Zac Posen designed the uniforms. Photograph: Noam Galai/WireImage
Delta said less than 1% of employees in the new uniform program had reported issues but declined to give exact figures. The company said it was working directly with employees on solutions that meet their individual needs. It added that an untreated uniform would be available in June.
In a statement, Lands End said: We take each concern seriously and we work closely with Delta to attempt to find a solution that enables the employee to have a uniform that is both comfortable and functional.
Its not the first time that flight attendants have claimed uniforms have made them sick. In 2011, flight attendants at Alaska Airlines began suffering health problems after that company introduced new uniforms. In 2016, flight attendants at American Eagle, a subsidiary of American Airlines, also began experiencing problems after new uniforms were introduced.
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A 2018 study done by the independent Harvard Flight Attendant Health Study Group of more than 600 flight attendants found that the skin issues, breathing problems, insomnia and other health concerns faced by flight attendants at Alaska Airlines increased dramatically after the introduction of new uniforms in early 2011. The study found that the problems only decreased three years later, in 2014, after the union at Alaska Airlines demanded that new uniforms be implemented.
Dr Irina Mordukhovich of the Harvard group said that Delta had refused to allow the group to come in and study its problem. She said she saw parallels with how Alaska Airlines and American Eagle first responded to concerns over uniforms.
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 dont tend to cooperate.
Unlike flight attendants at Alaska Airlines and American Eagle, Delta flight attendants lack a union and Delta has fought hard to oppose attempts by staff to organize. As a result, many Delta flight attendants said they were afraid to speak out publicly about the uniform problems, for fear they would be pushed out of the company.
Initially, Delta allowed some flight attendants to wear the old black and white uniforms while they studied the problem. However, in March, Delta informed some flight attendants that if they didnt want to wear new uniforms, they would need to request a disability job accommodation with the option of going on short-term disability insurance.
Under short-term disability insurance, Deltas flight attendants only make two-thirds of their pay and after a year would be forced either to return to their jobs or quit.
For many flight attendants, admitting that they have a problem stokes fears that they could be pushed out.
Everyone is scared to talk about and report their reactions because we are at-will [employees]: we can be let go whenever they want to, basically, said one flight attendant. Literally, we are all scared for our health, and literally nothing has been done, and [Deltas] leadership is saying that their uniform is safe.
I flew a two-day trip and have been coughing and clearing fluid from my throat all day today. And my voice went last night, wrote one Delta flight attendant in an email. But the only way this will change is when the traveling public demands it.