Second Verse, Better Than the First

Yesterday was my flight home. I applied the lessons learned from last week: I was prepared for the TSA agent to ask me to lower my mask and I approached the counter at the gate before picking my seat.

At the security screening, the agent asked me to put my sweater (tied around my waist) on the belt. Obviously I couldn’t understand what he was asking, so I told him I was deaf. Through hand gestures, I figured it out. He told the agent by the scanner that I was deaf (he pointed to his ear as he spoke, so I could tell), which I appreciated.

When at the gate counter, the Southwest employee pulled down his mask during our interaction. He printed out a new boarding pass that identified me as deaf and told me when pre-boarding would likely start.

When it got closer, I realized I was waiting at the wrong door. I approached the right one as the Southwest employee was making an announcement. I introduced myself afterwards. She lowered her mask and explained there was a ground delay. She gave me an update after her next announcement, and then let me bypass the long line of wheelchairs to board the plane first.

Upon boarding the plane, I told the first flight attendant I saw that I was deaf and read lips. When a woman asked to sit in my row, I could tell she was talking to me, so I gave her my short spiel. She was sweet; she showed me some adorable photos of a grandchild or great-grandchild and offered me hand sanitizer and a hard candy.

After everyone boarded, the plane door closed, and we moved a little. Then, nothing. I tried using my text-to-speech app to transcribe some of the announcement, but realized I couldn’t without internet. As we waited and waited and waited, I grew increasingly frustrated not knowing what was going on. Finally, one of the flight attendants opened the bulkhead in the row ahead of me, so I got her attention. I told her I was deaf and asked what was going on. She asked if I read lips, and pulled her mask down to explain that we were in line to take off but only one flight was being allowed to leave every half hour due to air space. She estimated another half hour wait.

The next time there was an announcement, she came over and told me we were leaving in about 10 minutes. Now THIS is what I wish happened on a regular basis — remembering to update passengers who can’t hear the announcements! In the past, I’ve told flight attendants to please let me know of any announcements. Either they don’t remember, or if I say “important announcements,” they don’t deem any of them important enough to share.

This flight attendant said it wasn’t until masking that she realized how much she lipreads people when taking their drink orders. She also said in a previous job years ago, she used sign language, though she doesn’t remember much now. I told her I only know a little myself.

It was a long day, but could have been a lot worse. Here’s hoping for more travel in the future. Hear that, COVID? Stay away!