Philadelphia Inquirer | ‘They’re hiding something’: Southwest flight attendant speaks out about severe reactions to uniforms

s Nov. 20, 2018, and she had a meeting with Southwest Airlines, where she had worked as a flight attendant for two decades.

But this was no routine trip. Osborne was trying to discover what kind of chemicals were in her uniform – which she says caused her to break out in a rash, irritated her eyes and nose, and left her with scarring. Months after the symptoms first appeared, she underwent two skin biopsies, got a skin patch test, and requested approval for an alternative uniform to the one that was bothering her.

Her dermatologist put it this way, according to a medical form Osborne submitted to Southwest that September: If she “continues to wear the uniform, she will continue to have a severe rash that may reduce her ability to perform her duties.”

Over the last decade, flight attendants at several major airlines have said their uniforms are making them sick. They have reported the issues to labor unions, discussed symptoms among one another in a private Facebook group, and laid out their claims in lawsuits. In New York and Wisconsin, suits are pending against Lands’ End, maker of Delta’s “Passport Plum” uniform. In Illinois, American Airlines faces a proposed class-action suit, brought by flight attendants and pilots, which the company has asked a federal judge to dismiss.

So far, three air carriers have agreed to replace their uniforms, after complaints. American Airlines, which dominates travel at Philadelphia International Airport, started using new uniforms this month for more than 50,000 employees, and Alaska Airlines is rolling out a new uniform collection this year as well. Delta said in January that it, too, will seek a replacement uniform.

Flight attendants at Southwest are also experiencing symptoms they say are linked to uniforms, according to interviews and documents reviewed by The Inquirer. One person was so alarmed about the uniform’s effects on her body that she had a garment tested for heavy metals and toxins by a private lab. Southwest has held at least two meetings for a handful of flight attendants to speak with a toxicologist at corporate headquarters.

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