Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.


Perhaps you've noticed the odd twitch.

Or maybe it's been certain unexplained red patches here and there.

There might have been quite a bit of scratching too.

Occasionally, I imagine, this might have even led to spillage or, at least, some even more peculiar frowns than usual.

You may not have already guessed that I'm talking about American Airlines' flight attendants and their new uniforms.

It seems, you see, that there are a few problems.

"We have received over 1,600 Flight Attendant reports of suspected uniform reactions that include headaches, rashes, hives, burning skin and eye irritation, itching, and respiratory problems--to name a few, said a statement from the Association of Professional Flight Attendants.

Yes, it might not merely be the extreme discomfort of flying in narrow planes and dealing with obnoxious customers that's causing your American flight attendants to have additionally troubled moods.

1,600 does seem a lot of complaints about uniforms that were only rolled out in September. Indeed, the union is asking for a total recall.

But it's not as if the airline just foisted these new wool-blend uniforms on its staff, is it? These have been in development for three years. This the first redesign in 30 years and 70,000 staff members were issued with these new garments.

An American Airlines spokeswoman told me that the uniforms were tested twice before launch and a third time when complaints began to roll in. Each time, she said, the tests proved the uniforms were safe.

So what of the itching, scratching and headaches? Is this now just the natural result of being a flight attendant?

"We're taking this issue seriously," said the spokeswoman.

She said that the airline had set up a special call center for complaints and had not seen the numbers claimed by the union. However, it's still going ahead to test the uniforms yet again, in a joint effort with the union.

"The flight attendants union is the only one that's come forward with this issue," the spokeswoman told me.

Meanwhile the airline told me that it's providing alternative garments and even buying replacement garments at its own cost. It's also allowing some flight attendants to wear their old uniforms on a case-by-case basis.

The union says that its members like the way the uniforms look. It's just that the itching and scratching is almost as uncomfortable as corporate backbiting.

Whatever the politics that might be going on here -- and American currently has quite a bit of politics going on with its underpaid (in their eyes) pilots -- you do wonder how so much testing and development could still lead to this apparent level of discomfort.

So if you see your friendly American Airlines flight attendant behaving in a slightly (more) uncomfortable way than usual, please cut them some slack.

Or, perhaps, lend them a pair of slacks.