Over two years ago, Delta Airlines announced a new line of flight attendant uniforms designed by Zac Posen. The uniforms would be tested by 1,000 “employee ambassadors” before the plum-colored wardrobe was rolled out to flight attendants and other employees in early 2018.
In the last year, hundreds of flight attendants have said that the uniform cause health problems, according to a new report from the Guardian, which spoke to employees and reviewed messages in a private Facebook group of over 2,000 flight attendants. This follows similar complaints from American Airlines, Virgin Blue, and Alaskan Airlines; in the case of the Alaskan Airlines flight attendants, a study led by Harvard Flight Attendants Health Study Group found that the health problems—like skin problems, trouble breathing, and insomnia—only went away when the company agreed with the Alaskan Airlines union’s demands to offer new uniforms.
Delta Airlines flight attendants are not unionized, so some of those who spoke to the Guardian said they were afraid speaking out would lead to retaliation at work. Some employees said that Delta Airlines said they could go on short-term disability insurance if they didn’t want to wear the uniforms, which give them less pay and force them return to work or quit in a year’s time.
Delta Airlines flight attendants have reported that the uniforms lead to rashes (that some say are so bad they have trouble sleeping), shortness of breath, and hair loss. One employee said:
“I don’t even want to call them rashes because it’s worse than that. Some of them look like chemical burns, some of them look like chemical bites, but they don’t go away for weeks at an end,” she said. “I had a huge patch that got infected and I had to take an antibiotic, even, to get rid of it.”
Doctors have told the flight attendants they’ve seen that the rashes may be caused by a stain-resistant finish that has formaldehyde. One flight attendant said the importance the airline places on her and her colleagues’ appearance is making them sick: “As a largely female workforce, it feels as though our general appearance takes priority over our health.”
Delta gave a seriously non-committal statement in response to the Guardian’s story:
“Since we began redesigning the uniform three years ago, we have been intentional to ensure employee input and transparency every step of the way. We want our employees to be able to safely wear the new garments with pride.”
Thankfully, Delta said an “untreated” uniform will be available in June. But Dr. Irina Mordukhovich, the head of the Harvard study group, illustrated how Delta Airlines’s reluctance to acknowledge that there could potentially be a problem with what was essentially highly publicized ad campaign for itself is part of a larger industry issue:
“The airlines always deny there is a problem,” said Mordukhovich. “The airlines are very risk averse when it comes to any health research studies. They don’t tend to cooperate.”
My two cents: Unionize Delta Airlines flight attendants.
Update, 6:34 p.m.: The following is Delta Airlines’s full statement on the matter of the new uniforms:
Since we began redesigning the uniform three years ago, we have been intentional to ensure employee input and transparency every step of the way. We want our employees to be able to safely wear the new garments with pride. To reinforce this commitment, Delta actively sought out employee input, and conducted wear testing, allergen testing and dye testing. Although Delta and Lands’ End conducted in-depth testing during every step of development, a small number of employees have reported skin irritations. While less than one percent of employees in the new uniform program have reported issues, Delta takes this very seriously and is working directly with employees on solutions that meet their individual needs.