Flight Attendant Health Study laid groundwork for settlement in unhealthy uniforms lawsuit

November 8, 2023 — A group of American Airlines flight attendants were awarded more than $1 million in a lawsuit against uniform manufacturer Twin Hill last month. In 2016, the company provided the flight attendants with new uniforms that had been treated with formaldehyde to prevent wrinkling. The plaintiffs argued that they developed health problems including respiratory symptoms, rashes, and swollen eyes from wearing the uniforms.

Previous lawsuits by flight attendants from Alaska Airlines and Delta Airlines over allegedly toxic uniforms were unsuccessful.

Daniel Balaban, the American Airlines employees’ lead attorney, was asked in a November 3 Washington Post story what changed between those lawsuits and now. He cited 2018 findings from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Researchers with the Flight Attendant Health Study had followed 684 Alaska Airlines flight attendants before and after their new uniforms were introduced, and documented an increase in allergic symptoms and other health complaints.

“When they got those uniforms, all those things went up. When they got rid of those uniforms, they went down,” the study’s lead author Eileen McNeely said in the Washington Post article. “When one airline with thousands of flight attendants introduces a new uniform at the same time, where everyone is wearing the same thing, and a bunch of people get sick, it really does raise red flags.” 

McNeely continues to lead the Flight Attendant Health Study through The Sustainability and Health Initiative for Netpositive Enterprise (SHINE), a research center now part of the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science.

Read the Washington Post article: Flight attendants say their uniforms made them seriously ill

Learn more
Chan School study plays key role in successful suit against airline uniform maker (Harvard Gazette)

Uniforms may be making flight attendants sick (Harvard Chan School news)