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200 American Airlines Pilots Report Getting Sick From Their Uniforms

While United Airlines has been garnering attention over the last week for all the wrong reasons, another major carrier is facing scrutiny after upwards of 200 pilots have claimed their uniforms cause rashes, itching, and general illness. 

American Airlines has adhered to the same pilot’s uniform for the last 30 years, but made a wardrobe change in September, distributing 1.5 million garments to 70,000 employees. Though several months later, those uniforms are reportedly causing swelling and itchiness in the eyes and general feelings of illness. Now the Allied Pilots Association (APA), the union representing pilots from American, is surveying its aviators about their reactions to the new uniforms, and calling on the airline to recall the tainted garb.

APA spokesman Dennis Tajer tells Thrillist that the number of pilots complaining of symptoms has now crested 200, up from yesterday's reports. “A lot more pilots are starting reach out on their own,” complaining of “major issues,” he said. “The media attention has caused a doubling in pilot reports.”

This situation strikes a similar chord to last December, when American Airlines flight attendants were given new uniforms that subsequently made them sick. The Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) also called for a total recall of 70,000 uniforms after 1,600 flight attendants complained of falling ill last year. That number has since surpassed 3,000, according to Tajer.

The uniforms distributed to American Airlines pilots were manufactured by Twin Hill, a unit of Tailored Brands Inc., based in Houston. The manufacturer says it’s conducted tests on the uniforms -- which are assembled in different parts of Asia -- in partnership with the airline, and so far nothing has been determined as the cause of the bizarre reactions. Last year, the airline claimed three rounds of testing yielded nothing abnormal about its uniforms. A spokesman for the garment maker said in a statement: "Six months following the initial claims from the flight attendants union, we have yet to receive any medical or scientific evidence indicating there is anything unsafe about the uniforms." 

American Airlines so far has refused to get rid of the uniforms, instead offering pilots non-wool, cotton alternatives made by the same manufacturer. Flight attendants and customer service employees have been offered uniforms from a different supplier. 

This obviously isn’t good news for the carrier, which recently placed 10th (out of 12) in annual Airline Quality Ratings. And as Tajer tells it, the consequences could be severe: “Reactions are happening in the cockpit. If you degrade a pilot’s performance in flight, that’s not a good thing.”

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Sam Blum is a News Staff Writer for Thrillist. He's also a martial arts and music nerd who appreciates a fine sandwich and cute dogs. Find his clips in The Guardian, Rolling Stone, The A.V. Club and Vice. He's on Twitter @Blumnessmonster.