A queer deaf couple claim they were mistreated by a Delta agent who allegedly refused to communicate with them in writing.
Melissa Elmira Yingst and Socorro Garcia, who are both deaf, were returning home to California from the LGBTQ+ conference Creating Change in Detroit on Sunday when the two entered a dispute with a Delta gate agent, the News-Herald reports.
When they arrived at the airport, they were made aware that their seats were not together, as the tickets were purchased separately and one ticket was purchased with an assigned seat while one was not. One agent told them that they would try to seat them together with the help of a flight attendant. The couple claims that when they spoke to the gate agent about their seats, she refused to communicate with them in writing.
Accounts of what happened differ. According to Yingst and Garcia, the gate agent "rolled her eyes," wrote down on paper that they could not sit together and then threw the paper with the writing in the trash. Garcia claimed in a video posted on Facebook that she walked to the trash to retrieve the note, and then the gate agent pushed her, which prompted Yingst to take out her phone and begin to record the situation. The agent then turned on her phone to record as well and threatened to call the police.
In a video uploaded to Facebook, the agent is seen dismissing the couple. She tells the couple that they can't come behind the desk and says "no more talking" while also indicating that she would call authorities.
After the agent called the police and they arrived, the couple claims that the two were asked to leave on account of assault.
Delta claims that the agent threw the piece of paper away after she believed the conversation to be over. Delta also said in a statement to Out that another Delta agent observed Garcia push the agent when she came behind the counter to retrieve the note.
The dispute ended with the couple being refused seats on the flight and being given a later flight and a hotel room, where they recorded a video detailing what happened to them.
"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," Yingst said on Facebook. The video is signed in American Sign Language and the couple transcribed their words in the video's comments section. "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, so I felt the need to share our experience. The feeling of being oppressed is very traumatic."
Delta says that they are "reviewing the situation" with their Detroit-based team.
"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 said in a statement to Out.
In a statement, the National LGBTQ Task Force, which hosts Create Change, said they "expect more from Delta" and called on the airline to take steps toward preventing this from happening in the future. They also called on the airline to apologize to Garcia and Yingst, reimburse them and provide better protection for deaf, blind, and disabled passengers.
"No one should have to fear that Delta will call the police on them for simply being deaf, blind, or disabled," the statement reads. "It deeply pains us that Socorro Garcia and Melissa Elmira Yingst ended the conference with this unacceptable incident. The National LGBTQ Task Force will always work to do better. We encourage Delta to work harder on its own journey towards disability justice."
According to the Detroit Free Press, Yingst and Garcia are threatening to sue Delta if they do not reimburse them for their flight, pay for the hotel they had to stay in after the incident, reimburse them for their alternative flight to Los Angeles, and require all Delta employees to participate in a training on how to communicate with deaf passengers.
Delta said that they have refunded the original tickets and are working to cover additional expenses they incurred.