A California couple who are deaf had a poor experience with a Delta Air Lines agent who refused to communicate with them through writing and apparently rolled her eyes at them.
On Sunday evening at the Detroit Metro Airport, a Delta counter agent told Socorro Garcia and Melissa Elmira Yingst that they would be assigned adjacent seats once they got on their flight. Just to be sure, they approached the Delta gate agent to double check.
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The couple used an iPhone to type their wish to sit together on the plane and handed it to the gate agent whose name tag identified her as “Felicia.” Instead of writing down her answer, the couple said that Felicia “kept talking to us without writing anything down.”
Yingst questioned why they couldn’t sit together but the agent rolled her eyes and wrote on a piece of paper that the flight was full and therefore they couldn’t sit together. Garcia then tried to write a follow-up question on the same piece of paper, but the agent grabbed the paper, crumbled it and threw it in a trash can.
Yingst documented the incident immediately on her notepad and asked the agent her name but she refused. Yingst saw the woman’s name on her badge, wrote it on her notepad and tried to get Felicia to communicate with them on paper, but she refused.
Garcia tried to retrieve the paper from the trash, but the agent blocked Garcia, and that’s when Yingst said she began recording video of the confrontation. In the video, you can see Garcia trying to communicate with the agent by mimicking writing on a piece of paper, but Felicia continually shakes her head as she records on her own phone.
Felicia can also be heard saying, “No more talking.”
Felicia called the police and accused Garcia of assaulting her. The police told the couple that nothing could be done about the seating arrangement and told them to leave the boarding area and book another flight to Los Angeles.
The couple left the airport, got a nearby hotel and shared their experience via a Facebook video.
“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,” said Yingst, a TV personality who appears on the deaf-friendly entertainment-news show “True Biz.”
She added, “Even though I have seen this many times, it was a huge shock when it happened to us. The feeling of being oppressed is very traumatic.”
Wow. Am at @Delta airlines in Detroit. Front desk attendant Felixia refuses to communicate with us in writing and even threw away the paper she wrote on with us.
— melissa elmira yingst (@melmira) January 28, 2019
Garcia added: “Loss for words. What did we do wrong?”
Spokesman Michael Thomas said in a statement late Monday: “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 told the Detroit Free Press that they refunded Yingst and Garcia’s tickets but wouldn’t allow them to board the plane since Garcia went behind the counter to retrieve the note from the trash. The airline claims that Yingst and Garcia knew they wouldn’t be seated together and that the boarding agent was accommodating. They claimed that Felicia told the couple she would work with flight attendants to help seat them together if someone agreed to give up their seat.
This claim by Delta that the boarding agent was helpful is quite different than Garcia and Yingst’s telling of the story.
“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,” Yingst said.
Yingst wrote in an email to the Free Press on Monday: “This has been very traumatizing for us and we right now are currently collecting resources to figure out the best way to remedy this situation. We booked a different flight out of Detroit with a different airline. Currently on our way to L.A. Just looking forward to a hot shower tonight!”