30th August 2012
So here I am!
It’s the turn of New Zealand baby!
Landing in the late afternoon after a nice pleasant plane journey…well just after the initial flight preparations. I turned up waaaaay early for the flight in Melbourne and had a couple of hours to kill. I was even the first one to check in and got the pick of seats. I asked for one with the biggest leg room. I got one.
After spending my last Australian dollars on a travel magazine and a whole load of sweeties enough to make willy wonka jealous, I sat in my most comfortable seat and flicked on the tv screen. The stewardess came over and explained to my row about flight emergency procedure to which I listened and understood as I was in the row with the emergency doors to the side. Popped back in my headphones. Then I got a tap on the shoulder. Looking up from the magazine, the very pretty stewardess nervously smiled at me. Wow. I popped out my headphones and gave her my swoon making smile. She pointed to my headrest and asked..
‘is that a hearing aid sir?‘ rather loudly for everyone to hear. I could see several heads turn in my direction. I arched my eyebrow at her and said in a Sotto voice,
‘no, it’s my communication device to receive transmissions from aliens ready to abduct us,’
‘yes, miss, it’s a hearing aid. Can I help you with anything?’
‘I’m afraid you have to move.’ In a stern voice.
Bad move. More heads turned around. There’s one thing I hate and that’s being in a middle of a scene.
‘why?’ I clipped.
‘because you wear a hearing aid, sir’
Stunned I was, was the least of it. But I got over it quickly. Narrowing my eyes, knowing everyone had turned round to see what the commotion was, I asked calmly,
‘in what way does my hearing aid affect where I sit?’
She got flustered. She better be.
‘I’m afraid, it’s the rules not to allow anybody with a hearing aid to sit there‘
‘obviously, your staff needs to be well informed of these rules, your ground staff assigned me this seat.’
‘sorry sir, I’m afraid in an evacuation procedure, we need to have someone able to hear to follow the procedure to open the emergency doors.’
She thrusted a laminated paper copy in my face. I read where it said that.
Okay, I could have accepted that and moved on to another seat. But frankly, I was very annoyed to be put in this situation where one, the staff moved me in this and 2 the staff is making this a public scene. She could have bent down and talked with me privately with the full information first rather than loudly telling me to move and that’s it.
‘thank you for showing me the information miss, but as you say, you need someone able to hear…right?’
‘yes sir, so can you please move.’
‘first, can I ask you a question. What’s the sole purpose of a hearing aid to a deaf person?‘
If she wanted a scene, she was gonna get one. I could see a woman in front of me slowly peeking behind her.
‘sir, you’re going to have to move, I am about to start doing the safety demonstration’
Another stewardess started inching towards us.
‘you didn’t answer my question, miss’
‘well I don’t know how an hearing aid works‘
She’s playing dumb and stubborn.
‘okay, how am I able to communicate with you right now?’
‘just answer this question and I’ll move’
The plane started moving and by now, another stewardess was stood next to me.
They both looked at each other and she sighed,
‘okay, because you can hear me.‘
‘thank you. Now in future, if another deaf person sits here, please don’t make this a scene. It’s awkward for me and it’s certainly awkward for you.’
I looked at the other stewardess.
‘can you make sure your ground staff and crew staff receive the necessary training in ensuring this awkward situation doesn’t happen again?’
She nodded bleakly.
‘Now where do I move to?’
As I sat in my new seat, I had to help myself a drink. I couldn’t believe I remained calm throughout the whole thing and sound authoritative in such an awkward and public scene instigated by the staff.
We landed after a couple of hours.
As I filed out, with the stewardess bidding me good day, I stopped.
‘unfortunately, I won’t be. I was told, as a deaf man, that I can’t hear.’
‘but you can hear.’
Wow, good on you for remaining calm. It’s a shame some people and airlines lack such common sense and compassion/empathy these days. This kind of situation was so preventable on their part!
Brilliant! I’m really hoping it went down the way I’m imagining it because that was awesome!
Brilliant! I’m hoping that went down the way I’m imagining it because that was awesome!
The ground staff should’ve been aware Rexy, but you’re right the stewardess didn’t need to make a scene out of it. Silly lady. What airline was it, by the way? I’m surprised you didn’t mention it!
Wow, that is extremely discriminatory! I’m sad that we still live in a world that this could happen in. Did she think that in an emergency situation you would suddenly not be able to hear the instructions? Glad you were able to get a handle on the situation. Hope you won’t have to face that again in the future! Really like your site by the way 🙂
Thank you for the compliment Sarah!
Yeah, the airlines still need to catch up more on deaf awareness.
I realise this blog post is over a year old, but it is still valid today.
I travel the world for work, with 140,000 miles so far this year (a mere lightweight compared to some frequent flyers). I learned very early on that deaf people cannot normally sit in an emergency row – this means I do not select those seats… just like you, in the beginning, I was asked if I am wearing a hearing aid, and took the same line that I can hear perfectly well with these but it was either move or get off the plane.
On the rare occasions I do find myself in the exit rows, I remove my hearing aid and implant and do my best confident-inspiring “yes” to “Do you understand these instructions?” and “Are you prepared to undertake these responsibilities?” etc.
It’s not necessarily about suddenly becoming deaf at the time of receiving the instructions – it’s more about the emergency environment you’d find yourself in where you have to listen to the crew with regards to using the emergency exit or not as well as how you’ll be reacting – there simply won’t be time to repeat instructions and not all emergencies warrant the opening of the exit (in some cases, it can even be dangerous to do so) hence the need to listen to crew instructions. As the crew will be shouting, lipreading will become much more difficult, assuming you’re in line of sight with the crew member.
The alternative is to take a safety course, I hear BA does an excellent one at Cranebank where you get to open exit doors and learn what a knicker-ripper is, then you can tell the cabin crew that you have this training experience… it is then up to the captain to decide whether to let you sit there or move – no arguments and no guarantee to remain seated in the exit row.
Now I’ve never tried this course yet, but it is on my to-do list, just need to find the time to do it. BA’s link is http://www.ebaft.com/fsa/fsa.htm and someone’s blog on the training course itself… http://mrsoaroundtheworld.com/2013/05/01/flight-safety-awareness-with-british_airways/ The BA guy who organises the training course has said it is ok for deaf people to attend and will try to be accommodating as far as possible. Course costs about £162.
Choosing your seats online, most airlines will give you a warning about these seats, regarding your eligibility to sit in them. Unfortunately that didn’t apply in your case as you change seats at check-in and the staff there should have spotted this.
Happy travels, meanwhile, I have a plane to catch!
Thanks for your thoughts here! Now, I just save myself the hassle and ask to be sat away from the emergency rows.