Before the Flight
Now that we have seen a decrease in COVID cases, air travel is starting to pick back up! Traveling can be a stressful situation in and of itself, not to mention adding hearing loss and hearing aids on top of it. Anyone traveling must prepare for communicating with people you do not know, those that speak with an accent, listening with constant background noise, and everyone wearing face masks due to current healthcare and safety guidelines. This only becomes more difficult with hearing loss. This article will discuss some tips and tricks to help make traveling with hearing loss a breeze!
Hearing loops in airports
Before you arrive at the airport for your flight, there are a few things to consider. If you currently wear hearing aids, do you have them? Are they prepared for a long day of travel? The first step should be to ensure they are fully charged or have fresh batteries. This can reduce any frustration surrounding them not working or dying in the middle of your flight, impacting your ability to effectively communicate. The next step is to ensure you are prepared for your entire trip, not just your flight. Do you have extra batteries or your charger packed? Are you prepared for if they stop functioning or get clogged with earwax? The best way to head off these questions is to create a hearing aid “go bag”. This “go bag” should include your charger/extra batteries, a cleaning brush, cleaning wipes, extra domes and wax traps. These materials will allow you to resolve most issues that arise with your hearing aids while you are traveling. This “go bag” should also be easily available to you throughout your trip, even while flying, therefore you should pack this in your carry-on bag. If you have additional accessories, like a PhoneClip or MiniMic, these should be packed in your “go bag” as well. This is especially true if you are traveling for business and will be involved in meetings both in person or online. This sets you up for the best success during these activities and can directly stream whoever is talking, directly into your hearing aids.
Once you have your “go bag” set, it is time to prepare for getting through the airport. This is a very difficult listening environment. It is a large open space, with minimal carpet and furniture to absorb sound; not to mention there are lots of people from all over the world filling this space.
As you travel to the ticket counter and towards security, it is important to let those you are interacting with know you have hearing loss. This will allow them to use good communication strategies like making eye contact while they speak, slowing down their rate of speech, and enunciating their words. By informing them of your hearing loss, you can create less frustration for yourself and make the process easier and faster. When beginning your trip, you could download the mobile app of the airline company of which you would be traveling. Downloading the app will allow you to check in for your flight, download your boarding pass, and check the flight status without having to interact directly with others. There are, also, push notifications(if allowed) that can be sent directly to your device updating you with flight information, seat changes, boarding process and when your check baggage is onboard. If you are checking in bags, some airports are also now providing self service stations where you can print your assigned luggage tags, attach them to the handles, and individually place them on a conveyor belt to be delivered to the correct destination.
The next step is getting through security. Remember to communicate with the security agent for effective communication and ease through the security process. Security involves walking through the metal detectors and removing any clothing/accessories that can set the metal detectors off. You do not need to remove your hearing aids to go through airport security. This is very important because this can be the most stress-inducing portion of an airport. You need to be able to hear the TSA security officers and answer any questions they may have. As you get in line, follow the usual steps. Place your materials in the bins, place them on the conveyor belt, and get in line to go through the metal detectors. Make sure to inform the TSA security officers that are operating the metal detectors that you have hearing aids on. They may want to inspect them before you enter the machine. After this, it should be smooth sailing and you should be able to get through security with ease!
Within the airport terminal, hearing announcements over the intercom can be very difficult. Be willing to talk to your gate attendant about your hearing loss and allow them to assist you with these announcements. You can introduce yourself and ask that if any changes are made to your flight or gate, that they let you know personally as you have difficulty hearing these announcements. In some airports, the announcements are produced on the screens in the gate house area. Placing your eyes on these screens can help you navigate the boarding process, delays, upgrades or seat changes.
During the Flight
Once you are on your airplane, let your flight attendants know that you have hearing loss and wear hearing aids. This will inform them that they need to make sure they get your attention before speaking to you. In the event of an emergency, they will also remember that there is someone on the flight with hearing loss and you may require additional instruction. They also have written pamphlets for all important safety information, which can be found in the seat pocket in front of you. On the screens during the safety presentation, there is closed captioning for the hearing impaired to follow along. By informing your flight attendant, they can be proactive and reach out to you specifically to let you know of changes on the flight or any announcements from the pilot. In terms of your hearing aids, you do not need to turn them off during flights like other technology. They may not be able to stream in-flight television or movies directly to your ears, but you will still be able to get the benefit of wearing them. For in-flight entertainment, you can always wear traditional headphones, both in-ear and over the ear headphones, with your hearing aids as long as they fit together comfortably. This may be an issue for individuals with custom-in-the-ear hearing aids as they fill your ear canal and concha bowl completely, leaving little room for other headphones. Always remember that you have the choice to completely remove your hearing aids, as airplanes can be very loud. If you do so, please make sure to inform the flight attendants and other patrons around you that you are removing them and what are some appropriate ways to get your attention. Some examples can include gently touching your shoulder, tapping on your seat, or getting in your line of sight. Telling them ways to get your attention can prevent them from yelling or making you/them uncomfortable in any way. Remember to put them in a safe place. Avoid putting them in your pocket as they could get lost easily. My best recommendation is to place them in a secure case and immediately into your carry-on “go-bag.”
ADA guidelines for hearing loss
Although some of this may feel intimidating and excessive, hearing loss is a recognized disability and within the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) you have rights within public settings, like an airport. You have the right to indicate your need for special services when booking your flight, either online or over the phone. It is often beneficial to be proactive and call the airline ahead of time to ask for these accommodations, as it gives the airline time to prepare for your arrival. You have the right to request disability seating on the airplane. This will allow you the best access to on-flight announcements from both the pilot and flight attendants. Disability seating can also often include closed captioning, which will give you full access to on-flight entertainment. You also have the right to the same level of communication with airline staff as the other passengers who have normal hearing. This is important to remember, as communication involves two parties and responsibility does not fall fully on the shoulders of the individual with hearing loss.
An additional accommodation and tool to look into is whether your airport installed a hearing loop or not. A hearing loop is physically placed within the ground of the structure, in this instance, the airport. It then acts as a personal sound system, directly streaming sound within the sound loop directly to your hearing aids through a magnetic wireless signal. According to HearingLoop, currently there are 16 airports across the entire United States that provide hearing loops within their airport. To see a list of looped airports please visit the following website https://hearingloop.org/places/transit-stations. Although this number is miniscule in relation to the number of total airports we have, this is a starting point for other airports to follow in terms of accessibility. Hearing loops are designated with a blue sign with a white ear and line placed in the middle. In order to successfully use the hearing loop, your hearing aid must be equipped with telecoil capabilities. If you are unsure whether your hearing aids have this feature, reach out to your audiologist. Hearing aids with the telecoil feature can be activated by switching to your telecoil program which then gives you access to the placed hearing loop. Within airports, loops are often placed surrounding ticket counters, gates, and customer service areas. If you have a telecoil and see the blue telecoil sign, try tuning into your telecoil program to see if it gives an added benefit.
By using these tips and tricks, air travel for individuals with hearing loss can become even easier. Remember, it is better to always disclose your hearing loss to staff throughout the airport as this allows for better communication and less frustration from both parties. This will allow you to enjoy your travels as much as those without hearing loss! If you have any hearing aid issues throughout your entire trip, be sure to call your audiologist and discuss what is going wrong. They will often be able to provide troubleshooting assistance over the phone to get your hearing aids working effectively again! They can also always recommend a local audiologist who you can physically see, if more assistance is needed.