Breaking My Own Communication Rules

Last week, I flew from San Jose, California, to Ottawa, Ontario, a three-flight trip that was scheduled to take 10 hours.  But because of one delayed departure, the journey ultimately included the three flights, an unexpected hotel layover, lost luggage, a few tears and a total of 28 hours.  And if that’s not bad enough, I broke a lot of my own communication rules along the way.

My first clue that the trip might be jinxed was realizing, as it went through the security scanner, that I’d put the $60 gift bottle of wine in my carry-on bag­.  (This has nothing to do with my hearing loss, just to my stupidity.) Upon confiscation, I suggested they drink it with some nice cheese and crackers because this was no ordinary bottle of plonk.

And so began my day from hell.  There’s no reason to detail the long list of late flights, missed connections, staff that were rude, helpful, bewildered or simply unavailable, or the disappearance of my lovely suede duffel bag into the black hole of LaGuardia airport.  Suffice to say that I spent four hours ping-ponging between three different baggage claim areas, airline counters and many phone calls, trying to find my bag and to get out of New York, neither of which happened that night.  By the time I checked into a nearby hotel for a few hours’ sleep, I was resigned that my bag and I might never meet again.

There is a happy ending to this story and looking back, there’s probably nothing I could have done to prevent the fiasco of that night or the next morning, when it took another hour for the airline gods to align and print me a boarding pass. However, I wonder if I may have misheard the frantic instructions of the ticket agent at the gate where I disembarked from the late Dallas flight.  I’ll never know, but I do know that adhering to my own travel communication rules would have lessened the overall agony.

Self-identifying my hearing loss:  Usually I am very good at this.  Before boarding a plane, I advise airline staff that I cannot hear the PA announcements and ask to be notified when I should board.  (Frequently this puts me at the front of the line with babies and the infirm, although sometimes they treat me as if I’m mentally fragile and personally escort me to the plane.) On this particular trip, I may not have been at the top of my game.  I SHOULD have said:  Sorry, but I’m not clear what you just said I’m supposed to do or who I speak to when  I reach the other terminal for a plane that’s leaving in 20 minutes?   When I finally flung myself in front of the gate for the plane about to depart for Toronto (at least it was the same country), the frantic conversation went something like this:


Air Canada agent: “I never got a call from anyone at American Airlines.”

Me: “Pardon? (He repeats.)  “But she spoke on the phone with someone here!”

“I’m sorry, ma’am, it wasn’t us.  Where’s your bag?”

“Pardon? (He repeats.)  “I don’t know, I just got off the plane.”

 “Sorry—no bag, no flight.  Go find your bag and then come back here.”

“Pardon? (He repeats.)  “But the flight leaves in 10 minutes and I don’t know where to find my bag!”

“Please don’t raise your voice to me, ma’am. Baggage is down there. Who’s next in line, please?”

 As it turns out, I should have been placed on that flight, with or without a bag.  Maybe I didn’t hear something right.


Don’t Bluff. When I checked into the hotel, I forgot to self-identify. Phoning down to tell the front desk staff, I asked them, should they need to break down my door and carry me to safety, to please send a strong guy with good communication skills, my standard request.  The staff person on the phone kept talking and I didn’t understand him, so I just repeated my request. Maybe he was trying to tell me they couldn’t provide the particular rescue guy I’d requested.  I’ll never know because I bluffed—and happily there was no emergency that required me to be rescued.

Keep technology charged. My cellphone and iPad were crucial that night, but their charge, low to begin with, was draining fast.  Needing to arrange my flight for the next day (ticketing staff had gone home for the night, of course), I found an electrical outlet next to a baggage carousel that wasn’t being used. In the middle of my phone call, the carousel started and I jumped up. Focusing on my phone conversation, it took me a few moments to realize my purse was still on the carousel and was around to the other side.

Keep emergency essentials in carry-on bags. In my missing suitcase were my toothbrush and other ablutions, my shake-awake alarm clock, two months’ supply of contact lenses and my backup hearing aids.  Everything was replaceable and I used my cellphone as a vibrating alarm, but I grieved for my old hearing aids.

Two days later in my Ottawa hotel, I got the call that my beautiful bag had arrived.  In the lobby, I actually crouched down and hugged it.  From now on, I will carry everything related to my hearing and vision needs in my carry-on bag, and I will never book a multi-flight trip that has only a one-hour connection time.  I will also drink $60 wine before leaving home.

About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a writer, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog for, which has an international following, Gael wrote the acclaimed book "The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss". She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work, which includes advocacy for a more inclusive society for people with hearing loss. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.


  1. I love reading your stuff and it makes me happy (in a sick sort of way) that others experience what I live daily. I am sorry you had to deal with all the airport and hotel drama but I have to say this: there are MANY times I don’t understand a word that’s being said, and when I ask a hearing person to repeat it for me, that person says it was unintelligible. I too am quick to assume (hate that word) that I’m at fault; that I misunderstood what was being said, but that’s not always the case. I also dearly wish you had that bottle of wine. That to me is the most upsetting part of this story.

    Thank you for your tales, they are very much appreciated!

  2. Don’t you hate when the stars DON’T align!? My tips for travel are:

    1. Fly Southwest in the US – why? They have little signs with numbers and letters that match your boarding pass so you can easily figure out when to board without having to hear anyone! (The Atlanta airport does this on big signs for all flights…I love the ATL airport.)

    2. NEVER NEVER NEVER pack electronics in your checked baggage. In fact, I haven’t checked any bag in over 4 years – and that includes trips to India for a wedding and Canada in the dead of winter – I never have to worry about loosing it.

    3. 1 flight change, max – it’s always worth it when something goes wrong.

    Self-identifying sucks – it sucks worse when they think that blindly waving to you when it is your turn to board helps – I like to read before getting on the plane. Looking down does not facilitate seeing the frantic waving. This is how travel companions can help.

    Hope your next travels go smoother!

  3. Gael,
    When Marcy, Levi and I jumped out of a cab at the Lisbon airport to catch a flight home, it wasn’t until the car was too far to hear or see us when we realized that we left a case of port in the trunk. It was probably the best tip the driver ever received.
    In case you were wondering, we did replace the case at the duty-free.

  4. Oh, Gael, what an ordeal! We all have those days where we fail to follow our own rules which specify self-identifying. Thank you for sharing your experience. Hugs to you.

  5. In spite of all the advocating I’ve done through the years for myself and for others, once in awhile, I just get tired of it. It IS a mission in life, but even the saints rested. Thanks for sharing one more slice of life.

  6. I think they would have allowed you to drink at least some of the wine before you went through security. It would have helped!

  7. I am so sorry you went through this but most of all, I am so sorry you didn’t have my text message number to contact me when you were stuck in NYC. I would have definitely shared some good Prosecco or a fine Cava with you and offered you a room of your own near the beach where I live.
    Next time….

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