Lufthansa to deaf customer: "please keep trying" to speak with us on the phone

Originally published at: Lufthansa to deaf customer: "please keep trying" to speak with us on the phone | Boing Boing


Literally the most tone deaf response ever.


Back in the 90s I sat next to a coworker who could speak but could not hear. (He had had normal hearing into adulthood, then lost it.) He used to use a service, which I understood was provided by a phone company – I thought of it as the phone company, but even by that time this was an anachronism. Whoever provided it, it made it possible for him to handle situations like this, where a service is provided solely by means of a voice telephone line.

Some elementary googgling turns up the (apparently interchangeable) names TTY (TeleTYpe), TDD (Telecommunications Device for the Deaf), and TT (Text Telephone) for this service.

Can anybody – perhaps somebody with a connection to the Deaf culture – give some info about this kind of service, and explain why it wasn’t available for this person? (I don’t think the answer can be “because Lufthansa doesn’t provide it” – in the 90s version, at least, the service was a separate entity that could connect to any voice number.)


I thought there was a phone service deaf people called into where they could type what they want, and that person talked to the party they were trying to call and relay information back and forth? TTY?


There absolutely was a service like this, including a TTY-relay service (where an operator read the responses from the TTY to the recipient and translated their replies back to the TTY, in cases where the recipient didn’t have a TTY device on their end), but this was in the analog telephony days, and specific to Canada. I have no idea if these things still exist, but I will absolutely assume that someone who is Deaf is aware of the options available to them and had tried them to no avail, and/or that they weren’t appropriate or available in this instance. I’ve seen enough of the patchwork hacky ways visible or mobility disabilities are handled in the US, let alone services for the Deaf, hard of hearing, or less physically obvious disabilities have been, to know that there is a very high likelihood that support for the Deaf has fallen through the cracks here.


They continue to exist and both airports and airlines are required to provide them.

From Lufthansa’s website:

“ Flight booking and reservations

If you book your ticket by phone, please tell us about any special needs before your booking is completed. If requests were not made at the time of booking or if you have made your booking online, we recommend that you contact us by telephone at 1-800-645-3880 at least 72 hours before your flight to discuss and schedule any additional assistance you may need. TTY (relay) service is available for USA-based hearing impaired customers at 1-866-846-4283 from 8:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. EST. Our reservations agents are standing by to assist you with any concerns or questions you may have.”


Two services I was aware of that are no longer around.

  1. There was a system through the VA that allowed deaf veterans to do text-to-voice. A person would receive a call which began with an automated message that alerted the recipient that a veteran was using the service. However the message sounded so much like a spam call that people would just hang up and block further calls.

  2. The second service was where you could IM a person who would read the message for you, then IM back with the responses. Of course people are dickheads and would spam these services with prank calls and give these poor operators horrible things to say, and the service died.


Airlines and airports have language line services that can assist with this and access sign language interpreters as well.


Minimal connection to Deaf and Hard of Hearing folks. My brother had hearing limitations as a kid and attended a Deaf school, and I used to be the camera salesman of choice for Philly’s deaf community many years ago. Also used to work with conference call and early VOIP systems for broadcast, where this came up from time to time.

TTY and other speech to text systems are common to required in a lot of cases. It’s entirely likely that Lufthansa has a setup of some sort, most places do. Though guess it wouldn’t neccisarily be a separate machine these days. The old ones were literally a phone with a big keyboard and screen attached.

But it’s two way. The caller/customer needs one and so does the person they’re calling, and idealy it functions like texting. Hence the phone company’s involvement with your coworker. To my memory you could rent from or dial into many phone companies to provide one or other end of the functionality.

Basically you had a TTY, and a phone operator did. And they read things off to the person on the other end, then type their responses in for you.

There’s software that does it now from what I understand. So you don’t need a separate service or machine, just on an app on your phone. Smart phones in general have been a massive boon to the hearing impaired.

It’s very much not a perfect set up. And at a minimum calling into a company’s phone system and getting hooked up to whatever text to speech thing they use often required a hearing person to get connected. Cause it is/was often a “press 7 if you are hearing impaired” situation. It’s also a really awkward way to conduct a phone call, as you’re effectively going through a translator. You have to wait for them to read things off, and type things in. Misunderstandings are easy.

I remember printing out lists of phone prompts/button presses for deaf customers so they’d be able to contact customer service for the products they bought. And even then, around 2004, most people seemed to have shifted off to texting and web chat for whatever they could.

From what I understand this is also part of the reason for those customer service chat systems that are so common these days. It’s more accessible, amid all the other things it ads.


I remember, even back in that previous millennium, thinking that the service was vulnerable to hacking by software that simulated the typing of the end user to generate (real) voice calls for nefarious purposes. I’m sure that has happened more than once since then.

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One of the newer services provided to travelers is Aira smart phone navigation for blind people and those with visual impairments.

More and more airports are making themselves Aira Free Zones - providing the service for free once you come on grounds. Assist people in getting around, reading FIDS boards to find their flights, reading menus in restaurants etc.


TTY is a third party service, it doesn’t matter of Lufthansa supports it or not. They’ll be talking to a human.

And it certainly still exists. Every time the auto-refill robot from the pharmacy calls it gives directions for TTY users more than once per call. Please, idiot robot, how about a concise mode? The calls take at least 3x as long as they need to because it’s so verbose!


I wonder if this is a key to the problem? The original tweet implies the customer is Canadian, and this policy states very specifically USA-based customers. That seems a silly thing all the same, this situation is baffling and the social media team there failed hard regardless.


My guess is exactly this - that there’s somewhere that this particular customer has fallen through the cracks and the usual avenues aren’t working for them.


I think it’s more likely to be one of two things. Or both. Cause it wouldn’t make sense for Lufthansa to only have that for US customers. The ADA requires it, but Canada and the EU have really similar rules. .com is the US website.

First this person might not have or be in the habit of using TTY systems. It’s less common and visible than used to be. Even hearing people use phone systems way less often these days. Or maybe they looked and just didn’t find it.

Second Twitter is not customer service. I wouldn’t neccisarily expect social media managers, who are there for marketing, to be totally aware of and involved in customer service systems. Generally a lot of people are just totally unware of this sort thing. They may be vaguely aware that the phone system has some sort of thing for the hearing impaired.

So on that front it’d just be a failure to specify or point the person at the TTY number.

It would be better in this day and age for Lufthansa to have some sort of chat setup for customer service. And I’m willing bet that bit about the TTY isn’t listed on whatever page was pointing the customer to the customer service line.

That seems to be a big thing with accessibility these days. Systems will be in place. But no one puts thought into how easy it is to find, whether it’s practical to use. And awareness is just zip.


Decision No. 487-AT-A-1999

August 17, 1999

Follow-up - Decision No. 324-AT-A-2000

August 17, 1999

APPLICATION by Elliott Richman pursuant to subsection 172(1) of the Canada Transportation Act, S.C., 1996 c. 10, concerning the absence of a TTY (telephone-teletype device for people who are deaf or hard of hearing) reservation number in a Lufthansa German Airlines’ advertisement.

File No. U 3570/99-22

I think this could be a staff training issue for whoever was answering this traveler.


Although the instructions on how to enable it may be obscure, both iPhone and Android phone have built-in support for TTY/TDD/TT.

The web page referred to by the Lufthansa Social Media team include a Canadian TTY/TDD/TT phone number, and instructions on how to use it.

It appears that the Lufthansa social media team could have provided clearer instructions, and the customer could have taken some initiative to remedy the situation.


It’s also possible (even likely) that the TTY (or whatever they use for deaf customers) is just as overwhelmed as the voice lines what with all the COVID flight cancelations.


They did the same to me recently with regard to a booking I needed written clarification on.

In the end I’ve had to handle it with a formal letter of complaint. Thankfully I’ve had the time to do this before my booking as I’d have been largely screwed otherwise.

Information given over the phone isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.

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Take your damned upvote and go think about what you’ve done.