Deaf activists say squabble with Delta over lack of communication

Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News
Socorro Garcia (left) and Melissa Yingst are seen in a video posted to Facebook where they explain their experience with a Delta Air Lines gate agent.

Romulus — Two deaf activists said they weren’t allowed to board a Delta Air Lines flight in Detroit on Sunday after getting into a dispute with a gate agent over their difficulty in communicating.

The activists, Socorro Garcia and Melissa Yingst, both of Los Angeles, said they tried to continue their communication by writing something on a piece of paper but the agent crumpled it up and tossed it into a trash can.

Garcia said he tried to retrieve the paper but the agent pushed him away. But the agent said he assaulted her and prohibited him from boarding the flight, according to Garcia’s account, which was described in a Facebook video.

“Loss for words,” Garcia said in sign language on the video. “What did we do wrong?”

Garcia and Yingst couldn’t be reached for interviews.

A spokesman for Delta said the agent had discarded the paper because she believed the conversation was over.

Then, when Garcia walked behind the podium to access the trash can, he pushed against the agent's leg, making her feel threatened, said the spokesman, Michael Thomas.

“To be completely candid, there are very conflicting versions of events based on initial reports from both sides,” he said.

The dispute began Sunday night when Garcia and Yingst hoped to sit together for their flight back to Los Angeles, Garcia signed in the video.

A check-in agent told them she had made a note so, despite their seats being apart, they would be able to receive adjoining seats when they got to the gate.

When they got to the gate, however, the gate agent gave them seats that were separate, said Garcia. Yingst used her iPhone to communicate with the agent but the agent just rolled her eyes.

The agent originally communicated with the couple by talking but, after being prompted, wrote something down, jotting on a piece of paper that the flight was full and they wouldn’t be able to sit together.

Garcia wanted to write a response on the paper but, before he could, the agent had crumpled it up and tossed into the trash, said Garcia.

A video of the encounter taken by Yingst doesn’t show the physical contact between Garcia and the agent but captures the aftermath.

Garcia can be seen mimicking a writing motion while the agent is shaking her head no.

"You can't come back here," the agent said, according to the video. “No more. No more talking."

The video also shows the agent using her own cell phone to shoot video of the incident.

Another Delta worker can be seen asking if she should call the authorities.

"You want me to call the police? I'm about to call the police," said the unidentified worker.

The police responded and told Garcia and Yingst there was nothing they could do, said Garcia. They told the couple they would have to book another flight back to Los Angeles.

Garcia and Yingst went to a nearby hotel, where they made the Facebook video about the incident.

“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 in sign language, according to a Facebook translation of her remarks.

Yingst said she has been communicating with Delta on Twitter about the incident but didn't elaborate about the discussion.

Thomas confirmed the contact, saying the airlines told Yingst it is reviewing the matter and will work with the passengers to better understand what happened.

"As always, we take situations like these seriously and we are using this as an opportunity to learn and improve," he said.

Garcia and Yingst are co-founders of Alma de Muxeristas, an online organization for Hispanic feminist activists with hearing issues.

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Twitter: @francisXdonnell