Social media has blown up with this story of a deaf couple being discriminated against by a Delta employee. The couple wanted to know if they could be seated together, but allegedly the gate agent for Delta refused to communicate with them in writing, even throwing the paper they were using to communicate into the trash.
As a result, the couple are threatening to sue Delta for discrimination. They are demanding that, as well as refunding their flight costs, they should have the cost of their hotel covered, as well as the cost of their alternative flight, and that Delta staff should all undertake training on how to communicate with deaf passengers.
When Delta denied dignity to the deaf
The couple in question are two Californians, Melissa Yingst, 40, and Socorro Garcia, 34. The co-founders of Alma de Muxeristas, a group of Hispanic feminist activists with hearing issues, they were heading back from a conference in Detroit to their home in Los Angeles when the incident happened.
The couple posted a video after the event which detailed (in sign language) what occurred at the gate. According to their account, they wanted to know if they could sit together but were communicating via iPhone as they cannot hear or talk.
The agent, whose name badge indicated she was called Felicia, talked back to them, but as they couldn’t hear they didn’t know what was being said. The couple said the agent eventually wrote on a note that the flight was full, but refused to let them reply via the note, instead crumpling it up and throwing it in the trash.
Garcia went to get the note from the trash, but says Felicia pushed them away, which is when Yingst began videoing the incident. Strangely, Felicia also whips out her cellphone and begins recording them back.
You can see in the additional video posted by Melmira how the gate agent refuses to communicate. She repeatedly says, ‘no more talking’, as another member of staff asks, ‘do you want me to call the police?’.
Posted by MELMIRA on Sunday, January 27, 2019
After police arrived and asked the couple to leave the boarding gate, they headed to a hotel where they took to social media to vent their frustrations. The video, in sign language, is below.
Here’s the full transcription of the video:
MELISSA – Whew. This is raw. I see this kind of stuff happen to many Deaf, DeafBlind, and DeafDisabled people in the news. I’ve always listened to those stories with disbelief. Ironically, I have even reported on some incidents for the news and never thought it’d become my “news”. Number one reason that is consistent – lack of access to communication needs. Even though I have seen this many times, it was a huge shock when it happened to us tonight. I know no one is immune to communication barriers and this kind of situation, so I felt the need to share our experience. The feeling of being oppressed is very traumatic.
SOCORRO – Tonight on January 27, we were discriminated by a gate agent at the Detroit airport for refusing to continue communicating with us in writing. We learned that our seats aren’t together when we first checked in, but the woman said that she made a note and we would be given seats together when we went to the departure gate, so we went on to the gate. At the gate, we communicated our request through iPhone and she kept talking to us without writing anything down. I received an assigned seat but still not able to sit together. So Melissa showed her iPhone, started questioning why since we were told we would sit together at the front. The gate agent rolled her eyes at us. Melissa asked for her to write. After few moments, she finally wrote on a piece of paper and said, the flight is full and can’t book us together. I wanted to continue to communicate and decided to try and write on that same paper but instead of giving us the paper we asked for, she crumbled it in front of us and threw it in the trash.
MELISSA – I pulled out my notepad at that moment and wrote on paper saying that she was denying us our communication access and asked for her name, but she refused. I decided to look close on her badge and found her name was Felicia, I wrote it down. Again, I kept asking repeatedly to please write on paper with us.
SOCORRO – I walked to the trash to pick it up but she pushed me away. Melissa was stunned and took out her iPhone to take a video of her and then Felicia turned on her iPhone to film us. You can see I kept repeatedly asking for her to write and that I sign (see video in comments). I was shocked and asked for a paper and pen to communicate. She still refused and called the police on us. The police arrived and said that I assaulted her and was asked to leave. After numerous of times to communicate with the police back and forth regarding her refusal of communication, they said there is nothing that they can do but for us to book another flight back to LA. So we left and here we are at a hotel near the airport.
MELISSA – Of course at the time with the police at the gate, everyone was talking without filling us in, and we were trying our best to follow by writing on paper, so we only caught bits and pieces. All we know is that Felicia told them that Socorro assaulted her and we could not get on the flight, period. The airport police has no say over the decisions Delta makes. We asked the police to find the paper that was thrown in the trash. But there was nothing found. Delta and I got in touch via Twitter and we are currently communicating about this incident. We’re still here in Detroit and got a hotel near the airport to figure out our next steps and process this more. This really isn’t about us not being able to sit together but how they handled communication and refused to provide us access to the needs we asked for.
SOCORRO: Loss for words. What did we do wrong?
What do Delta say?
According to the airline, the two passengers knew beforehand that they wouldn’t be seated together as they had bought their tickets separately. Despite this, the gate agent checked if there were any spare seats but informed the couple that the plane was full.
She is said to have told the couple she would talk to flight attendants to see if anyone was willing to give up their seat so that they could sit together. Whether she did this verbally or in writing is unclear at this stage.
The real problems arose when one of the passengers ‘aggressively’ went behind the counter to get to the trash can to retrieve a note. This is a major security issue and not permitted. The Delta employee maintains that the passenger shoved her, although the passenger says it was the agent who pushed her to get her out of the restricted area.
Undoubtedly it was the actions of this passenger which resulted in the police being called. Attempting to gain entry to an out of bounds zone in an airport is not a good move, regardless of who shoved who.
Spokesman, Michael Thomas, released a statement on Delta’s behalf:
“Delta is in contact with two customers who reported having difficulty communicating with a gate agent prior to their flight. We are reviewing the situation with our Detroit team and will work with these customers to better understand what transpired. As always, we take situations like these seriously and we are using this as an opportunity to learn and improve”
Delta say they fully refunded the passengers for their tickets but wouldn’t let them board due to their actions. Yingst and Garcia maintain they have not been refunded.
Was Delta in the wrong?
Numerous comments on social channels come down on the side of the deaf couple. Many passengers claim that they also have been discriminated against by Delta, and that the agent was not doing their job well.
— Shane Dundas (@DeafProducer) January 28, 2019
Stand your ground Delta
Equally, a lot of people think that things have been blown out of all proportion.
SHE ROLLED HER EYES. Stand your ground, airlines. Your employees, and for now I would say a good majority of passengers, still support following the rules. Take a stand against these activists with a talent for making their grievances go viral. It’s dangerous and it has to stop.
— Bertha Valadibug (@BerthaValegend) January 29, 2019
Some were quick to remind the couple about the additional stresses many TSA staff are under. The recent government shutdown means many have been working for a whole month without pay, and potentially coping with other team members taking time off work as a result.
What do you think? Were the passengers genuinely being discriminated against, or have they blown things up for their own gain and interests? One thing’s for sure; with conflicting information coming from both sides, Delta have got a heck of a job on their hands sorting this one out.