American Airlines debuts new uniforms, again

Mar 2, 2020

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American Airlines passengers and employees can be forgiven if they experience déjà vu Monday.

That’s when 50,000 of the airline’s frontline workers will debut a new uniform, meaning travelers can expect to start seeing American employees in new threads across the carrier’s system.

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The new uniforms will feature a blue color scheme, a shift away from darker hues used in the previous designs. Among the new options for flight attends is a white blouse with a plaid-style design in a blue and gray pattern. Other uniforms move to a blue scheme, with red accents or lighter blue accessories.

If it feels like you’ve heard this story before, that’s because you have. American last rolled out new uniforms less than four years ago. To understand why the airline is unveiling new uniforms again so soon, one only needs to look at the history of the last rollout.

American Airlines' new flight crew uniforms. (Photo by Brandon Wade for American Airlines.)
American Airlines’ new flight crew uniforms. (Photo by Brandon Wade for American Airlines.)

American issued new uniforms for all employees in September 2016. It was the first full redesign for legacy American employee threads since the 1980s, and the first time post-merger that AA and legacy US Airways workers would all be in the same outfits.

But far from promoting company unity, as American had hoped the new uniforms would, they almost immediately became a labor relations fiasco.

Within months, workers — particularly flight attendants — were complaining that the then-new uniforms were making them sick. By December 2016, the union representing American’s flight attendants had demanded a full recall of the outfits. Some employees also sued the airline over the issues they alleged the uniforms had caused.

American did not agree to a recall, but it also chose not to renew its contract with Twin Hill, the company that manufactured the garments, which is due to expire this year. Ultimately the airline decided another uniform redesign was necessary.

More: Alaska Airlines plans to join Oneworld, forms alliance with American

The airline acknowledged that the 2016 uniform debut did not go as expected.

“Shortly after the rollout of our current collection in 2016, it became clear that a new uniform that our team felt confident in and proud to wear was necessary,” Lindsey Martin, a spokeswoman for the airline said in a statement to TPG. “When we set out to create our new uniform, our commitment was to deliver an industry-leading program with the highest levels of garment certification, input from our unions and frontline team members, and choice for our team members. And that’s what you’ll see on Monday.”

American Airlines employees in their new uniforms. (Photo courtesy of American Airlines.)
American Airlines employees in their new uniforms. (Photo courtesy of American Airlines.)

So that’s how we got here.

The uniform redesign process began in 2017 with input from the unions and the new garments were ultimately tested by more than 1,000 employees in the field. Pilots’ new uniforms were rolled out last year, and are manufactured by M&H. On Monday, 50,000 other frontline employees will start wearing new uniforms, including flight attendants and customer-facing airport employees.

Related: A brief history of flight attendant uniforms in pictures.

Those new garments are manufactured by Lands’ End. The updated designs are in a blue color scheme, replacing the previous uniforms that were based on gray hues.

American said all of the new garments meet STANDARD 100 certification by OEKO-TEX, an independent organization that guarantees the quality of textiles.

New uniforms for American's premium guest services employees.(Photo by Brandon Wade for American Airlines.)
New uniforms for American’s premium guest services employees. (Photo by Brandon Wade for American Airlines.)

For its part, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants — the union that represents American’s flight attendants, which was instrumental in getting the airline to renew its uniforms again — said it was very pleased about the change.

“We’re so excited to have this hard cutover on Monday,” Lori Bassani, the national president for APFA told TPG in an interview. “The health of the flight attendants is number one. If you don’t have your health, you don’t have a job.”

American is not alone in needing to quickly scuttle and re-imagine its newest uniforms. Delta Air Lines also recently announced plans to redesign its new uniforms, after some crew members cited health issues similar to those American’s employees had experienced. Similar uniform issues also previously occurred at Alaska and Southwest.

More:The 10 longest (and 10 shortest) American Airlines flights

Featured photo by Brandon Wade for American Airlines.

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