You know the jokes about how many (fill in the blank)s does it take to change a lightbulb? Well I have a new one: How many gate changes does it take to trip up an air traveler with hearing loss? So far the answer is unknown, because I personally survived six gate changes on a recent trip! Not all of them were announced and most of them were not posted on any screens at the airport, but with the help of other weary travelers, persistence, and my smartphone, I made it to each gate, and four hours later, was finally on my way to my destination.
I can laugh at this now but it was fraught with anxiety at the time. I identified myself to a few of the gate agents as someone who might not hear the announcements, but none of them sought me out to give me an update. The best information I got was from fellow passengers — some of us had a bonding moment or two — and my smartphone, which allowed me to access written information directly from the airline’s app.
To make things worse, at two of the six gates, the PA systems were not working so the gate agents made announcements using a megaphone or by shouting. Even the travelers with perfect hearing could not understand what was said. Watching their frustration at not being able to communicate was interesting, because in some cases, they simply waved their hands in disgust and tuned out. They didn’t try to understand what was said, but withdrew. It reminded me of what I and others with hearing loss sometimes do when we reach the point of hearing loss exhaustion.
But I was experienced with not understanding communications, so I knew what to do. I stood close to the gate agents to hear better. I asked follow-up questions if I missed something, and I was not shy in asking my fellow passengers (the ones that had not given up) what they heard. These are valuable life skills, as it turns out. I hadn’t realized I had my hearing loss to thank for those!
Plus, I had technology on my side since I had pre-loaded the airline’s app on my smartphone. This allowed me to access the airline’s information directly. Most, if not all airlines have these and I would highly recommend you download them to your phone prior to any air travel, if you haven’t already.
All’s well that ends well, but my experience highlighted some of the many difficulties those with hearing loss have in airports. The good news is that by using the good communication and self-advocacy skills you have learned in other communication situations, it can end well for you too.
Readers, what tips do you have for navigating the airport with hearing loss?