A deaf couple says they were removed from a Delta Air Lines flight on January 27 after quarreling with a gate agent at the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport who refused to seat them together. Melissa Elmira Yingst, who posted a video of the incident, was traveling with girlfriend Socorro Garcia back to Los Angeles.
Garcia said that after checking in, the agent said she would make a note to ensure they were seated together, but at the gate, their request was denied. “We were discriminated by a gate agent at the Detroit airport [who refused] to continue communicating with us in writing,” Garcia said. “At the gate, we communicated our request through iPhone and she kept talking to us without writing anything down.”
After receiving their seat assignment, Yingst showed the agent her phone and asked why they weren’t seated together after the check-in agent had assured them that they would be. The agent, who allegedly rolled her eyes, wrote that the flight was full, and she couldn’t book them together. After the couple continued to attempt to communicate with the agent, she crumbled the paper where she had written her response and threw it in the trash.
Yingst says asked the agent again about the seating assignment yet she refused to speak with them or give her name. The couple argues that they were denied “communication access” by the agent. When Garcia attempted to retrieve the piece of paper they were using to communicate, she alleges that the agent pushed her. After Garcia pushed back, the agent contacted the airport police, alleging that Garcia had assaulted her.
“I was shocked and asked for a paper and pen to communicate,” Garcia said. “She still refused and called the police on us. The police arrived and said that I assaulted her and was asked to leave.” In their statement, the women allege that they continued to struggle to communicate with the police, who told them to book another flight.
According to Delta, they are in contact with Garcia and Yingst in an effort to understand what happened. “We take situations like these very seriously and as part of our culture of continuous improvement, we are using this as an opportunity to learn.” The airline adds that the passengers were refunded for the flight, but that the allegation that Garcia had pushed the agent resulted in them being barred from the flight.
The women deny both claims, stating that they never received a refund and that Garcia never pushed the agent. They are communicating with the airline in the hopes that Delta will institute awareness training, so agents can better serve deaf and disabled passengers.
“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. Delta isn’t the only company to encounter criticism for its handling of deaf customers. Taco Bell recently fired an employee who deprived a deaf man of service.