Delta Air Lines is looking to update its uniforms, again
Delta Air Lines is gearing up to refresh its employee uniforms again, a move that comes less than two years after introducing its last set of new garments for front-line workers.
The airline said it will begin soliciting feedback from employees in the coming months, seeking input through surveys and in-person focus groups. The goal: updated uniforms that could be introduced as soon as late 2021.
The decision to change the uniforms so soon is in response to employees who have raised issues with the garments – notably complaints about health issues, but also other concerns, the airline said.
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Initially, a few hundred employees had complained about the new uniforms between their introduction in May 2018 and November 2019, said Ekrem Dimbiloglu, director of Delta's new uniform program. In response, the airline introduced an alternative: employees are now allowed to wear their own black trousers or skirts and blazers with a white shirt or blouse.
When that option was introduced, however, Dimbiloglu said the number of complaints about the new uniforms "soared into the thousands."
"It's a number that's just not OK," he added.
With so many employees wearing the alternative option, it had obscured the company's goal of having a cohesive look for its crews, Dimbiloglu said.
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"Having a group of folks wearing their own black and white clothing versus a group that's wearing the Delta uniform" was becoming unsustainable, Dimbiloglu added.
Delta's latest uniforms, introduced with much fanfare in 2018, were designed by Zac Posen and manufactured by Lands' End. As those new threads were rolling out, Dimbiloglu said then that he anticipated the new look — including the standout purple dress for flight attendants — would be seen by the airline's passengers around the world for at least a decade.
On Tuesday, he acknowledged that the uniforms have not lived up to that expectation.
“It’s not where we wanted to be, it’s not where I wanted to be, it’s not where a lot of folks on our cross-divisional uniform committee wanted to be," Dimbiloglu said.
He added that Delta has done extensive testing with third-party firms and has not identified any probable causes of the health issues that employees claim to be having. But, he added, the test results are secondary to the employees' concerns.
“We believe employees," he said. "We have tried all along to really listen to employees and make sure they’re feeling good in what they’re wearing."
Related: See Delta’s safety video that shows crew uniforms from every era
Still, some workers have had strong complaints.
A group of flight attendants has filed a class action lawsuit against Lands' End, the company that manufactures their uniforms, alleging that the garments are causing health problems.
According to the lawsuit, Delta employees have had problems such as breathing difficulties, rashes, blurred vision and headaches, which they attribute to the new uniforms.
Uniform roll-outs have bedeviled U.S. airlines before.
American rolled out a new look to more than 70,000 of its frontline workers in 2016, but the carrier soon faced complaints from some employees that the garments were making them sick. American ultimately decided it would switch suppliers, severing ties with initial manufacturer Twin Hill in favor of Lands’ End for new uniforms that are due to begin arriving this year.
At Delta, Dimbiloglu said he hopes to have new uniforms introduced by late next year. He's unsure, however, if the new attire will be essentially updated versions of the current designs, or an entirely new set of garments and accessories.
Related: A brief history of flight attendant uniforms — in pictures
“I think honestly your crystal ball guess is as good as mine," he said.
As it mulls its uniform update, Delta will provide an interim option for women that includes a gray, non-wool, untreated uniform using the same materials as the current flight attendant suit for men. The airline will also introduce a white open-collar blouse for women, something the carrier said would address complaints about the current design's high neckline.
Dimbiloglu said it's likely Lands' End will be involved in the production of the new uniform, but it's unclear what role — if any — Zac Posen will play, particularly if the new uniforms are designed from scratch.
Whatever the final design, Dimbiloglu said Delta is committed to making sure the outfits are made of materials that meet Okeo-Tex's Standard 100. Okeo-Tex is an independent quality control group, and its Standard 100 is a recognized measure for testing fabrics for chemicals.
Dimbiloglu said he's optimistic that this process will finally result in a uniform that lasts for Delta's employees.
“It’s about getting it right and getting this uniform on them for hopefully the next ten years.”
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This post has been updated to reflect the breadth of complaints about Delta's current uniforms.