Flying Deaf

I met up with T and G for lunch today. The topic of airplane crashes came up and we somehow got onto the topic of embarrassing moments when flying which then lead to us swapping war stories (flying deaf experiences).

Let me just say that…as a deaf person, I just never know what to expect when traveling. I never know if I will run into ignorant employees or if I will be at a complete loss as to what’s going at (due to not being able to hear announcements). Although in the end it does keep life exciting and interesting. 🙂

For some reason my carry on luggage always seems to get searched. Airport employees are trained to zoom in on anyone who may be acting “unusual.” Oftentimes I end up being watched like a hawk when I don’t answer to auditory comments because I’m busy looking at something else. For some reason not responding to a comment seems to rise a red flag. So I oftentimes make the mistake of being too overly alert to ensure that I don’t miss any instructions. This then results in employers watching me like a hawk once again thinking that I’m going to make a run for it through security or something.

I flew pretty often when I was attending graduate school in NYC and I quickly learned the importance of flying with the same airline. Why? Because every airline does their check-in and boarding differently. That drives me up the wall. I remember one time I ended up flying with a different airline because it was a lot cheaper than my usual airline. Their check-in process was for you to “check in” at a computer and then if you had luggage to check in they would call your name. Uhhh whaaa?!? So I’m standing there with a crowd of people waiting to check in my luggage and trying to lipread 3 different people who had their back to me half of the time and were walking up/down behind the desk. Somehow I managed to catch my name…so I went up with my luggage. I wasn’t 100% sure they had called my name so I tried to verify with the lady that she was putting the correct tag on my bag. She refused to look at me (I couldn’t lipread her from the angle she was at) and she wouldn’t write it down. It got to the point where I had to literally be rude and just grab the tag out of her hand to confirm. Sorry, but I don’t want my luggage to end up in China when I’m flying to Kansas.

Once I was given the wrong boarding ticket. I had been looking at something when the ticket person was talking to me and I didn’t bother to check my ticket. It wasn’t until I got to security line that I got a threatening look. I then explained that I was deaf and asked him what he said. He said that the name on my driver’s license didn’t match the name on the ticket. Whoopies. I scurried pretty quickly out of there and got the correct ticket.

Announcements. Seriously. I hate them. I can hear them coming on but can’t understand them. I hate when my flight’s delayed and I have no idea why. I hate when it’s delayed and I don’t know how long the delay is. Some airport employers are kind enough and will write down information. However, their priority is…honestly…to serve the hearing customers first because that’s what they’re more comfortable doing and that’s what they’re trained to do. So I always get the information last. An example: I was flying to Kansas for Thanksgiving and found out that my flight was delayed. I notified the desk person by the gate that I was deaf and to please keep me updated. She failed to do so and I kept having to nag her. A couple of hours later I saw a couple of people from the same gate get up and walk over to the next gate. A couple of them had Kansas (KU) sweatshirts on. I put two and two together and figured that there was another flight to KC and that a bunch of people originally on my flight had asked to be put on standby for the later flight. I jumped up and rushed to the desk asking if there were any seats left. Of course there weren’t any.… I had been the first person sitting there for my flight and I could have very easily gotten on the next flight as a standby if someone had been kind enough to keep me updated or if the airport had visual announcements. I was not a happy camper when I finally made it to Kansas at 3 or 4 am when I was supposed to arrive at 8 or 9pm.

Ah yes then there’s the time I got chased down the ramp because apparently I boarded at the wrong time. People, it would make both my and your life easier if you would make eye contact and didn’t mumble when talking. Not just for me but for hearing people also. If you don’t make eye contact and you mumble I’m going to just assume you’re talking to yourself and not me…which will result in me going against your instruction and boarding when I’m not supposed to which then results in a huge scene when I end up getting chased down by an employer.

There was the time where I had a connecting flight in Ohio and I was running like a crazy lady through the airport trying to catch the connecting flight. I ran for a good 3-5 minutes with a bunch of people screaming at me (and not hearing them) before I happened to turn around and saw a few people standing behind me….with a long trail of all my stuff that flew out of my backpack (the zipper broke in middle of my high speed run). Yes, I missed my connecting flight because I had to turn around and collect my scattered items. I got on a later flight but wasn’t even sure I was on the correct flight. It was at one of those airports that had several different flights from the same gate. I was relieved to find myself in NY a couple of hours later and not Florida.

There was only one time where I got worried because I couldn’t hear what was going on. I was flying to Hawaii and had several layovers. I heard an announcement come on over the speakers right when we were supposed to land. I then saw people’s reactions and knew something was up. However, I was stuck way in the back…in the corner and couldn’t get the stewardess’ attention. We landed half an hour late but no one was getting off the plane. Finally this old couple next to me explained that we had landed at a different airport and had to chill there before heading back to the correct airport. They failed to explain WHY…so of course the first thing that comes to mind was that…this can’t be good (it was sunny and everything outside). I thought maybe something had happened and they had to ground all flights. I found out 2 hours later that it was the weather (even though it looked perfectly fine at that time).

I have been yelled at several times when I try to board with the wrong boarding group. 75% of the time I can stalk people and find someone else with the same boarding number and discreetly follow them. Seriously, it would be so much easier to lipread if they made announcements without holding the thingy right in front of their lips….makes it a bit difficult to lipread when one doesn’t have x-ray vision 😉

T and I flew a lot when we backpacked in Europe last year (flights were $10-30). I can’t remember where we were at (maybe Ireland?) but we spent a good 15 minute trying to convince the ticket person that we did not need any special assistance. Even then they didn’t believe us and wouldn’t give us our tickets until they made a call to their supervisor/boss.

I still haven’t had my hands held while being escorted to my gate nor have I been ordered to sit in a wheelchair…yet… I’ve heard of this happening fairly often. What experiences (if any) have you had as a deaf person traveling?

It can be frustrating but one has to laugh when these things happen. It certainly spices things up.

Sooooo…..I’ve always talked in my sleep. I tend to fall asleep when flying. Sometimes I wake up to a bunch of people staring at me funny.

6 thoughts on “Flying Deaf

  1. If it makes you feel any better, hearing people definitely can't hear the announcements are airports, either. Nobody knows how to speak clearly over PA systems.

  2. Hey I left a comment in your last post. Havent seen you online in forever. I have a suggestion, try wearing a tag on your shirt that says "im deaf" then people will know and understand.

  3. Ahh. A great topic. If I am traveling with someone I hardly ever "self-identify" to the airline as deaf. If I'm alone I don't unless there's an issue. One time I boarded with the wrong group. Usually they don't care but this time she called me on it. I said "well, I'm deaf and can't hear your announcements." her response was "oh I'm so sorry, you can board now." Then on my Next flight I was napping waiting for takeoff when three stewardesses tapped me to wake me up to ask if I knew sign language. I probably told them no and neverdid find out why they would ask. Another time I was traveling with my boss for work and it was one of those gates with three gates in the same place. They had a TV screen with a display that said we wereboarding. However my boss hadn't heard an announcement so I just dismissed the display as automated and ignored it. We almost missed our flight. But we weren't the only ones confused so they let us on. Now i try to be aware and independent even when I'm not alone. Lately I've been finding myself stuck with exit row tickets. The criteria is "must be able to understand shouted commands from crew members" and something about without more accomodation than a hearing aid. Not a situation I want to put myself and everyone else into so I always tell them I can not sit in an exit row. Normally it's the only seat available to put me in and I have to get it changed at the gate. On our flight home last week my ticket said exit row but Don's didn't. We just decided to switch seats. When we boarded and and sat down I was confused because we were right next to each other.I wasn't sure what to do so waited to see what happen. The stewardess came and adressed my row about our responsibility in an emergency and I spoke up at that point. She found a voluteer to trade seats and must have told me "Thank you" fifteen times.Only once have I gotten a perk from flying deaf. Myboss and I missed our first flight and got put on standby for new ones. The first one went fine but the second only had room for one person. I let my boss go. He told me to visit my cousin for the night if I couldn't get home. So I got in touch with her and she said she would come get me. Then I set off to see about my new flight. There was a customer service station in my terminal so I went there. They insisted that I could take the 11:30 pm flight and that if I wanted to make a "voluntary change" to the next day instead that I'd have to pay $100. Blah. After discussing this the woman asked me if it was my first time in the Atlanta airport and if I had a hearing loss. I told herI'm deaf but read lips. She said that their airport was so busy that I had to pay very close attention or I'd get lost. She lectured me a bit more, made me Swear to tell all the employees that I was deaf from there on out and rebooked me for the next day. Crazy but I got to see my cousin and didn't have to hang around the airport for six hours. I've developed a coping technique that helps when things seem to be strange and i don't know why. I've discovered that the flight statuses on the airline web pages are usually accurate and up to date. In some cases they have been more current than the display boards at the airport. This has helped me many times to figure out if I'm delayedor moved or what. I think we could have a whole blog based on deaf travelstories!

  4. Hmmm… Airports, where to begin?First, I usually tell people "I need to see you to understand you". I find that gives them the information they need as quickly as possible, and seems to get me what I need.As for boarding groups, I watch for the agent to pick up the microphone and people to start boarding, then count how many times the agent picks up the mic. I am never in group #1, and they always seem to call one group before #1 (anyone know why??), so I start my count with 0. If my ticket says group #3, I count to the fourth time the gate agent picks up the mic and get in line. If I am wrong, I am usually only off by one, so no one gets upset.I always sit or stand where I can watch for any agent to pick up the microphone they have at the gate. If they do and no one jumps up to board, I go and ask what was the announcement. I have also been known to stand by the desk and watch the agents. I tell 'em "I do not understand the announcements and you guys don't seem to want to keep me informed."Whatever you do, sometimes you run across a real a**hole. You never know if this person is having a really bad day or they are always this way. I try to let it roll off me. If they get aggressive in their a**holery, I ask for their supervisor. I even talked with the TSA screening supervisor in one airport. I planned my arrival 'way long before my flight for just this purpose.Unless you're rich enough to be flown by private plane, air travel is nowhere near "user-friendly".David

  5. It's nice to see that I'm not the only one who finds herself in these situations! :-)Sara–I think you're right we could have a blog all about deaf travel stories!

  6. I have a lot of flying stories… all kinds… all varieties… all dramas… not just of the deaf kind either but…. there is one time I was taking some prescription medication that made me groggy, and I hadn't had much sleep. It was a long flight after a late night. I was snuggled up in the back of the plane with a blanket and pillow completely conked out. By the time a flight attendant found me and woke me up, everyone was LONG gone! Can you imagine if the next flight boarded and took off while I was still sleeping? Stranger things have happened! LOL! God knows where I would've landed.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s