I just completed my first solo flight - perfect practice for college! And in doing so, I have some funny stories, some tips, and some links to helpful sites.
Now allow me to say, I don't think going to the airport is all that stressful, unless you're going with my mom. That's not to say there are not about a bazillion things that could go wrong, i.e. you forgot about that large shampoo bottle in your carry-on, you need a pat-down, or you missed your flight! Nevertheless, I found airports to be less stressful when I am prepared, early, and relaxed (relax Mom!).
The entire airplane journey could be summed in seven basic steps:
- Purchase ticket,
- Get boarding pass (optional, if you printed your boarding pass beforehand),
- Check bags and pay baggage fees (optional as you might only have a carry-on bag, Southwest Airline up to two bags are free, or may pay online in advance),
- Show documents to security agent (not optional),
- Go through scanner (also not optional),
- Board the plane
- De-board flight (is “de-board” a word???)
Usually I print out my boarding pass at home, or have a digital boarding pass sent to my phone. One less thing to worry about at the airport!
As of yet, I've had no mishaps checking in bags. It's relatively straight forward - go in with your bag, tap in at the kiosk or tell the counter attendant your name, check your bags, tuck in the straps, make any necessary payments, and go!
There are many opportunities for miscommunication going through security. First, I show my government ID (passport or driver’s license) to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent. They say the same things over and over, so it can be a blur of speech spoken quickly, while looking down at the documents, and without looking at me so I can lip-read. If I don’t understand what they are saying, I tell them I am deaf and need to read their lips. Now I know (mostly) what they are going to ask, and am prepared for the standard questions. Although here is where one of my funny travel stories begins.
My mom and I were flying home on a flight out of Germany. Given that my mom is stressed out traveling on a domestic flight, imagine the exponential factor applied to an international flight! We had to wake up extremely early (around 4:00 AM) on a Sunday morning and catch a cab to the airport. Do cabs run that early? Will we be able to get to the airport in time? (All questions that Mom asked; I just nodded to humor Mom without knowing the answers.) We waited to go through security and then it was our turn. The German security guard looked at our passports, looked at us, checked the boarding passes, looked everything over one more time. Instead of saying the usual “where are you going,” he said "Happy Birthday." Not the response we were expecting. I should mention that it was August 1st, which happens to be my birthday. I was still drowsy, so I mumbled a “thank-you,” but my mom turned bright red. She had forgotten it was my birthday! Her one and only child! I lived the good life in the all airports we passed through after that. While there was no birthday cake at oh-dark-thirty in the Berlin airport, I did manage to score all the strudel, New York cheesecakes, and muffins I could eat in Berlin, New York, and Houston. As we were traveling west, it was the longest birthday day I've ever had, 32 hours!
Second, after the document identification stage, it’s time for the scanner. Again, look at the TSA website for more details, but you can wear hearing aids or cochlear implants through the imaging machine. The website suggests calling ahead 72 hours so that the TSA agents know to be prepared for communication issues. I've never done that, partially because I usually travel with someone, but also the TSA agents are pretty visual. Airports are very loud, and not everyone speaks the same language so there are bound to be communications issues, and not just for people who are deaf. When going through the scanner, I wait my turn, look for the agent’s wave to step into the imaging scanner, wait for the green or red light telling them I’m cleared or the need for a pat down, and, when the need arises or I anticipate a problem, I tell them I am deaf. And I always, always wear my hearing aids.
Next up, finding the gate and boarding. All airports list arriving and departing flights on some screen or board – be sure and check the departing flights board to get to the correct gate! Once we accidentally read the arriving gate information. Luckily, since my mom is a stressful traveler (did I mention that already?), we were at the airport hours in advance, so we had plenty of time to get to the correct departing gate. I highly recommend checking the board often, just in case there is a gate change. For the boarding process, you can look at the airline's webpage to see what their policies are. Let the person at the gate know you have a hearing loss, so that they can let you know one-on-one about announcements. For example, that one time when the plane was too small to allow carry-on bags in the cabin, it would have been nice to know that as someone was taking my carry-on bag to put the cargo via a tube. I was thinking, “Huh? Where’s my bag going?” In some cases, you may have a pre-board opportunity - just ask. Personally, I love Southwest's method of boarding, where they show the letter (A, B, C) and numeric order for the people boarding. Delta's all right, but some airports are too small to have the plasma screens showing which zone they're loading, and so they have to make an announcement over the loudspeaker, which I can’t hear.
During the flight, you could let the flight attendant know that you are deaf and they will tell you if something happens during the flight and if there's a destination change, although a Deaf friend of mine had a destination change during the flight, and while they announced it over the loudspeaker on the plane, no one communicated that to her. She only knew about the change when they landed at a different airport and she looked out the window! That would be frightening. Also, at big airports, they frequently announce over the loudspeaker which baggage carousal the luggage will be on, or where to find the gates connecting flights.
Finally, the TSA links for a more information:
- Traveler information home page - tsa.gov/traveler-information
- Travelers with disabilities - tsa.gov/traveler-information/travelers-disabilities-and-medical-conditions
- Travelers with hearing loss - tsa.gov/traveler-information/deaf-or-hard-hearing-passengers
- Travelers with service dogs, good place to look if you have a hearing dog - tsa.gov/traveler-information/passengers-service-dogs
Have a safe flight!
|Me, after security, not looking at stressed out Mom!|