Accessible Air Travel for People with Hearing Loss
By Joan Cassidy
Editor: What do you need to know as an air traveler with hearing
loss? This article contains lots of that information, and the more of it
you know, the better off you'll be. And I think you'll be pleasantly
surprised to learn of some of the things that are in the works!
Our thanks to NVRC for their permission to share this article with
you. You may share it with others, but be sure to credit NVRC. (See
credit at the end of the article.)
Moderator: Brenda Battat, SHHH
Sandra G. Cammaroto, Transportation Security Administration
Michael T. Spollen, Department of Transportation
David Martin, Delta Air Lines
Michael Spollen, Department of Transportation
Spollen talked about the 1986 Air Transportation Act and how it
applies to travelers with disabilities. The four areas are Enforcement,
Rule Making, Consumer Education and Outreach. In recent years the
Department has investigated 15 allegations that access was not provided,
most related to problems of people in wheelchairs being unable to get on
or off the planes, no storage for folding wheelchairs etc. The airlines
were required to pay civil fines totally $6 million in 2003 and $2
million in 2004. Most of the fines were spent on "offsets"
used to directly benefit travelers with disabilities such as website
enhancements, extra storage space on planes, advisory groups and staff
They are now working on rules that will apply to foreign carriers and
other rules regarding the onboard use of medication especially oxygen
and additional accommodations for deaf and hard of hearing passengers.
Their website is http://airconsumer.dot.gov or call 202-366-2222 Hot
Any complaint from a disabled individual is investigated. They will
send an acknowledgement letter and refer the complaint to the airline
which has 30 days to reply. Then they analyze and send a letter to the
consumer. They work with airlines to change policy. Sometimes stories
are so conflicting they cannot determine if there was a violation. They
make a summary sheet of the investigation and try to get the airline to
take corrective action. Often they bunch together several complaints
before assessing fine.
For the past ten years they have been working on new rules for
passengers with hearing loss. They will soon issue draft for public
comment. The rules have already been amended ten times.
Sandra G. Cammaroto, Director of Office of Screening Persons with
Disabilities,Transportation Security Administration
Before 9/11 the quality of security checks for passengers with
disabilities varied between different airlines and airports. After 9/11
they realized the need for a policy that did not compromise security.
Hidden disabilities are the toughest to check since the screeners may
not know the passenger has a disability until they enter the checkpoint.
Plans for the future:
- Update Enhanced TSA website
- Establish Disability Hotline
- Develop reference materials for screeners
- Develop literature for the consumer in partnership with Air Carriers
and Travel Agencies such as a new pocket guide for passengers with
disabilities which will soon be available at travel agents.
- They are working on an ASL pilot program with 3D animated software to
provide sign language interpreters on screen at checkpoints. The
screener will talk into a microphone and the interpreter appears on the
screen. They have a pilot program with DePaul University at Chicago
- Customer Satisfaction Survey: www.TSA.gov. Call Ms Cammoroto at
David Martin, Delta Airlines Senior Specialist-Disabilities, Customer
Delta wants to exceed expectations. He thanked us for our patience in
waiting for improvements for deaf and hard of hearing passengers. Many
airlines have equipment that is over 20 years old so they are working to
bring the "dinosaurs" into the 21st century. Their complaints
tell them that access is needed from the curb to the airplane. You can
ask for assistance from the Skycaps who check our luggage and a
wheelchair is not necessary to get assistance.
There is not enough manpower to provide escorts for everyone with a
disability but they do allow all agents to go with you to the boarding
gate. Agents have a checklist of their responsibilities. Any uniformed
agent in the airport lobby must help if you ask. They are taught to look
for indications of a disability and how they can help.
A Complaint Resolution Officer is always on duty. C, R, and O are the
most important letters in the airline alphabet. Their Atlanta hub has
200 CRO officers. If you have problems at the airport ask for a CRO
officer. They must bring one to you. After a bad experience on a flight
you can call back to the CRO desk and they will pass it on and follow
At the gates Delta has visual displays which give all the information
that is spoken over the loudspeakers. They want you to have a good
travel experience but they also want to respect your privacy and try not
to draw attention to passengers with a disability. If you want to
pre-board just tell the gate agent that you have a disability, they are
not allowed to ask for details. However, remember that first on is also
last off so let them know if you have to make a connection and they will
let you off first.
Flight Attendants have special training and must assist passengers
with disabilities of all kinds, visible or not. If you cannot understand
the announcements they must repeat them for you or write them down.
- Gate information display systems
- Kiosks with computers that can speed up the check in process
- On board safety instructions are captioned
- TDD systems in Reservations, at the airport and through the Telephone
- Assistive Technology Research and Partnering to find best practices
- Web site accessibility
Delta is the only airline with outreach programs, special tours to make
sure planes are accessible. They want to exceed the expectations of
Ghostbuster Rule: If we don't take care of you... who you gonna call?
Q Are extra carryon bags allowed for disability equipment?
A Yes. Delta does not question why you need extra bag and will fit it on
(c)2005 by Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of
Hearing Persons (NVRC), www.nvrc.org. When sharing this information,
please ensure credit is given to NVRC.