Deaf couple says Delta kicked them off flight after agent refused to communicate with them over seat assignments

A deaf couple was booted off a Delta Air Lines flight last Sunday after clashing with a gate agent who refused to seat them together.

Melissa Elmira Yingst posted video footage of the incident, which took place at the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport on Jan. 27, on Facebook. According to a transcript Yingst sent to Yahoo Lifestyle, she and girlfriend Socorro Garcia were preparing to fly home to Los Angeles when they realized that they would not be seated together.

Garcia said that when the couple checked in, an airline employee assured them that she would make a note to fix the seating assignment. But when the women arrived at the departure gate and followed up with the gate agent there, their request — and efforts to communicate — were 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. I received an assigned seat but [we were] still not able to sit together. So Melissa showed her iPhone [and] 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 a 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.”

Yingst says she pleaded with the agent — who allegedly refused to give her name but whom they identify as “Felicia” — to write down her end of the conversation, arguing that she was “denying us our communication access” by not doing so.

Socorro Garcia and Melissa Elmira Yingst were told that they couldn’t sit together on their Delta flight. (Photo: Courtesy of Melissa Elmira Yingst)
Socorro Garcia and Melissa Elmira Yingst were told that they couldn’t sit together on their Delta flight. (Photo: Courtesy of Melissa Elmira Yingst)

Meanwhile, Garcia says Felicia pushed her when she tried to pick up the crumpled note. At that point, Yingst began filming the encounter on her iPhone, which prompted Felicia to do the same. She then called the airport police and told them 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.”

According to their statement, the women struggled to communicate with the police, who told them to book a different flight.

Delta has issued a statement to Yahoo Lifestyle:

“Delta is in contact with two customers who reported having difficulty communicating with a gate agent prior to their flight,” the statement reads. “We have reviewed the situation with our Detroit team and continue to work with these customers to better understand what transpired. 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.”

Delta added that it had refunded Yingst and Garcia but maintained that, while there were indeed communication issues, it was ultimately Garcia’s alleged “pushing” of the agent that caused them to be barred from the flight.

The women have denied both claims, saying that it is not “accurate” that they received a refund and insisting that Garcia did not physically attack the agent. They are in talks with the airline and hope that Delta agrees to institute awareness training so that employees 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 face backlash over its interactions with nonhearing customers. Taco Bell recently fired an employee who denied service to a deaf man.

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