I’ve been traveling again, and as I have mentioned before, when I book my flights online I always check the “Hearing Impaired” box in the “Special Services” option, but rarely, am I ever approached by the flight attendant with regard to this designation, and never by the gate agent. That fact wouldn’t be as significant if I were an occasional air traveler, but I usually average 40-50 flights a year, if not more. Ah… the blessings of being the spouse of a former airline employee.

During my latest experience, on my flight from Detroit, MI to Burlington, VT, the flight attendant acknowledged (albeit in an unsatisfactory manner) my “Hearing impaired” (airline’s term) status. Without first getting my attention, she asked her question while gazing at me, but mainly looking at my husband as she spoke. Of course, it took me a few moments to realize which one of us she was talking to and what the subject was, since I was trying to read her lips at an angle, and by that time my husband had answered for me–that I didn’t need anything specific because of my hearing loss. I was PO’d at them both. Just because I am traveling with someone who can hear (most of the time I’m alone) doesn’t mean that I can’t be spoken to directly! I was in the kind of mood for this incident to irritate me greatly, so a little education was in order.

Yes, I do rely on my husband to help me understand in certain situations that I have trouble hearing in, but this was not one that I needed an interpreter or assistance for. I explained to my husband that he should have tapped me on the arm in order to get my attention, let the flight attendant know that I read speech/lips, and then directed her to pose her question to me. I know he was trying to be helpful, and sometimes it’s hard for him to know when to, and not to, step in, but I hope my very thoughtful discussion with him helped to define this for him. He defended the flight attendant’s behavior, and I did give her the benefit of the doubt, but she should have approached me directly, as if I was traveling alone. There is a need for some sensitivity training here.

After concluding with the education…  and in case anyone missed it…  NOTE:  WE WITH HEARING LOSS AND DEAFNESS WANT TO BE DEALT AND COMMUNICATED WITH DIRECTLY EVEN WHEN WE ARE ACCOMPANIED BY A HEARING PERSON…  I asked the flight attendant, out of curiosity, why I am so infrequently approached by other flight attendants regarding the “hearing impaired” status, how the fact that I’m “deaf” shows up on the flight manifest, and why she chose to approach me? Motioning a pause, the FA went forward to retrieve the manifest for me to look at, and as I scanned the page, there, underneath my name, appeared the designation “Hearing Impaired”, and also, my name was listed under “Special Services”. Not just one, but two opportunities for the flight attendant to take note that I am deaf! She answered that most FA’s just ignore the designation unless they see that you need assistance–basically, laziness. Sigh…

I’ve become very comfortable traveling with hearing loss/deafness, and the following is the drill I adhere to:

1.  Upon arrival at the airport, when talking with the ticketing agent (usually this isn’t necessary, as I can print out my seat request on the kiosk), I first tell them that I read lips and need to see them speak in order to understand, but occasionally I will get a person that I have trouble lip/speech reading, so I have asked them to write their questions on paper, if all else fails. Most are nice, some seem to have a slight attitude about it.

2.  As I proceed through security, I use the lane specifically for passengers with disabilities (aiport/TSA’s term), if available—not many airports have them. The first time I used this line in Atlanta’s airport, the TSA security agent, I asked, said I certainly was eligible, because of being deaf, to use the “special” line, but another TSA agent questioned why I needed to?? I also got nasty looks from passengers in the long security lines as I proceeded past them to the “Disabled” line. There’s that invisible disability thing coming into play!!

3.  Arriving at the gate, I immediately check in with the gate agent, both to let them know I am deaf, saying that I won’t hear my name called when they have a seat for me (when you fly stand-by you have to wait for a seat assignment, and on full fights it can come at the very last moment. However, some airports have video monitors for stand-by passengers to see when they are cleared to board–major helpful!!), and to check that I am actually activated to the stand-by list, if it is a connecting flight. Gate agents have come a long way with regard to accommodation, in the last few years, and I’d like to think that is partially due to my taking the time to educate those who need educating, commenting when assistance and accommodation is bad, and complimenting when it is good or outstanding.

4.  Once aboard the aircraft, I let the flight attendant know that I am deaf and that while I don’t need anything specific, because of that fact, I do need her/him to know that I will not hear the announcements in case of emergency. Most flight attendants thank me for letting them know this, and on occasion I’ve had them ask the passenger next to me to inform me of any announcement I need to be aware of. Some passenger are taken aback when asked, and others say they are happy to be of assistance.

5.  Once all of the passengers have boarded, I let my seat-mates know that I am deaf and that if they need my attention they should first tap me on the shoulder or arm before speaking. Most are nice about my sharing this information with them, but some are indifferent.  It matters not.

I have found that these  steps take away all of the anticipation of something coming up because I can’t hear, and being diligent and direct makes me a much more calm and in control traveler. I’ve got it down!!

Before the end of my recent flight, I asked for a comment card and smiled as I saw the phrase “Let Us Hear From You” printed at the top. I could have checked the “Complaint” box, but instead chose the “Compliment” box, explaining how nice it was to be asked by the flight attendant if I needed anything, and how this was a refreshing change from the usual disregard my checking the “Hearing Impaired” box in the “Special Services” section nets.  I requested a reply to my comment, but have yet to receive one.  I’ll keep you posted.

Oh, and thanks for the good service and accommodation, Cher!

0 thoughts on ““LET US HEAR FROM YOU”

  1. I only travel a couple of times per year and have never “heard” of this service! I do let the agents at the gate know that I am HOH and cannot hear the announcements and to let me know when it is time to board. I still haven’t let any passengers know of my inability to hear, but after reading your post, I think it would be a good idea. Why not? It would be helpful in an emergency ~

  2. Hi Frieda,

    I only have experience with one airline, since my flight benefits are with them, but all airlines should have a place to designate that you are a “Hearing Impaired” passenger. Look for a “Special Services Request” heading the next time you purchase your ticket. It’s where you request/designate a Wheel Chair, Infant in Arms, Visually Impaired, as well as, Hearing Impaired.

    I find that because I am so upfront when traveling (it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve put my hearing loss/deafness “out there”. You might think I would have done it sooner–I’m 51–since I’ve had a severe hearing loss all of my life), I am much more relaxed and in control, where as before I would get a little nervous, edgy, or just plain tired of watching for what was going on. And, making my hearing loss known means others don’t make wrong assumption about me–that I’m ignoring them, rude, or just plain weird. LOL The biggest help is saying, “I read lips, I need to see you speak.”, as it tells the person exactly what I need from them. –Michele

  3. That is amazingly rude how you were treated on the plane. It is also amazing that some of the people can get a little attitude when told that you need to see their lips. As if that is a big hastle for them to deal with. This is very frustrating. Thank you for posting this. It is a reminder of the constant challenges that exist out there.

  4. Hi Paul,

    You’re Welcome! The life of hearing loss and deafness does come with some frustration, and sometimes it makes us feel less alone when those frustrations and ways of dealing with situations are shared.

    I’m not making excuses for the flight attendant, but I would venture to say that it didn’t even occur to her that she was being rude. That’s where the education comes in, and I think it is my responsibility, as an individual with hearing loss and deafness, to let people know when their behavior is rude. I meet many people who have had no experience with the hard of hearing or deaf/Deaf, and so they are pretty clueless as to how to approach and/or communicate with us.

    Also, there have been occasions when I have met people who are “different” and I’ve been unsure of how to approach and relate to them, and though I do try to be sensitive and thoughtful, I’ve committed a blunder or two. I appreciate when my insensitivity has been brought to light and I’ve learned something, so I assume others will have that same appreciation. There is a difference between those who are overtly rude and could care less about their bad behavior, and those who are simply rude because they lack experience in relating to someone who is different from them.


  5. As someone who has been a hearing person all of my life up (until about 8 months ago!)… I can see myself unwittingly doing something like that flight attendant did. *blush* Not out of malice or even disrespect, but out of personal insecurity. I wouldn’t have been sure how to communicate effectively with a hearing impaired person, so I would have stuck with what was familiar: communicating with another hearing person. Silly? yes. Selfish? yeah, that too. I’m kinda embarrassed about that now.

    Thanks so much for the tips about travel. I personally hate to travel, and since I have lost my hearing the thought of traveling alone is tremendously intimidating to me. What you shared will be very helpful to me☺

  6. Hi Diane,

    I’m so sorry that you’ve experienced sudden hearing loss after a lifetime of hearing. Being on the other side of the coin is an education in itself. I wish you all the best.

    No need to be embarrassed, many people are not in-the-know on how to communicate with someone who has a hearing loss, and that is why, when I run into a situation such as the one I described with the flight attendant, I try very hard to give people the benefit of the doubt. Feeling “personal insecurity” at not knowing how to relate to someone is something we’ve all been faced with, me included. However, if we let things slide when another’s actions aren’t as considerate as they need to be, then they will act in the same inconsiderate manner toward the next “hearing impaired” individual they encounter. Educating can be done in a way that the person will appreciate your bringing their offense to their attention, so I happen to believe we should thoughtfully clue the hearing population in on how to treat us.

    Anything that you are used to doing with hearing can be intimidating once you experience hearing loss, but I believe the key is to take charge and be direct in asking for what you need in the way of accommodation. Of course, figuring that out will take time. I’ve had a hearing loss most of my life and it’s only in the last ten years that I have “owned” it and learned to be assertive and direct in situations that come up.

    I’m glad to hear my travel tips might come in handy for you in the future. I wish you calm and uneventful travel!


  7. Michele, you wrote: “However, if we let things slide when another’s actions aren’t as considerate as they need to be, then they will act in the same inconsiderate manner toward the next “hearing impaired” individual they encounter. Educating can be done in a way that the person will appreciate your bringing their offense to their attention, so I happen to believe we should thoughtfully clue the hearing population in on how to treat us. “
    Oh yes, I absolutely agree with you! And if I were in the position of that flight attendant I would actually be relieved and grateful to anyone who helped me out from my state of ignorance;-)

    btw, do you remember a few months ago we shared a little exchange about rocking our hearing aids with hearing aid charms? I still think that is a great idea… I’m looking forward to wearing some! (Assuming I can afford my aids sometime in the next decade or so, lol.)

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