In episode 11, I share my own experience when I’m going to the airport and fly out to a particular destination, whether it’s for business or pleasure.
And I go through the whole experience, from the moment I arrived and check-in, to going to the security, to communicating with the air steward/stewardess, to picking up my suitcase at the arrival destination.
Even though I am not profoundly deaf, my own experience is challenging enough, never mind those who have extra challenges to overcome.
Listen to the podcast or read the transcripts below:
This is the Hear Me Out [CC] Podcast, a place to hear stories from the deaf and hard of hearing people, and from your host, Ahmed Khalifa.
One of my biggest challenges is the experience of being on aeroplane to go on holiday for business, whatever it is.
The process of going to the airport, being on a plane, that experience, those challenges that come to me as someone who’s deaf and for other people who are in different level of deafness where there’s severe or mild, everyone has their own challenges.
My challenges is also quite difficult and I never really enjoy that process, it’s exciting when you go on holiday, the process, the whole thing about, yes, the journey starts now when you live the house. But I knew that I just have to just go through that experience and, no, it was fun for me.
At the airport
Immediately when you get to the airport, you may have some challenges there.
When you have the bigger, the modern airport, they have the technology where you can self check-in and drop in your suitcase very quickly, that process actually makes it quite quickly, quite smooth for me, because you don’t have to deal with the staff.
No offence to them, it’s not that I don’t want to deal with them but just the whole communication is a bit of a barrier for me sometimes and as someone who is only learning sign language at the moment, I have a good reason to believe that most staff in an airport does not know sign language anyway, so what’s the point?
But maybe, I’m wrong, tell me if I’m wrong, and that process is fine, when you go to the machine and you actually check in and get your ticket yourself, I don’t have a problem with that.
Going through the security
After that, you get through the security and it’s always an interesting one, when you go through the security because the X-ray scanning machine thing, when you go through it, it beeps if you have something.
But every time I walk through there, whether I have something or not that alerts the machine and alerts the staff, I never, ever know if there was an alert. I just keep on walking past, now there was a rare occasion where I had something in my pocket, it may have been keys or coins or whatever, I forgot to take it out and put in the X-ray machine.
So I walk through the X-ray scanning thing that you have to walk through and there was an alert or something but I can’t hear it, so I just keep on walking and that makes people nervous.
And I’m not going to bring up the whole ethnicity side of it, I’m going to ignore that part but if you’re going to walk through that and then you ignore the beep and you keep on walking the staff, then they get a bit nervous, they get a bit twitchy about it.
So there were times where they have to actually, literally put their hands up and put it across … block my way thing because I had no idea that the machine alerted something and I just keep on walking past.
And this is with or without hearing aid, it doesn’t always alert me at all, so that is probably one of the biggest challenges because people get nervous.
At the airport, if there is a small security issue, it’s just small, I just had keys in my pocket, but anyway, you get through that process.
At the departure lounge
And then you get through the departure lounge and for me I need to be near the screen where they show all the departure time and gates and stuff like that, these screens are so important to me because the tannoy may as well be in another language for me.
I can’t hear anything when the tannoy comes, okay, I can hear it but it just sounds like a lot of mumbling to me. It’s just mumbling, sounds like nothing to me. I can’t even guess what is it about.
So whatever I go, after you do your shopping, you eat your food, then you want to sit down but I need to be at the close range to the screen so I can keep an eye on the gate number.
And that again applies to when you arrive at the gate, sometimes you say … you have to double check, yeah, before this flight, this destination and you wait for that “Now Boarding” message to appear because again the stuff will depend on the tannoy as well to make an announcement to say, “We are now boarding.”
The problem is then during that situation is they say, “We are now boarding for people in seat … ” This section until this section, or people who have some kind of mobility issues, or people with children, they do those announcements as well.
I have no idea when it is said, I just tend to ignore it because I am not going to … able to hear it. So, I don’t have children, that’s fine, I can get an idea when I get loads of people with children and prams and strollers and they go through then I get an idea what they’re for.
But one is for the general boarding and they ask for certain rows of people then that caused confusion for me because that doesn’t tend to appear on the screen at all.
So, the solution for me is to be close to the desk to see if I can lipread from a far but that’s not always possible and just hope for the best, just pray and hope for the best.
I know I will get on a plane eventually. We will get on a plane, if you have a ticket, you have a seat, more often than not, you will get on a plane, fine.
But for me sometimes you just want to make sure that you have space to store your cabin luggage and you just want to be near you and it’s an interesting experience.
On the plane
But anyway, let’s just say somehow I managed to get through that. You get on a plane and you greet the staff on the plane, the steward and the stewardess and then it’s not too bad for me but obviously the aeroplane, the engine is on, so there is background noise around.
The people going through and just pushing through and trying to get ready and get settled in their seats, so there is a level of background noise where if I talk anyone in the staff then it’s not too bad but it just depends on the noise.
But when it comes to the tannoy of the aeroplane, when it comes to … obviously they do their safety demonstrations, life jacket and all these things then another situation.
So obviously I have to either read the information or watch them, but if they announce anything then that’s just nothing.
I’m not even comprehend … able to understand anything on that, so I get … have to really ignore that which is the problem because if there was an emergence, if there were a delay, if there was some kind of situation where for example they have to divert the route that they’re going to to go another airport for whatever reason because that does happen, but I will never be able to know that.
I will never be able to know in the tannoy so I would have to see if can either speak to the person beside me which, let’s face if you’re travelling alone, you don’t really want to do that.
Or you have to talk to the staff and see if you can talk to them, but that is one of the bigger challenges for me.
Now, depending on where you’re sitting, if you’re sitting besides a window then you’re a bit further away from the air steward and the stewardess.
If you’re on the aisle seats, it’s still a challenge because once the plane is on the air, once the engine starts going it’s like being in a car for me, that is somewhere I feel like I’m in my own world now where I can’t communicate with anyone.
It’s a huge, huge challenge when you’re trying to understand what they’re saying or when a plane is in the air. It’s a huge challenge when they’re trying to say to you, “Do you want the chicken or the beef?”
I don’t know. I don’t know what you’re saying.
It’s a huge challenge when they ask you, “Would you like anything?” I don’t know what you’re asking me. Are you asking me to … give me peanuts or are you offering me a drink? I don’t know what you’re saying. I have to guess by looking at the trolley.
It’s a huge challenge for me. The communication issue for me is there and it has always been my entire life and it will probably get worse over time.
And again, hearing it will not fix that problem at all. So there was an issue for me with that and it’s a stain. I have to focus extremely hard trying to lip read, trying to be closer to them if possible, but that’s not always possible.
If I was travelling with someone that I know, friend or my wife or family member, then I depend on them to either pass on the message for me or they can pass it on to me because they are right beside me and I can just look at them and lip read them.
But apart from that there is very little that I can do and probably very little that they can do as well apart from literally looking at me face to face, speak slowly, speak at a different volume because … That’s one thing I can never understand is how can people have a normal conversation without normal volume on an aeroplane, that blows my mind, just like in a car.
I don’t know how people do that, but anyway, big challenge.
The other thing I really get frustrated with is when you settle down and you use the on-flight entertainment system, you have your screen in front of you to watch movies or programmes and whatever.
I get really frustrated when I get … One, I get excited by, “Oh, I want to watch a film.” But then you realise there are no captions in English anyway, there are no captions for us and I get so frustrated.
It’s really … It gets me frustrated because I feel like why? What do I do now? I may have to watch something that I don’t want to watch or just have to try to listen to it, but for me if I put the headphones on again, it may as well be in silence.
It may as well be in another language.
I cannot work out what’s going on. It’s actually even worse than in the cinema for me. I need the captions. So when the on-flight system does not have caption for the movies that I want to watch, I get frustrated.
And then when you watch your … maybe you want to watch your second option or third option or your fourth option and none of them provide captions, then you realise you’re in for a long journey and it’s going to be so boring.
And I don’t understand that, I just don’t know why is it so hard for them to to do that. I just don’t get it because surely it’s not just me who needs that, anybody would need that. It’s just an easier experience if you have captions.
And I’ve complained a few times about that but whether anything is going to be done about that who knows? But that is one of my biggest frustrations as well, especially on these long-haul flights.
You want to read books now and then, you want to maybe have a sleep now and then but you also want to watch something on the screen, but that’s not an option for me sometimes.
And to have a conversation with my fellow passengers, strangers or not strangers, it’s also very challenging for me. It’s almost like being in a car, maybe sometimes worse than being in a car.
Having a conversation for me in an aeroplane it’s just not possible so, again, I’ll just be in my own world, my own bubble and if anything, I try to not have conversation with anybody but not always possible.
But that’s why you want these on-flight entertainment system or whatever to work, so that you can pass the time if you can’t have conversation but unfortunately that’s not always possible.
After that, hopefully everything goes smoothly in the journey. Like I said, if there are no diversions, if there no emergency, if there are no situation where it changes the journey for me, okay.
Arriving at the destination
We land. You wait for the seatbelt sign to come off and whatever and you get through and really the finer process for me is just making sure that you get through the immigration fine.
And it’s just about, again, making sure that you don’t really need to communicate within that much with the police or the immigration officer behind the screen, behind the glass, in their booth.
If you don’t need to talk to them, fine, it’s an easy process, you go through, that’s it.
But then if you do need to talk to them that’s a bit of a challenge because again, if you are not able to answer, you’re acting all nervous or whatever, they get nervous.
And hopefully when you get through again, you depend on a screen to know which carousel will bring out your suitcase, which when you go to … makes it easier as well.
Because there are airports out there that doesn’t do that, I have been to airports where you have no idea which of the belt, the luggage belt will come out at all with your suitcase.
You just have to guess or you have to follow the fellow passengers that you recognise, so it’s not fun.
But anyway, hopefully you get your suitcase, you get through customs and you’re out of the airport and then you can continue your journey.
My experience is different than everyone else and I know there are people out there who have much more challenges than me, especially those who depend on sign language because I’ve seen stories and situations where they are not able to communicate with the staff.
The staff get frustrated and then the staff call the police on them, that happens, which is bizarre of me.
I do not understand and I’ll put it in the show notes, you can check out these stories. They do exist. They do happen.
And there was another situation where if you don’t know Nyle DiMarco, he is one of the main face of the Deaf community. He signs in American SIgn Language.
He is prominent in the Deaf community. He has shared his own story where when he told the airline, delta airline, I believe, where he told them that he’s deaf and so there are certain accessibility and communication barriers that would happen.
And Delta Airline apparently at the end of the journey, they were waiting for him and they have provided him with a wheel chair, yeah, a wheel chair. He’s deaf, he doesn’t need a wheelchair.
He never asked for a wheelchair either, but that is another thing I can’t understand. At what point do you think that that person needs a wheelchair because he said he is Deaf?
And if you ever see what Nyle DiMarco look like, he is athletic. He is very well … looks after himself, his body. He is toned. He looks after himself very well and he has absolutely no problem with his mobility, it’s just he is Deaf.
So he shared a tweet about that. He shared a video of that as well and I’ll put in the show notes that you can look at as well.
Not a clear video but apparently being deaf at an airport means I need a wheelchair. pic.twitter.com/fmFn1CsSv2— Nyle DiMarco (@NyleDiMarco) December 19, 2018
And he said it himself, he said, “You should have seen the look on the guy’s face. He knew Delta made a mistake.”
The guy his talking about is the person with the wheelchair. Anyway, it’s just bizarre when that happens.
Everyone’s experiences are different
So, like I said, everyone has their own experience, some has it more challenging than I do but I have my own story and hope you can understand that and appreciate that.
So that’s all I want to say, it’s just that here’s my story, and who knows what’s going to happen in the future in terms of technology, accessibility, deaf awareness, I have no idea.
Maybe it will become easier for me, I don’t know. I hope that makes sense to you. I hope you get an understanding of what it is like for me and for other people when they go to the airport and be on a plane.
It’s not always a fun experience for our own reasons.
Let me know what you think about this story and just get in touch with me on the website, on social media, just get in touch with me and I’m curious to know what you think about this story and whether you have your own experience quite similar to mine or not.
In the meantime, I would really appreciate if you can leave a review on Apple Podcasts, just search for Hear Me Out [CC] on iTunes, leave a review if you find it really useful as well.
In the meantime, I will speak to you soon again.
- What is ‘audism’? Plus my personal experiences of facing audism - October 27, 2021
- ‘CODA’ movie review: my thoughts on the latest deaf movie to be released - October 13, 2021
- Deafness as a ‘hidden/invisible disability’ - October 6, 2021
Your podcast that I just read made me laugh & cry…I felt like I was reading about my own airport experience. Your description was right on target… very very challenging & people truly don’t understand and/or don’t truly care… very very sad … the wheelchair issue happened to me… I was horrified & extremely embarrassed & yes it was Delta… thank you & appreciate finding your podcast
Ahmed Khalifa says
And thank YOU for taking the time to finding the podcast. I’m so happy that you liked it, but not so happy your own experiences at the airport. It sounds like you are very familiar with what I’m talking about. When will they ever learn? 🙈
Vanessa Atkins says
Good evening. I have been profoundly deaf now for one year. This was due to excess of antibiotics. I am on my way to Geneva to see about a cochlear implant. I am presently sitting in the business lounge at Addis Ababa airport. I do need wheelchair assistance, not because of the deafness but because of a useless leg.
I am finding the whole experience terribly upsetting (I used to travel for my job, so airports are second nature)
I feel like having a sign around my neck saying “I am deaf, not stupid”.
I am learning to sign, but as you say useless unless anyone else can understand. Also when you are deaf why do people think it necessary to shout.
I am also learning to lipread, however on the plane with a mask, this is a challenge.
What I find interesting though, because airports are noisy creatures, now I am surrounded in silence, so very interesting to watch people.
Anyway, flight soon. Will go to battle
Ahmed Khalifa says
It must be a difficult journey for you, especially if it’s all new to you. But being an airport is not a fun experience for many of us due to lack of awareness. I hope you will be able to find a copying mechanism to deal with the barriers, but I know that it’s not easy. I wish you success in your battle. Keep pushing forward Vanessa!