The dispute has resulted in threats of legal actions. Socorro Garcia and Melissa Yingst have threatened to sue and said Delta should train its employees on how to communicate with deaf passengers.
In a statement earlier, Delta said: “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.”
The dispute happened at the Detroit Metro Airport on Sunday night, when Garcia and Yingst, who were in Detroit for the National LGBTQ Task Force’s Create Change conference, were heading home to California. The women, who had bought separate tickets, wanted to sit together and said they had initially been told they’d be able to. At the gate, they tried to communicate their request using an iPhone, but the agent kept talking and refused to write anything down, the couple said in a Facebook video recounting their experience.
“The gate agent rolled her eyes at us. Melissa asked for her to write,” Garcia said, according to a transcript the couple posted on Facebook.
After repeated requests to communicate with them in writing, the couple said the agent finally wrote on a piece of paper that the flight was full and that they can’t be seated together. The couple said the agent then crumpled the paper and threw it in a trash can instead of allowing the couple to write their responses to it.
“This is an outright denial of communication access,” the couple said in a statement.
Garcia said she tried to pick up the piece of paper, but the agent pushed her away — an allegation the airline denied.
According to Delta, the agent did not refuse to communicate with the couple and told them she would see if other passengers would be willing to switch seats. The agent threw away the paper because she thought the conversation was over, the airline said. But Garcia tried to take the paper by walking behind the counter, which Delta said it doesn’t allow, and pushed the agent.
Yingst then began recording the encounter. So did the agent. Later, police were called.
A video taken by Yingst showed Garcia gesturing to the agent, who was shaking her head as she held up her phone, apparently also recording.
“You want me to call the police?” another agent can be heard asking.
“Yes, thank you,” the agent responded.
“You can’t come back here,” the agent told Garcia, still shaking her head and holding up her phone. “No more, no more talking.”
Police later arrived, the couple said. Yingst and Garcia, who denied pushing the agent, left the airport, booked a nearby hotel and bought a different flight back to Los Angeles.
Delta said it has refunded the passengers' tickets and is working with them on how to address the other costs they incurred.
The couple said they will pursue legal action if they’re not reimbursed for all their costs and if Delta doesn’t train its employees on how to best communicate with deaf customers.
“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, according to the transcript on Facebook.
The National LGBTQ Task Force said the incident underscores the need for education, training and policies to protect impaired and disabled customers from discrimination.
“No one should have to fear that Delta will call the police on them for simply being deaf, blind, or disabled,” the organization said in a statement. “Delta should take immediate steps to prevent future incidents from occurring.”
This article has been updated.