Going to an airport and getting on a plane and traveling to unfamiliar territory takes on a whole new meaning when one has a hearing loss. A routine flyer so to speak, I was familiar with how to fly and, despite a hearing loss, was able to hear well enough and connect with those whether I flew solo or with others. When my hearing loss became severe, and I was married with children, the concept of flying was well, new. I had to weigh whether I thought I could. First, one must remember this was several years ago and things were a tad different then. Second, the dynamics of an airport and planes were not exactly conducive to for the hard of hearing or deaf. But thanks to Southwest, I fly with confidence today.
What connected me to Southwest was not a flight, but an act of kindness years ago by one man.
I had a flight with someone other than Southwest. I was traveling with two boys 3 ½ and 9 months and had to do this alone. A bad snow storm in another region had disrupted flights and the line at the airport was unlike anything I had seen before. I called for help from an employee of the airline I was to fly and he told me to stay in line and listen to the intercom. He actually asked me, “How hard can that be – just do what they say!” At this point, I was, in a word – Afraid. The flight could easily take off without us, I could not step out of line to go ask what was being said on the intercom and the people in front and behind me did not wish to be of assistance. I had the two kids who were being very quiet and well-behaved but they were too young to leave alone or to ask one to go to the counter to ask for assistance! I finally reached out again to someone passing by that looked like an airport assistant. He took one look at me while handling another customer in a wheelchair and said, "Can you wait? I will be right back!" This person returned, an empty wheel chair in hand, placed my baby in the chair, took my three-year-old by the hand with a smile, and looked me in the eye and said, "Let's get you taken care of."
We went to the counter, passing an incredibly long line of people, at which time I thanked him and asked that he go on his way. He refused, stating he was taking me to my flight as it was going to take off shortly. He then escorted the children and I all the way to the gate.
And he was a Southwest Employee.
Again, I was not flying Southwest. He was on his way to the Southwest terminal further down from where I was to take off, and so he offered to be of assistance. It was at that point, I promised to fly Southwest on future flights. My son is now in high school and we have held true to that promise. There are several heartwarming stories I can share about flying Southwest and welcome the opportunity to do so. The first was when our youngest son became severely ill just hours before we were scheduled to return home. We were at a restaurant with family and just finished eating to head to the airport when my youngest went from a happy go lucky two-year-old to one that was seriously ill, just in the blink of an eye. I was panicked about cancelling three flights, let alone having to reschedule. We called while in route to the hospital and Southwest put our child’s concerns above all else – as only Southwest can do. The Southwest assistant spoke calmly and asked if we were on our way to a doctor or hospital and then asked if it was okay to proceed with canceling the flight. She wanted the child taken care of first. After a very brief conversation, she cancelled the flight and then asked that we focus on our child and not worry about our return flight until we knew more. She shared that Southwest would ensure we got home when needed, so we could take that worry off our plate. In an emergency situation and one where our son proved so seriously ill, it was the kind acts that made the difference. It was a long time later Southwest held true to their promise and we returned home safe and sound with a healthy son.
When the kids were a little older, around 3 and 6, we were flying from Florida to Maryland to see their Great Grandmother. The three of us were so excited! The flight went smoothly until we were close to Boston. During our descent, the winds picked up severely and had us “winging” it from side to side. I knew my goal was to keep the kids happy and immediately started talking about what fun it was to be on the airplane “ride”. The flight attendants pitched in and we were singing “wheee” as we dove from the left to the right of the plane – and several passengers joined in. When we landed, there was a round of applause and people stopping to thank us for our efforts. But it was the flight attendants who had captured what we were doing and helped – they made it happen and they made a difference for our boys, and possibly other passengers, to feel safe flying. The real joy was when people asked where the slot was to put the quarter in and “ride” again! Again – Southwest has the right attitude to think outside the box and my kids still love to fly to this day.
The greatest story was my flight to and from my first Hearing Loss convention in Portland, Oregon. By then, my hearing had changed to “deaf” without hearing aids. This is a whole different game for me and one that is still taking time to process and understand and know what to do. It can be paralyzing and restrict me in many ways, if I allow it. Now, prior flight experience might ensure my understanding of the evacuation procedures, but I would not hear what was said in the event of a real emergency. In addition, I could no longer hear anything shared on the intercom about weather, landing, delays or other flight information. Southwest, again, gave me confidence to stand tall (not too tall – I am already almost six feet!) and went above and beyond – as they always do.
I was flying to Portland in June of 2012 for the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) National Convention. It was my first hearing loss convention and an incredible experience with so much to offer those impacted by hearing loss (the hearing, hard of hearing and deaf). While there, a tropical storm was brewing close to where we live in Florida. So Sunday after the Convention was complete, my Hearing Dog from Canine Companions for Independence, LaRue II, and I set out for a trip home and through some potentially bad weather. When boarding, I shared with the flight attendants, as I always do, that I cannot hear but can read lips. In the event of an emergency – I asked if they would ensure I could “see” what they were saying. I also shared I was familiar with emergency procedures and would do my part so as not to add to their job. I do not ask for them to share what the Captain has to say before, during or upon landing as it adds to their work load and they are busy as it is. However, on this flight, I wanted to know what to expect on the return flight home – how bumpy it might be or if we might have to fly around any bad weather. So, I asked the flight attendant what the weather was in our home area. She smiled and signed to me to wait and went around the corner. She did not treat me any different, she simply used a clear choice of words I might be able to understand via reading her lips and used her body language to share that she was happy to help and for me to wait just a moment. It was so very natural for her to do – a gift of sorts. She returned a short while later with a Southwest napkin in hand and politely handed it to me with the indication to look at it.
When I looked down, the napkin, the Pilot had written:
A LITTLE WINDY
I was laughing tears of joy with the ability to understand and know they would treat me as an equal – sharing what information I might need for myself or my CCI hearing dog, LaRue II.
The stories may not be that significant to others but they mean the world to me. Until you have walked in the shoes of hearing loss and being in public places or traveling with children, it might be difficult to understand. But Southwest makes the difference.
There might be times when it is not as “perfect” as one might like, as we are all human and we all make mistakes. I often ask, would we be able to do what they do, every day? I am most thankful to have “grown” with Southwest as a customer and support their efforts. I can only begin to imagine what they deal with handling so many personalities, needs and flights around the country - day in and day out. WOW!
Blessings to all and thank you for taking the time to …listen.