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Flight Attendants Wary of Uniforms

American introduced a uniform that quickly led to complaints about hives and migraine headaches, with an employee hotline recommending to keep it away from small children and animals.

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FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Beth Henry's eyes sometimes itch and her throat begins to swell when she's on an American Airlines plane, even if she's not wearing a new uniform blamed by thousands of flight attendants for causing allergies.

Henry and other flight attendants think the airline hasn't done enough to protect them.

"The only thing that will make us safe is if there is a total recall," she told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram ( ) in a story published Saturday.

American last year introduced a gray, wool uniform for its flight attendants that departed from its traditional navy blue. It quickly led to hundreds of complaints from flight attendants about hives, migraine headaches and other symptoms of allergic reactions.

The Fort Worth-based airline recently offered a replacement uniform made by a different manufacturer. Airline spokesman Ron DeFeo told the newspaper that more than 4,600 employees ordered that new uniform in the last week.

But Henry, a 17-year veteran of American, and other flight attendants remain concerned. More than 3,000 people complained to the Association of Professional Flight Attendants. "It was like overnight, I turned into an old lady and I could not get better," said Cathleen Rusk del Rio, a San Francisco-based flight attendant who suffered skin reactions and bronchitis.

Rusk del Rio, 61, said she called an employee hotline and was told to box up the new uniform and keep it away from small children and animals.

"I realize the company doesn't want to say it was a big mistake but I think they need to come up with a solution," she said. Another attendant, Kimberly Terpening of New York, said she hasn't returned to work since having an allergic reaction last fall and remains on sick leave.

"I don't want to be part of a company that is not taking responsibility for its actions and is putting people in danger," she said.

The airline and the maker of the uniform in question, Twin Hill, insist the uniforms have been tested for chemicals or any problems with production. "All the scientific evidence we have available to us tells us these uniforms are safe for wear," the company said in a statement.

And American CEO Doug Parker told the crowd at an employee meeting earlier this year that a mass recall of uniforms also posed an issue.

"We have 75,000 people who like this uniform," Parker said. "So that's not the answer. We know that. But also the answer can't just be deal with it. This is a real issue for a large number of flight attendants. We will keep working through it."

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