Traveling can be chaotic. Ask any frequent flyer what it’s like, and it seems something is always going wrong. Whether it’s flight delays, seat changes, lost luggage, smooth travel experience is kind of rare. Now imagine what it’s like when you can’t speak, or communicate with travel workers or flight attendees. We don’t refer to not speaking the language, but rather unable to speak or hear.
In some cases, traveling while having a disability such as deafness can make for a difficult task. While many of us would assume the service industry to be a place where sensitivity or awareness of how to handle customers with such a disability is guaranteed, a recent encounter at LAX proves this certainly is not always the case.
A Los Angeles couple is claiming that a Delta Airlines worker mistreated them while they were attempting to navigate their way through the airport.
According to Melissa Elmíra Yingst and Socorro Garcia, who are both deaf, the situation at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport on Jan. 27 became so intense that the police got involved and it didn’t end well for the two women.
Garcia explained on Facebook: “Tonight…we were discriminated by a gate agent at the Detroit airport for refusing to continue communicating with us in writing. We learned that our seats aren’t together when we first checked in, but the woman said that she made a note and we would be given seats together when we went to the departure gate, so we went on to the gate.”
“At the gate, we communicated our request through iPhone, and she kept talking to us without writing anything down. I received an assigned seat but still not able to sit together. So Melissa showed her iPhone, started questioning why since we were told we would sit together at the front. The gate agent rolled her eyes at us. Melissa asked for her to write. After few moments, she finally wrote on a piece of paper and said, the flight is full and can’t book us together. I wanted to continue to communicate and decided to try and write on that same paper, but instead of giving us the paper we asked for, she crumbled it in front of us and threw it in the trash.”
That, however, wasn’t the end of it.
The women claim that the Delta employee discriminated against them because of their disability.
In the video above, the Delta employee recorded them (and vice versa), and you can hear someone saying they’d call the police, and the employee said she didn’t want to talk anymore.
“I pulled out my notepad at that moment and wrote on paper saying that she was denying us our communication access and asked for her name, but she refused,” Yingst wrote on Facebook. “I decided to look close on her badge and found her name was Felicia, I wrote it down. Again, I kept asking repeatedly to please write on paper with us.”
Yingst stated that Delta employee told police she had been assaulted by one of them and after that, they were told they could not board the plane.
She added that she feels oppressed and is traumatized over the situation. — who is she?
“I see this kind of stuff happen to many Deaf, DeafBlind, and DeafDisabled people in the news. I’ve always listened to those stories with disbelief,” Yingst said. “Ironically, I have even reported on some incidents for the news and never thought it’d become my ‘news.’ Number one reason that is consistent – lack of access to communication needs. Even though I have seen this many times, it was a huge shock when it happened to us tonight. I know no one is immune to communication barriers and this kind of situation, so I felt the need to share our experience.
They also contacted Delta via Twitter.
Delta has since told Free Press that the women knew they wouldn’t be able to be seated together because they had purchased their tickets separately. Furthermore, they were refunded their airfare and weren’t allowed to board “because one of the passengers aggressively went behind the counter — which isn’t permitted — and pushed the agent to get to a trash can to retrieve a note.”
“Delta is in contact with two customers who reported having difficulty communicating with a gate agent prior to their flight,” a spokesperson told the news website. “We are reviewing the situation with our Detroit team and will work with these customers to better understand what transpired. As always, we take situations like these seriously, and we are using this as an opportunity to learn and improve.”