Flight attendants and other airline workers are exposed to numerous hazards while on the job. Between unruly passengers and other dangers of flying, flight attendants are exposed to quite a bit at work. One would certainly not expect that the uniform that is provided would be a job hazard. Yet that is precisely what is being reported; namely that the uniform that Delta flight attendants are required to wear is causing them a number of different adverse health effects. Specifically, Delta’s employees claim that the uniforms contain toxic chemicals that have sickened them in various ways, some of them seriously.
Delta Switches Uniforms
Delta flight attendants have experienced a variety of different mystery illnesses over the last 18 months. This time period coincides with the introduction of a new uniform. Prior to that, Delta had used the same flight attendant uniforms since 2006. Delta rolled out its new uniforms with much fuss after it claims that it tested them extensively. The new uniforms are worn by all Delta employees, including those who worked in the terminals and the hangars.
Shortly after the switch, flight attendants began to notice various illnesses. Approximately 25 employees filed complaints in the weeks after the new uniforms were introduced. Some of these sicknesses began with spots and irritation on the skin. In some cases, the sickness was even more severe. Some flight attendants began to experience migraine headaches and skin lesions. Both male and female flight attendants also reported hair loss. For many flight attendants, the symptoms were so severe that they were unable to work.
Another severe side effect from the uniform was skin burn suffered by the flight attendants. In addition, some flight attendants have developed low white blood cell counts as a result of wearing uniforms.
The Airline Makes Things Difficult
Unfortunately, this was just the start of the problems for the sickened flight attendants. Delta did not always approve sick leave requests for ill employees, effectively forcing them to work through these health ailments. Delta allegedly refused requests to allow flight attendants to be allowed to wear alternate uniforms. In general, the airline completely declined to cooperate with flight attendants in trying to figure out the cause of the mystery illnesses. Those who complained to and about the airline were threatened with retaliation, including the possible loss of their jobs. Most of Delta’s flight attendants do not belong to a union so they are apprehensive when it comes to speaking up about labor issues and there is nobody to speak up on their behalf.
The possible cause of the sickness is chemicals that were contained in the uniforms. In the meantime, the union that represents other Delta workers has begun to conduct its own independent testing on the uniforms to establish a connection between them and the illnesses. Delta has begun to institute an alternate uniform policy, but that does not alleviate the burden and sickness that the flight attendants encountered due to the clothing that they were forced to wear. The illnesses caused flight attendants to both miss work and incur other medical expenses to treat these illnesses. To date, Delta has done nothing to make the flight attendants whole for the harm that they have suffered.
There have been several different legal processes that Delta is dealing with as a result of the uniforms. The International Association of Machinists filed a complaint with the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, which is now investigating.
In addition, several flight attendants have filed suit against the maker of the uniforms. The lawsuits were filed in the Southern District of New York and seek $5 million in damages from Lands’ End. The flight attendants did not file a lawsuit against Delta even though the airline’s conduct could hardly be considered cooperative.
Delta still denies the widespread nature of the problem. The company claims that less than one percent of its employees experienced skin issues. Nonetheless, given the large number of Delta employees, the number of those sickened could still reach into the hundreds. Delta claims that it has performed tests on the uniforms including wear testing, allergen testing and dye testing. Delta has begun to allow those with sensitivities to wear untreated uniforms.
The Reason for the Illnesses Is Unclear
The exact reason why these flight attendants have been sickened by their uniform is still unclear. Researchers have found a correlation between the new uniform and health complaints, and these issues recede when the new uniforms are switched out for another type. Flight attendants are possibly more likely to develop health issues due to the nature of their job which includes long stretches of time breathing cabin air.
Delta is not the only airline that has had issues over its allegedly injurious uniform. American Airlines and Alaska Airlines have also had a similar problem. Alaska Airlines switched its uniforms in 2014 after flight attendants developed rashes and skin blisters. The flight attendants sued the maker of the uniforms in a product liability lawsuit although the court ultimately ruled that the manufacturer was not responsible for their injuries.
American Airlines switched to uniforms from the same manufacturer in 2016. Shortly afterwards, 87 flight attendants filed complaints about skin irritation. Other complaints included dizziness, migraines, vomiting and hair loss. Two flight attendants filed lawsuits against the uniform’s maker in 2017.
Additionally, the maker of Delta’s uniforms is Lands’ End, a different company than the one at issue in the previous lawsuits. However, complaints about airline uniforms are not a new issue and it is not unforeseeable that there could be problems in light of the fact that other airlines experienced the same issue. This makes Delta’s failure to cooperate when employees’ began to raise issues all the more troublesome. It is unclear why none of the airlines have been sued for the uniforms even though their conduct could also form the basis of a lawsuit. Delta still continues to use the uniforms that have been alleged to cause the illness.