How Many Gate Changes Does It Take to Trip Up A Traveler With Hearing Loss?

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?

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22 thoughts on “How Many Gate Changes Does It Take to Trip Up A Traveler With Hearing Loss?

  1. Always take a buddy with you, be bold and ask for help as you did. You can’t just expect the world to understand so you have to be pro-active. It is frustrating but we can succeed.

  2. I missed one entirely once, at an express terminal (one of the ones with prop-planes coming and going). Just sat there, reading, while the whole thing went right past me. Airports need to go visual, real-time, with this stuff, at a minimum. They are all over cool sculpture and lighting fixtures, which I like, but where are the video screens that tell us what the announcers are saying over the barely-intelligible PA system in the echoey spaces with the raucous background noise?
    Next time I fly, I’m going to identify myself when I buy the ticket/check in as HoH, and see how it works.

    • Totally agree! I really do have to wonder what airlines are thinking with the very low-tech PAs system that are basically unintelligible to anyone with the slightest hint of hearing loss or those with a tenuous grasp of the American-English language? It’s not like it’s a neighborhood supermarket, it’s a place where millions of people gather from all areas of the world!

      I do always make a pest of myself when traveling alone, letting anyone in sight know I have a hearing loss. I even wear a button that proclaims it.

      I will check out loading the airline’s app, great suggestion.

  3. I’m a “right in their face” type person. I let the boarding agent know that I can’t hear, where I’ll be seated and that I *have* to have an acknowledgement of boarding times. I always ask for pre-boarding passes aslo, which does help.

    Last month returning from vacation, something on me set off the “hands in the air” scan. The TSA lady kept telling me something and I told her I couldn’t understand her and kept pointing to my “Please face me” button under my chin. Didn’t faze her. Then she called over another person who tried to tell me what she was going to do and it was deja vu. Told her I couldn’t understand her, pointed to my “Face me” button, but she didn’t bother trying to communicate with me either. She did mime what she was going to do (swipe my hands with some sort of swab.) It was a totally frustrating experience.

  4. I have just about given up on understanding anything announced over an airport PA system, or even said inside a plane, due to the background noise there. I have also had the experience of not hearing instructions from security screeners, and they don’t have much tolerance for being (politely) ignored! It’s very frustrating. It does make travel much more stressful and tiring. I agree a lot could be done to make a difference with better signage, which would help even people with perfect hearing figure out what’s going on more efficiently.

  5. […] Katherine provides a balanced perspective on controversial issues like whether to use a hearing aid or a personal sound amplification product (PSAP), or how to handle your hearing loss in a job interview, but comes down loudly and clearly in support of hearing loops, Medicare coverage of hearing aids, and the need for lower cost hearing aids for the millions of people who need them, but cannot afford them. Her tips on traveling with a hearing loss were some of my favorites, including her emphasis on preparation. I agree, as detailed in my post How Many Gates Changes Does It Take to Trip Up A Traveler With Hearing Loss? […]

  6. I have experienced the same thing. The worst was at O’Hare! Not everyone has the luxury of traveling with someone whether it’s family, friend or a co-worker. I’ve learned not to depend on the gate agents or the apps exclusively. For me it is a combination of those plus watching my fellow passengers for signs of gate relocation. I’ve never been afraid to ask a fellow traveler to repeat a PA announcement. If all else fails, I will periodically ask the gate agent directly for an update. Bottom line, it’s up to me to make sure I get where I’m going.

  7. This is the worst! I travel by myself a lot and am always very nervous about knowing what is going on. I also try to attach myself to a fellow traveler who can clue me in to what is going on. I also always sit near the gate agent so I can see what is going on. What a nightmare!

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