Just now I’m at Charlotte, N.C., changing planes to continue on to Austin for the annual meeting of the Hearing Loss Association of America, one of my favorite annual events.
I like the Charlotte airport. I’ve flown through it for decades when my parents were living in South Carolina, and I still find it familiar and even cosy – despite what seem like mile-long walks between gates. And now, I see, a brand new parking garage is going up across from Terminal E. Charlotte is thriving.
Charlotte, which is the hub for the soon-to-disappear US Airways, is thoughtful about the comfort of passengers. There are plenty of moving sidewalks and golf-cart type vehicles to help navigate those long distances. The restrooms have attendants, which means they’re always clean. There are baby changing stations and family restrooms.
In the main atrium connecting the various wings of the airport there’s a grand piano often played by a talented young many who looks lost in the music. They even have sushi.
Airlines in general try to be helpful to those who need it. Families with children board first. Wheelchairs are all over the place, with attendants to push them. I just saw a gate attendant hustle out to flag down a cart for an elderly woman who had come up to her confused and lost.
So why are airlines and airports so unaccommodating to those with hearing loss?
Why are announcements – about what “zone” is boarding, about delays, about gate changes – made over those loud crackly p.a. systems?
It would be so much more efficient for everyone to post the information on an LED display behind the desk.
Once I’m on the plane, I’m completely in the dark, aurally speaking. I can’t hear one word of the safety instructions. In fact I’m still not sure after all these years that I’d be able to figure out that safety vest. Overseas flights display those instructions on the seat back screens, in 10 different languages. Surely there must be some easy equivalent on domestic flights.
When the captain comes on once we’re in the air, I can never tell what he’s saying. It could be that the Ravens are ahead in the first quarter, 8-1 with six minutes remaining. Or it could be, get ready to take a nose dive—we just hit turbulence. Usually it’s the former. Either that, or a pitch to sign up for the airline’s credit card and get 40,000 miles free.
I suppose if it was the nose dive announcement, I’d notice some consternation on other passengers’ faces (assuming they could hear it) and ask my seat mate. I’ve done that after sitting an hour or two on a runway. But again, why are the hard of hearing so invisible? There are so many of us!
Looping advocates have managed to get some information booths looped, which is good, but that doesn’t help when the gate attendant starts hollering through her megaphone about who’s allowed to board, or when the captain comes on to make an interminable announcement. It doesn’t help when there’s a gate change. God forbid an announcement of an evacuation of the airport.
Come on airports and airlines. You wouldn’t make a passenger who needs a wheelchair walk. You ask about dietary restrictions. You try to accommodate requests for aisle seats. How about some signs?
“Now boarding: Zone 2”
“Flight 2384 is delayed because the arriving flight is 25 minutes late. We will update you as we get more information.”
“Flight 2384 is now departing from Gate E 50.”
Each of these would easily fit on the screen that’s already right there at the gate behind the gate attendant. At the moment the one I’m looking at says: Flight 2873. Time 4:14 PM AUSTIN.
As for those inflight rambles, folksy, reassuring to be sure – but incomprehensible to a great many of us. How about right up there on the overhead screen:
“Announcement from the captain: ‘Attention passengers: We’re delayed because of air traffic ahead. We should be getting in about 35 minutes late.’”
Or even: “Well, folks, we’re in luck today. The tailwinds are with us and the traffic is light. We should be arriving about 40 minutes ahead of schedule.”
Oops there goes the crackle and screech, possibly about my flight. Better keep my eyes open, since my ears won’t do much good.