How Delta Air Lines Made Traveling Better For This Person With Hearing Loss

I’ve been doing a lot of traveling lately, which I very much enjoy, but with hearing loss, the logistics can be challenging. From gates changes at the airport, through the complexity of the boarding process and the various security announcements on the plane, there is a lot of important information being shared — and in most cases, this information is provided only verbally.

But one airline has stood out to me — Delta Air Lines. Delta did not ask me to write this and was not involved in this post in any way, but I believe that those of us with hearing loss must actively advocate for ourselves to help raise awareness of our needs. This can take the form of asking for accommodations when we need them, lodging complaints when our needs are not met, but also through praise when a business or individual meets or exceeds our expectations. Perhaps this positive feedback will encourage other airlines to follow suit.

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At the gate, Delta prominently displays its boarding announcements, pending upgrades, and standby acceptances on large screens located around the boarding area as a supplement to the verbal announcements. This is incredibly helpful for people with hearing loss.

During one of my recent trips, bad weather delays made it possible for me to fly standby on an earlier flight. When I cleared the list, it was posted on the screens in the boarding area so I didn’t need to constantly hover by the gate agents, hoping I would hear my name if it was called. Instead, I used the extra time to grab a snack, use the restroom and relax. It made the experience much less stressful. All flyers, even those with perfect hearing, benefit from this.

On the flight itself, there were a few captioned movie options — including the new Star Wars movie. There were not as many as I would have liked, but more than the norm, where captioning is typically limited to foreign films.

While my experiences on Delta were better than I have come to expect, much work remains to improve air travel for people with hearing loss. Here are my suggestions. Please share yours in the comments. 

1. Gate announcements provided both verbally and in writing: This can be achieved by using screens in the gate area, as was the case with Delta. Until this is widespread, be sure to download your airline’s smartphone app before you go to the airport. That way you can check for flight delays and gate change announcement in real-time on your own. You can read more about that here.

2. Captioned in-flight announcements: In an emergency, safety information should be available for all. The same applies to information about delays, flight times and connecting gates. While the safety video was captioned on my Delta flights, none of the pilot’s commentary was. Those of us with hearing loss should not need to rely on a friendly (or unfriendly) seat mate to provide this information.

3. Equal access to entertainment options: While I was pleased that there were a few movie options that had captions, it should be universal. The same goes for all programming. In almost all cases, the captions have already been created; they just need to be activated.

Readers, what would make air travel with hearing loss easier for you?

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23 thoughts on “How Delta Air Lines Made Traveling Better For This Person With Hearing Loss

  1. I had an opposite experience on Delta. The battery in my noise cancelling headphones died early into the flight and I could not locate the spare. Not only did the noise-cancelling feature die but they stopped working altogether. So I could I not watch the movie, plus the plane noise was bothersome and stressful.
    The ear-bud headphones they provide in coach did not fit with my hearing aids. I asked the flight attendant if they had any batteries on board, but they did not. I then asked if I could please borrow a pair of the over-the-ear headphones, many of which were dangling over the many empty seats in first class.
    They said no, those were only for first class use! But first class was empty! I could not believe they would not allow such a simple request for accommodation!

    Afterward, I emailed Delta and was told they are not required to provide in-flight movies as they are complimentary (and therefore, too bad about you and your ears).

    I have deliberately avoided flying Delta ever since.

    As an aside, a friend’s daughter is blind and has a seeing-eye dog. When she flew Delta they treated her very poorly.

    I’m glad they are providing more physical accommodations at the airport. As far as attitude, I think Delta needs a major adjustment.

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  2. Two and a half cheers for Delta. Their international flights do offer many benefits for those with hearing loss — which also are helpful to foreign language speakers. Other overseas airlines also offer many of these same things. But domestic flights not so good – announcements still shouted through megaphones, Planes often don’t have seat back screens so no captioned safety video (the genius of Delta’s video is its humor, which keeps you watching right to the end). Also my recent overseas Delta flight had no written food menu and the harried flight attendant didn’t have time to explain the choices.
    And you’re absolutely correct about announcements during the flight. They should be captioned. It’s a safety issue.
    If the captain is saying you’re about to run into turbulence, you really need to know that. And if your seat mate happens to be a non English speaker, he or she won’t be any help in figuring out what was just said.

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  3. Finally someone in the airline industry seems to be “getting it”! When I purchased my ticket for my last flight I checked the box asking if I had a special need and on my ticket and boarding pass the word “DEAF” appeared at the top. I’m pretty sure I was the only person to notice this. As I was traveling alone, I knew that it was up to me to get on my flight so I used the “hover” method and walked on the airplane with the first wave when boarding started. I never understood a word in the many announcements over the completely inadequate PA systems both in the terminals – Tampa and JFK – or on the airplanes. I agree: visual displays seem the best solution to this serious problem. Thanks Shari and Katherine.

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  4. When my hearing had gotten worse, I had made a note on a reservation that I needed accommodations. I don’t think I wrote anything else – I obviously should have. When we got to our destination, there was a wheelchair for me!!

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  5. Oh iannellid, that same thing happened to me once. My connecting flight was late and I’d asked for help to get to my next flight, letting the attendant know I had a hearing loss. When I saw the wheelchair waiting, I just kept on walking.

    I’m not a big time flyer, but I generally fly Southwest when I do. I check the DEAF box when I make my reservations. When I check in I’m wearing my “Please face me” button and “Hearing Impaired” wrist band. I let the gate agent know that I can’t understand the announcements and would like to have a pre-boarding pass. It’s always given to me and my husband, no questions asked. I also introduce myself with my “label” when I board and ask to be personally notified of any important announcements…but that’s yet to happen. I guess some of the announcements about why we’re not moving/taking off or turbulent weather aren’t important.

    Last summer for some reason something didn’t register correctly when I passed through the security arch at Ted Stevens airport in Anchorage. I was taken aside by a TSA agent, no explanation given–at least that I could understand. I went through me spiel about my hearing loss, pointed to my “Face Me Please” button and wrist band, but was totally ignored. For some reason I still didn’t pass and another TSA agent took me. Went through everything again and still no cooperation. She finally mimed swiping her hands, then did that to mine…that was the extent of her cooperation.

    A while back in an HLAA newsletter there was a survey for specific episodes related to flying–I can’t remember for sure what just now, but it wasn’t anything related to my Anchorage experience. Nevertheless I replied about my experience there, never expecting an answer. I was amazed that I did receive feedback from whomever was conducting the survey that she was passing on my experience for future TSA training at Ted Stevens airport. Sure hope they did.

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  6. What a wonderful service. While I don’t fall into the complete loss of hearing category, I have noticed diminished hearing as I am aging. All the features you have mentioned would be wisely adopted by many companies.

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  7. This makes me feel good about flying Delta. Companies need to recognize that there are steps they can take to make flying easier for hearing impaired folk. But zoey’s encounter in her comment has concerned me. Terrible flight attendant attitude.

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  8. Glad to know something is being done. I’m always mindful of passengers in India, where I live, who can’t read the sign boards because they’re usually in English. Thankfully announcements are in English and Hindi , but what of those who with hearing loss. In India, we have a long way to go before we make life easier for those with disabilities.

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  9. Good to hear something positive about an Airline! Good You DELTA! I fly Alaska whenever possible because they have made special requests seem like not a big deal and accommodate.

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  10. I flew Alaska last summer to the HLAA convention in St Louis.This was the first time I have ever flown alone, so I had no one to “hear” the announcements for me. For this reason I checked the Hearing impaired or DEAF box (can’t remember which). I asked the gate attendant to notify me when my row was announced. She told me to just stand closer to her, she didn’t specifically tell me when my row was boarding but they did have a screen board (Seattle) so I figured it out. Nothing else was offered or accommodated on my flight to St. Louis. On the return home flight, however, the flight attendant greeted me at my seat and asked me what she might be able to help me with and if I’d flown before (i.e. would I need help with the emergency info – oxygen, flotation devices etc) and since I’m a seasoned traveler I said I only needed help if there was an actual emergency. This whole thing was a great opportunity to discuss Disabilities law and accommodations as well as the wonderful organization of HLAA (I had just been at the convention!) with my seat mates since one of them was hard of hearing and had never heard of accommodations or support groups. I am learning more and more all the time about advocating for ourselves and never being “ashamed” of my hearing loss. Most people and companies are more than willing to assist given opportunity AND guidance as to what I need. EVERYONE knows someone and is affected in some way by hearing loss/deafness. I have heard many horror stories and I’m saddened for those of us who have had to endure pain, frustration and fear because of lack of understanding or assistance from others. This is what creates isolation and discouragement for people with hearing loss. Keep up the good work of spreading the word about our invisible disability and tell them what you need. You may not get it but the more we ask, the more they will get the point.

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