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!