Delta’s crew of flight attendants are easily distinguishable because of their deep purple and grey uniforms. But a recent, nightmarish report from Business Insider asserts these uniforms might be the cause of mysterious illnesses and ailments among Delta employees including but not limited to rashes, migraines and flu-like symptoms.
In 2016, Delta unveiled a new collection of uniforms for its attendants. Designed by American fashion designer Zac Posen, the airline rolled them out across over 60,000 of its customer service agents, flight attendants, ramp agents and technicians in 2018. They marked the first new uniform update since 2006.
These uniforms, though stylish, are now believed to be linked to various cases of illnesses, according to a few current Delta employees that spoke anonymously to Business Insider. The symptoms primarily seem to affect women, but some men reported symptoms as well.
The first flight attendant said her issue “started with little spots” and then went on to experience “severe skin issues allegedly caused by exposure to chemicals in the new uniforms.” The story goes on:
The skin rash kept flaring up and getting worse, the flight attendant said, and she noticed it was worse after workdays. She went to urgent care a few times during layovers in different cities, wondering if it was allergies or if maybe she had run into bed bugs at a hotel.
Eventually, she made an appointment with a dermatologist in Atlanta, where she’s based. Right away, he said that the hives looked like they were caused by a toxin exposure. He’d seen and treated flight attendants from Alaska and American, and he said that it was likely an issue with the new uniforms.
“I told him: ‘No, I’m exposed to so many different people from different places and sleep in different hotels around the country. I bet I caught something.’ And he told me no, it looked like it must be the uniform,” she said.
Another attendant says she was immediately suspicious of the uniforms after getting “migraines, flu-like symptoms, including extreme fatigue,” which she hadn’t had before.
And within a month of putting on the uniform, a third Delta employee said, “I started having respiratory issues, a runny nose, an extremely dry cough in the back of the throat.”
Those aren’t the only symptoms, though:
All three people, along with other current and retired Delta flight attendants whom Business Insider spoke with on background, said that in seeking support and guidance for how to handle the situation they encountered other affected employees experiencing a variety of symptoms like hair loss, sinus and respiratory issues, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, vertigo, anxiety, weakened immune systems, and hormonal changes.
This isn’t the first time flight attendants have suffered from uniform-related illnesses, however. In 2012, attendants from Alaska Airlines had similar things happen to them. The airline eventually wound up recalling the uniforms. “Some of the chemicals we learned to look for in the Alaska garments were heavy metals like nickel and chromium, also irritant and allergenic dyes,” Judith Anderson, an industrial hygienist for the Association of Flight Attendants, said. “Also formaldehyde, stain, and flame retardants — the list goes on.”
A flight attendant’s uniform needs to stand up to a lot of requirements, Business Insider points out. They need to travel well, resist stains and wrinkles, stretch and be flexible, be able to hold up in managing evacuations and also look nice, too. To achieve all that, the clothes are sometimes treated by chemicals and dyes.
The AFA, a union that represents some 50,000 flight attendants across 20 airlines, told the outlet it will “collect and test uniform pieces to try to definitively answer what, if anything, is causing the health problems.”
In its own defence, Delta responded to Business Insider with the following statement:
“Our top priority has been and continues to be addressing our employees’ concerns, which is why we have been working directly with them to offer numerous alternative garment options, creating a new female grey suiting collection and providing access to the country’s top medical experts.”
You should definitely give the Business Insider story a read. There’s a lot more there. Meanwhile, Jalopnik has reached out to both the AFA and Delta and will update if we hear back.
Update Dec. 19 8:10 a.m. EST: A Delta spokesperson elaborated on the statement the company gave to Business Insider.
“Our top priority has been and continues to be addressing our employees’ concerns. We invested in a rigorous toxicology study to determine if there is a universal scientific issue with the uniform. The results of the study confirm our uniforms meet the highest textile standards - OEKO-TEX - with the exception of the optional apron, which we removed from the collection. While important, this report didn’t provide the answer to why some employees are experiencing a reaction, so we are continuing to work to identify and address what’s causing these concerns. We have been working directly with our employees to offer numerous alternative garment options, creating a new female grey suiting collection and providing access to the country’s top medical experts.”