When a HoH Hits the Road: Travel Tips for Peeps with Hearing Loss

Gael Hannan
January 30, 2024


Traveling from one place to another

Is a pleasure.

Especially if you can hear –

The PA announcement paging you because your plane

is about to leave

Or your flight is now leaving from another gate

Or what rows are now being called for boarding

Or any announcement while the plane is in the air

Or the hotel fire alarm at two in the morning

Or what your child is saying in the back seat if you’re driving

Or what the driver is saying if you’re in the back seat

Or the innkeeper with an accent

Or what the audiologist in another country is telling you about

your dead hearing aid.

Yes, traveling from one place to another is a pleasure.

But with hearing loss, there’s extra stress along for the ride.

  • From “The Way I Hear It”, Gael Hannan 2015

I travel frequently for both pleasure and my work. Sometimes, using the acronym for Hard of Hearing (a term I don’t care for), I refer to my myself as the HoH on the Road.

A lot of planning is involved in a trip – choosing destinations, how to get there, where to sleep, what to see – and that’s part of the joy of travel. But people with hearing loss must add extra layers of planning, especially if they’re traveling alone.

And while almost any traveler will experience at least a bit of anxiety, all of the above-mentioned situations are regular trip issues for people with hearing loss. (That would be me.)

When we get nervous, we can get in trouble. Anxiety can lop 10 decibels off your hearing! And don’t ask me for a source for that stat – I’m telling you, the hearing goes down when you’re talking to the poker-faced customs guy who’s sizing you up as a potential smuggler. You’ve nothing to hide, but you feel guilty anyway, and it’s all over your face. Also, the fact that you keep asking for repeats. (There’s a simple cure for that!)

You ask for directions and the nice person has an accent and wears a mask and waves their hands in what could be one of several directions. That’s why many of us are reluctant to ask for directions, dramatically increasing our chances of getting lost. I also don’t have any data to back that up, just personal experience. Not only have I gone through decades of not hearing announcements but also of dealing with ‘hearing’ people who don’t hear as well as they think they do (“I dunno, mate, I never listen to those announcements”). Or is it they don’t think as well as they hear?

Regardless, traveling with hearing loss means predicting communication breakdowns and dealing with them where possible.

Lack of text-based information has always been a problem – audible also needs to be visible. These days, airports seem to have more arrival and departure boards; all we have to do is look at them! Last week, our gate was changed twice. The first time, we saw it on the board and the second gate change was messaged to our cell phones. However, airlines still have a long way to go on providing accessible PA announcements while in the air.

Travel-related staff oftendo not understand the needs of people with hearing loss who use spoken language. Thank you, no, we don’t need a sign language interpreter, Braille card or a wheelchair. However, boarding us early if we’re traveling alone is a win-win.

It’s also our responsibility, we the people with hearing loss, to understand our needs and then effectively expressing them. On entering the plane, I always hold up the line by taking a moment to tell the flight attendant that I have profound hearing loss, don’t hear inflight announcements and, while I don’t care about our cruising altitude or the weather at destination, I would appreciate a personal seat visit with any other pertinent info – are we going to be late, turbulence is about to rock us, or (gawd forbid), please assume crash position.

We need to use our tech tools that boost communication, such as airline travel apps. We can connect our hearing aids and cochlear implant sound processors to the inflight entertainment, or with our own tablets or laptops.

Traveling from one place to another is a pleasure and hearing loss does add a new dimension to the trip. But if you UNDERSTAND what you need and EXPRESS your needs with confidence, the stress will be less and the joy will be more.

Tell them who you are – you’re a HoH On The Road!

PS: Don’t forget your back up devices – hearing aids, batteries, chargers, etc etc

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