I recently embarked on the journey to the Maldives with my husband, who was offered the trip as a a professional underwater photographer and journalist. Armed with my luggage, and extra hearing aid batteries, we set off to the tropical paradise, via six modes of transport, through four time zones.
This is what it was like to travel 24 hours with hearing loss:
The first phase of our journey was by car to the railway station. I was in the back of the car and wasn’t able to follow 100% the conversation between my Dad (who was driving) and my husband (who was in the front passenger seat) but, it was early in the morning on the day the clocks had ‘sprung forward’ so I wasn’t really compos mentis anyway.
At the railway station, I was delighted to see that the toilets on one platform were all signed as having induction loops. (Strangely, those on a different platform weren’t looped.) I was a relieved I could relieve myself, knowing that I wouldn’t miss any tannoy announcements about platform changes or train arrivals. (If only all stations realized the importance of this facility and how it instantly alleviates one of the major stress-factors in traveling with hearing loss.)
Back on the platform, I could see no looped information point and I could not make out the tannoy announcements. That said, neither could my husband. We both relied on the visual information on the screens.
On the train, there was no visual information about which stops we were approaching, however, as always, I’d checked the time we were due to arrive at our destination and could relax for a couple of hours.
In the UK, if you have severe to profound hearing loss, you can apply for a Disabled Railcard. (That always makes me laugh because, of course, the card is not ‘disabled’.) You have to send a copy of your dispensing prescription from a private hearing aid supplier or a copy of the front page of your NHS battery book, along with your application fee but, if you are successful, the card entitles you and one companion to one-third off the cost of your travel for 12 months.
We arrived at King’s Cross station and this is when I was really grateful not to be traveling alone. When I had my hearing, I’d think nothing of traveling around London on my own but, since losing my hearing, I don’t enjoy it one bit. Not only is the noise overwhelming but, the crowds and the pace everyone moves at is all a bit overwhelming for a country lass like me. I’m constantly looking around, trying to make sure I’m not getting in anyone’s way.
Read more: 6 tips for traveling with hearing loss
If you put aside the issue of the volume of the noise, which surrounds you when traveling on the underground, getting around London by tube is actually fairly straightforward for people with hearing loss. There are lots of visual signs telling you which lines stop at which destinations and which platform you need to be on. Best of all, are the real-time signs on each platform which tell you how many minutes before the next train – and all the stops it will make.
“…getting around London by tube is actually fairly straightforward for people with hearing loss.”
Once on the tube, there are the iconic maps, loud, clear announcements and (usually) LED displays announcing the next stop in every carriage. This makes the tube quite easy to navigate without having to ask anyone for help.
It helped that my husband had made this trip before so he knew what line to be on to get from King’s Cross to Paddington for the Heathrow Express. All that went well, but when we got off Heathrow Express to change trains to Terminal 5, there was no information about where to go. We asked a member of staff who sent us to a platform where all trains being announced were for central London (back the way we’d come). That couldn’t be right.
We asked another member of staff who said that there wouldn’t be a train to Terminal 5 for over half an hour and we’d be better off getting a bus.
What she didn’t say was that it was not one bus, but two, and that this option would entail us carrying our heavy luggage a fair distance. The staff at the bus terminal were bewildered why we’d been sent their way. It was a real palaver and, if you ever find yourself in that situation, my advice is just to sit tight and wait for the Heathrow Express. It was stressful going around the Heathrow complex by bus, not knowing how long it would be before we reached Terminal 5.
Eventually, we reached the terminal and managed to drop off our bags. None of the check-in desks were looped. (Actually, I have never seen one that is.) However, the lady that dealt with us was very helpful and even upgraded us to seats with extra legroom for the first leg of our journey.
On the Heathrow Airport website, it says, “Reserved seating is provided in the terminal, so look for the signs to direct you to the right area. These are located within the general seating areas and provide flight information screens at a low level, an induction loop and extra space for wheelchairs.” I didn’t come across this in the time that we were in Terminal 5 and so relied on my husband’s ears and the visual information on the screens.
When it came to boarding our flight, I noticed at the gate, there was a sign to say there was an induction loop. I activated my T-setting as I approached but, as the exchange happened wordlessly, I couldn’t say for sure if it was working or not. Not to worry, we were getting on the right plane, at the right time and that’s what really mattered.
Having contacted the airline prior to my journey, I already knew they did not provide neckloops. (I noted that they did, however, provide single-use headphones for all other passengers.) Knowing that this is what awaited me, I had purchased a single ear bud that sends stereo sound to one ear and I plugged that in and hoped there would be no limit on the volume control so I could get it loud enough to follow a movie. (Thankfully for me, I was able to get it loud enough but not every passenger with hearing loss would be in that position.)
After three movies, dinner and a glass of wine, I managed to get some sleep.
This is the main time when I find my deafness to be an advantage over being able to hear without hearing aids. I can literally switch off all outside noise and just go to sleep. I can even sleep through the cries of three babies (apparently).
“This is the main time when I find my deafness to be an advantage over being able to hear without hearing aids.”
It was around 1 a.m. local time when we arrived in Doha. Our flight had been delayed so we knew we were short on time to make our connecting flight. All flights through Doha had been delayed due to bad weather so, there were a lot of people around the screens trying to see where to go next. Bleary-eyed, we looked for our flight details. Thankfully, I found an English-speaking member of staff who directed me to the nearest Gate for our connecting flight, which was already boarding. We were seated on the next leg of our journey before we’d caught a breath.
We were met at Arrivals by a representative from the resort where we would be spending our first week and transferred to their lounge at the sea plane terminal. This was a wonderful, calm, cool oasis of relaxation. We were greeted and told that when it was time for our flight someone would come and get us. It was a great, personal service.
I’d been warned that traveling by sea plane could be very noisy – and it was. I was extremely grateful that my Phonak hearing aids have a noise canceling facility because this was extremely loud. Thankfully, the journey was less than an hour and we were soon descending. We could see our atoll and the turquoise and blue waters below.
We stepped onto the jetty of our island paradise. After twenty-four hours of traveling, we’d made it to our destination – and boy, did it look worth it!