CHARLOTTE, NC (FOX 46 WJZY) - American Airlines has hired Lands' End to design a new uniform after employees complained the current ones are making them sick.
"I was just taken off the aircraft by paramedics because my lungs hurt and I have a hard time breathing," said American Airlines flight attendant Wendy D'Olivio, in a recording she made on New Year's Eve.
The Charlotte flight attendant says just being around the controversial uniforms left her "gasping for air." Her co-workers had to give her oxygen, she said.
"Shortness of breath, light headed, headaches," she said, describing her symptoms. "Just the fact you couldn't breathe that was scary enough."
D'Olivio was recently honored by American Airlines for completing 30 years with the company. She says she has never had any health problems, or issues with uniforms, until the airline rolled out its new ones in the fall of 2016.
"That's when my whole world turned upside down," she said from her Charlotte home.
D'Olivio is the latest flight attendant to speak out after a series of FOX 46 investigations into the uniforms, uncovering health problems including rashes and shortness of breath that employees say are linked to chemicals in the clothing.
"My lungs hurt so bad it feels like I've been hit in the rib cage," said D'Olivio, in another recording made last February.
She says she developed asthma. Last summer, physicians found mold and fungus in her lungs, records show. American Airlines' own doctors diagnosed her with an "allergic reaction to chemical substance" and ordered her to "avoid exposure to new uniforms."
That is tough to do since the airline did not recall them.
"This is my livelihood," she said. "This is my job that I love to do....They are not giving me a safe environment to do my job."
American Airlines would not comment on this case but did announce a deal with Lands' End to produce new uniforms for its 70,000 employees. Testing of those new uniforms could begin as early as October.
"It's about time," said D'Olivio. "They should have done this a lot sooner."
The union representing flight attendants praised the announcement calling this a "good choice."
"It's good they finally woke up and realized this is a serious problem," said attorney Brian Kabateck, who is representing hundreds of American Airlines employees in a class action lawsuit against Twin Hill, the maker of the controversial uniforms.
Twin Hill says potentially harmful chemicals found in the fabric are not in high enough doses to make people sick.
Kabateck says a full rollout of the new uniforms likely won't happen until 2019. Too long, he says, for employees like D'Olivio to have to wait.
"2018 just started and that's a long ways away," said Kabateck. "And that disappoints us. We have people who need to be out of these uniforms as quickly as possible."
"I should not have to worry," said D'Olivio, "about being able to breathe when I go to work."
Lands' End did not respond to our request for comment.
American Airlines calls the move a step in "the right direction."
"Our focus has always been and will continue to be providing a uniform that all...team members feel comfortable wearing," said American Airlines spokesperson Katie Cody.
Association of Flight Attendants CWA statement:
"We have worked at other carriers previously. They are a reliable vendor and we believe this is a good choice. However, we can't understate the importance of testing at all stages to ensure they can safely provide uniforms for a population of this size. We will remain engaged and watch the process closely."
American Airlines announcement:
After much anticipation, Flight Service, Airport Customer Service and Premium Customer Services have selected their supplier – and this is a big milestone in the long-term success of our uniform program. After a thorough vetting process, and in conjunction with our union leadership teams, we are pleased to announce that Lands’ End has been selected as the new uniform supplier for Flight Service, Airport Customer Service and Premium Customer Services.
Why Lands’ End? The core uniform committee set out to select a supplier to provide uniforms that each team member would feel confident wearing, incorporating feedback we have received along the way. Lands’ End has 25 years of corporate uniform experience and their legendary unconditional guarantee philosophy aligns with our desire to offer frontline team members a uniform that makes them comfortable and that they are proud to wear. Their facilities, account management and proven history of successfully producing uniforms assured the entire uniform committee that the decision to select Lands’ End was the right choice.
As you know, we’ve accomplished a lot to get to this point. In close partnership with each union’s leadership, together we’ve completed the Request for Information (RFI), the Request for Proposal (RFP) and site visits both domestically and abroad. The final supplier selection is the latest decision made and paves the way for next steps.
So what is next? Now that the supplier is chosen, core members of the uniform committee and union leaders will shift their focus to fabric and color choices. From there, garment production for the wear test will begin and we anticipate the wear test to begin as early as October 2018.
You’ve heard it before, but we’ll say it again. We still have a ways to go. Choosing, testing, manufacturing and delivering the uniform pieces needed for 70,000 people (over 1.8 million pieces) is a very complex and time consuming project.
Know this – we’re headed in the right direction and now that the final supplier has been chosen, we’re officially moving into the design phase. Our focus has always been, and will continue to be, providing a uniform that all frontline team members feel comfortable wearing.
Taking care of our customers better than anyone else is what we do. We appreciate all you do, every day, for our customers and for each other.