an internal memo to employees, signed by three American senior vice presidents. “We are all aligned in the commitment to keep safety foremost in our work, and this commitment includes providing a comfortable uniform that can be worn by all team members.”
Twin Hill continued to insist Wednesday that the uniforms it provides are safe but said in a statement that it was content to stop providing American with uniforms in 2020, the end of its contract with the carrier.
“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,” the manufacturer said.
In the wake of the uniforms' rollout, Fern Fernandez — American's vice president of global marketing at the time and the executive charged with making things go smoothly — resigned from the airline. American insisted that he did so for personal reasons.
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Bob Ross, president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, credited sustained pressure from his members for American's decision to seek a new uniform vendor.
"We're pleased that American Airlines has announced 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 time — that effective and determined advocacy by APFA members has led to improvements in working conditions for all of our members," Ross said.
In American's letter, the airline stressed that Ross's union will play a key roll in selecting American's next uniform.
“It’s time to get started in selecting a new supplier that will produce our uniforms, which will be based on our current design but will feature new fabrics,” the letter said. “As you likely know, identifying and selecting suppliers who can produce uniforms for 70,000 people is an extensive process that will take 2-3 years. Frontline team member participation — along with union leadership participation — will be a key part of this ongoing process.”