Lawsuit claims American Airlines uniforms make flight attendants sick

Flight attendant Lauren Swaringer keeps her American Airlines uniform in a sealed bag because the sight of it, literally, makes her sick.

"Oh God it's really hot," she said, after showing FOX 46 her dark gray uniform.

Within minutes of coming in contact with it, she began coughing. Something was wrong.

 "I"m just feeling really flushed," she said. "My heart's racing. It's beating really fast and I feel shortness of breath."

"As you can tell my lip is swelling," Swaringer said in a video recorded from the hospital. "My thighs are burning. They're on fire." 

The hospital diagnosed her with "chemical exposure".

Her symptoms started in February, after four months of wearing the new uniform. Swaringer's dermatologist diagnosed her with a skin condition which he said could be "life threatening".

A Charlotte flight attendant, who did not want to give her name, said the American Airlines uniforms "are doing something" to her health also.

"I never had hot flashes. I never had rashes," she said. "I never was short of breath. I never experienced anything like that. I've always been fairly healthy."

Last September, American Airlines rolled out new uniforms by Twin Hill, a Houston clothing manufacturer owned by Tailor Brands, the same company that owns Men's Warehouse and Joseph A. Bank. 

The Association of Flight Attendants says they have received more than 6000 complaints from American Airlines flight attendants, gate agents and pilots.

"I get called from American Airlines pilots who have documented reactions to these uniforms," said Judith Anderson, an industrial hygienist with AFA-CWA. "Who have had breathing difficulties or rashes or very irritated eyes. That's not somebody I want flying my plane as a passenger."

The uniform's labels show the garments are made overseas. The union tested them and say they found chemicals like Formaldehyde, along with excessive amounts of chemicals used for "fungicide" and preserving wood, along with the toxic chemical Chlordane, which was banned by the EPA.

American Airlines employees recently filed a class action lawsuit against Twin Hill. Twin Hill did not immediately respond to a request for comment but said in court documents that "extensive testing has established that the uniforms are safe and do not contain any substance at levels high enough to be capable of causing the reported health effects." 

In June, American Airlines announced it would not renew its contract with Twin Hill, saying employees could wear their old uniforms or purchase an off the rack outfit, which they would be reimbursed for later.

"Despite the fact that multiple rounds of testing have shown that there is nothing wrong with the uniforms, we...would never want someone to feel uncomfortable," said American Airlines spokesperson Katie Cody. "We have already decided to go to a new manufacturer and that process is already moving forward."

As for Swaringer, all she wants is to be back in uniform and back in the air.

"I worked so hard to be a flight attendant," she said. "I would do whatever it takes to get healthy so I could go back to work, but I was told through my dermatologist that I can never be a flight attendant again."

Twin Hill was previously sued by more than 150 Alaska Airlines flight attendants over similar uniform complaints. The case was dismissed last year because the judge felt there was not enough evidence to link employee medical conditions with the uniform's fabric.