People with hearing loss are flying high once more, although some of us with mixed emotions.
Wonderful as it is to finally leave home (in some areas), the stresses of traveling haven’t changed. You don’t want to be late, the airport is cavernous with people going in all directions and you’re not sure where to go, you can’t find your boarding pass, and so on. Then there’s the nightmare for peeps with hearing loss: those darn loud, echo-ey and incomprehensible public address announcements. Are they calling you? Announcing that your flight is leaving a half hour earlier and this is the final boarding call?
Now there are new concerns such as people with a different vaccine status than yours who don’t understand the concept of 6 feet or 2 metres. And the biggest crazy-making thing of all time for people like us: trying to communicate through masks.
It’s enough to make you stay home – except you haven’t seen your family in over a year.
I was a frequent flier before the pandemic grounded the world. Through years of countless flights and hotel stays on my own, I had nailed the procedures I needed for communication access and to stay safe. I was the Queen of Self-Identifying; I told every airport check-in person and every flight attendant that I had hearing loss and what I needed from them to help me board and understand important inflight announcements.
So here I was, getting ready to fly again for the first time in a year and a half. The Hearing Husband and I were heading back east for a month of visits, weddings, and hugs.
And the whole thing felt like an out-of-body experience.
All my travel skills had been developed in that Time Before Masks. With my comfort in asking for what I needed and being able to speechread any human’s face, I usually got to where I wanted to go with a minimum of mishaps and stress. Communication flowed freely, generously punctuated with pardon and could you repeat that.
But now, I was grateful for my translator-spouse to help me navigate the sea of masks, boarding calls, and potential seating challenges. Although, to be honest, it doesn’t sit well having to ask for help from my husband all the time.
“What was that announcement?”
“Are they calling our flight?”
“OK, what are they saying now?”
“Are you even listening!?”
If I’d been on my own, I would have told the airline staff that I’m deaf. They would have told me to sit over there, with the people waiting in wheelchairs, and they would come and get me or wave me up when it was time to board. This has always worked well; staff are happy that I’m not bothering them and I have the comfort of knowing they can’t forget me because my eyeballs are laser-beamed on them.
But on this flight, I had the burden of a Hearing Husband, and we waited with everyone else, sitting un-distanced, shoulder to shoulder. I should have just relaxed, secure in the knowledge that my husband wouldn’t board while I was in the washroom, but I kept up a constant neck swivel to see what was happening at the gate.
Finally – boarding. As the line snaked to the check-in, I noticed the hearing loop sign at the desk. Yay! With my hearing aid in telecoil mode, the attendant’s voice would come straight into my device! Except it didn’t. I switched to telecoil and said hi. When she answered, I couldn’t hear her. There wasn’t time to make a fuss and point out the problem, which dulled my Queen of Communication Access crown a bit.
My next worry was the fact that I’d somehow booked us into two, separate, exit rows. I’m not supposed to be in an exit row because of my deafness which might cause a problem when trying to follow evacuation orders. Turns out I wasn’t in an exit row, although I was several rows away from my Chief Interpreter. But I didn’t need him once during the flight. The flight attendant infomercial was captioned on my seat screen. As I watched captioned movies for the entire flight, I couldn’t understand the Inflight Passenger Announcements but since the Hearing Husband didn’t come for me and the yellow masks didn’t drop, I didn’t worry.
I’m getting back in the flying groove again. Next month, I’m flying again to event in the US. Oh hang on, I’ll be traveling by myself, there will be customs agents, and Covid checks, and…OMG, I don’t wanna go!
Breathe, girl. Just self-identify as having hearing loss and you’ll be flying high and fine!