Airports are daunting places- chaotic, crowded and frankly quite insane. Being Deaf, it can be overwhelming, frustrating just to get to the gate. I always traveled with a friend or a family member; they always helped me get through the security lines, let me know what was being said over the speakers, or when it was time to board the plane. I grew quite dependent on that fact. I didn’t have to worry about anything. I have traveled intensively, I will say that I do not have the efficiency or the grace of George Clooney’s character in Up in the Air. I knew what to expect, however from time to time I still find myself bumbling through the airport, and through the security lines.
A few weeks ago I flew back from Boise to Los Angeles airport- alone. I was nervous, “what if I miss my flight, what if I can’t understand what is being said” kept running through my head. Luckily Boise Airport is small, and the staff is incredibly helpful. My nervousness was immediately put to ease, the fountain nearby the gates helped too. One thing helped me immensely was to speak up- let them know you are Deaf.
For an example; I flew to New York from Los Angeles alone just last week. However, two big airports, JFK and LAX along with two different layovers on each flight. I was nervous. Yeah, sure I have been on layovers before, but that was when I was with People to People Student Ambassador program. Surely- I had no idea what to expect nor what to do when I got there. I woke up early, the kind of early where the early bird gets the worm. It was dark, but the Los Angeles airport was teeming with people, from all walks of life. I found my gate, my sister watched me as I checked through the security line. I waved back, and signed “goodbye!, of course I will text you when I land!”. On my way to the gate, for the first flight of many. Which would be Los Angeles to Las Vegas for a 3 hour layover before leaving for New York. I was surprisingly early for my flight- hardly anyone was there. It wouldn’t leave until 6 am and it was only 5am.
But here is what you need to do- let the people at the counter(at your gate) know that you are Deaf, and that you wouldn’t be able to hear when they are announcing the zones, or boarding the plane. Often they will let you know first and sometimes let you board the plane first.
When it came time to board the plane, they forgot to tell me. This happens often, you have to be alert, and watch the gate/counter. If you see anybody boarding, go ahead. They will understand if it is not even your “zone” on the ticket. Sometimes they remember, and go “Oh gosh! I’m sorry!”. I finally got through the long line, and headed for the plane. I always tell the flight attendants before I take my seat. Letting them know I was deaf,and if there was any announcements I needed to know if they could kindly relay it to me. They are always helpful, and have always helped me during my flights.
I arrived to Las Vegas for my long layover- I headed to my gate(don’t forget to check the airport monitors). Closer to the time my plane departs- I got up and stood in line at the counter. Sometimes I wait until half hour before my plane leaves. Reason being, sometimes the employees leave for lunch, or the shift changes and there is someone new behind the counter. If that happens, then what I told the previous person would be for nothing, and I would have to repeat it all over again. Half hour prior is the ideal time to let them know, and it is still fresh in their minds. As I mentioned earlier they can forget. Stand nearby, or sit close to the counter. So when they see you,they remember. When I was in the Vegas airport, I was pleasantly surprised when they let me board first, before anyone. Then they told me they upgraded me to first class, so I would be nearer to the flight attendants if I needed any help. This was a first- being upgraded to first class?! I was stoked, and I will never forget the kind lady that sat next to me during the flight. Once she learned I was deaf, she helped me throughout the flight. “oh the captain just said we are going to land soon” or ” the flight attendant is asking what you want for lunch?” etc.
#TBEX came and gone, my time in New York was over(sadly). I headed to the airport, and did the same ordeal all over again, but this time I would be flying to Charlotte, North Carolina for another 3 hour layover before heading home. Now, JFK is a big airport, it can be easy to get lost. I downloaded a great app called Gateguru(from the itunes store). It has a map of the airports, as well as what is nearby in your terminal. You can rate, check out what restaurants are nearby, or just want to see how far your gate is to the next one. This is the app for you.
However- I did not expect the Charlotte airport to be huge. Here I was thinking it was a small airport, like Boise. I found out I was clearly wrong when I landed in Gate C. I looked on my ticket for the next flight, and it said gate B9. I looked up, and all I saw was C gates. I felt lost, and slightly worried when I looked on the airport monitors and my flight was not listed. “Oh no, am I at the wrong airport? Is there a flight delay I am not aware of?”, I was panicking. I asked the US airlines desk, and they simply said that they haven’t posted my flight yet. It hit me- they are not even ready to post my flight on the monitors? Just how long is this layover going to be? It turned out to be a long one.
I walked to what seemed like a few miles to my gate- and waited for three hours with the additional 45 minutes in delays before my flight actually departed for Los Angeles. It was a long way back home, I arrived at the LAX airport in the dark, smoggy night and I was glad to see my family along with my dog Cosmo waiting for me outside of the terminal. They shouted welcome home! with the occasional barks from the dogs. Yes, welcome home indeed.