Wings for Autism, an airport “rehearsal” that helps kids with autism feel calmer about flying, held a program at Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro, North Carolina this weekend. Run by The Arc of the United States, and using a Delta plane, it allowed kids with autism to experience what it’s like to go through the hustle and bustle of an airport and security, and to sit on a plane with their families. Here’s a video of the program in action at another airport:
If you have a child with autism (or sensory issues, as I do), you know how stressful plane travel can be. Max went through a phase in which he repeatedly kicked the back of the seat in front of him; it helped calm him down, though it did anything but for the nearby passengers. We had to cushion his knees with our winter jackets and, once, switch seats so that I was the one in front of him. Thankfully, he grew out of it.
What’s doubly awesome about Wings for Autism is that it gives airport, airline and security staffers the chance to observe and interact with kids with autism, and better understand them. Unfortunately, you’re on your own for dealing with the glares you occasionally get from fellow passengers. Once, we sat near a woman who remarked to her kids about the “annoying noises” Max was making (basically, his form of speech). I leaned over and said, “That’s his way of talking.” And she still gave me a look. Nice!
There are five more Wings for Autism program dates coming up, in Boston, Washington and Anchorage (here’s the schedule, with a link to registration information).
Soon after US Airways got a $1.2 million fine for failing to provide proper wheelchair assistance to fliers, news came out that the U.S. Department of Transportation will make flying more accessible.
Some 300 complaints were filed by US Airways customers from 2011 to 2012 about lack of wheelchair assistance at the company’s hub in Charlotte, NC and Philadelphia International, news stories note. Some customers missed connecting flights because of delays getting wheelchairs at the gate, others were left unattended for long periods of time.
The new Dept. of Transportation regulation that will particularly benefit parents whose kids are in wheelchairs is that airlines will now have more options for stowing wheelchairs, reports Disability Scoop. Manual, folding ones can be stored in a closet or even strapped to a row of seats.
I’ve heard horror stories of kids’ wheelchairs getting damaged in transit; hopefully, it will happen a lot less frequently. Going on flights with children who have special needs is never easy, especially if you have a child with sensory issues who is fearful of crowds as we do. There have been times when our family has been allowed special entry through the security system, and times when Max has had screaming crying fits as we waited on line.
There’s a great program called Wings for Autism that lets kids do practice runs at airports. They go in a security lane set aside just for them; board planes provided for the day by airlines; buckle up; and even get a tour of the cockpit. Although the planes never leave the gate, the doors are shut to simulate a real flight. The program takes place at Boston Logan airport twice a year, with one happening earlier this month and another next April. Wings for Autism is set to expand across the country in upcoming years. Meanwhile, this September Blue Horizons for Autism launched at Kennedy International Airport in New York, a new flight rehearsal program for kids from JetBlue and Autism Speaks.
Meanwhile, parents can call the Transportation Security Administration’s TSA Cares Help Line toll-free line at 1-855-787-2227 before flights for questions about screening policies, procedures and what to expect at security checkpoints. JetBlue, for one, has a dedicated Disability Assistance Line: 1-855-ADA-LINE (855-232-5463).
“All air travelers deserve to be treated equally and with respect, and this includes persons in wheelchairs and other passengers with disabilities,” U.S. Transportation Secretay Anthony Foxx said in a statement about the new regulations.
To that I add, anything that makes the lives of families traveling with kids who have disabilities easier gives me a real high.
Who knows better about keeping kids calm, entertained and tears-free during a plane trip than a flight attendant who’s also a mom?
Abigail Valencia is a JetBlue attendant based out of New York City; she has a toddler and a new baby—and lots of smarts on traveling with them! Her proven strategies for stress-free plane trips with the kids this holiday season:
1. Have everything ready to go the night before you leave. “This is my top travel tip!” she says. Who wants to kick off a trip with a mad scramble to find the plane tickets or reservation number? Answer: nobody!
2. Review airport and airline etiquette with the kids ahead of time. “When kids know what to expect, they are more willing to cooperate,” she says.
3. Bring light busy toys. “Leave the bulky toys at home,” urges Valencia. “Small doll play sets, magnetic play sets, tablets and art materials won’t take up too much space. JetBlue has 36 channels of TV at every seat, so Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network can entertain your little one in-flight.”
4. Check all your bags except a carry-on. ”Leaving your luggage behind can help you relax and free you up to keep a better watch over your kids,” says Valencia.
5. Don’t wrap the presents. “Often, the Transportation Security Administration will need to have you unwrap them,” she notes. “Better still, don’t travel with presents–ship them all to your destination ahead of time.”
6. Pack light and pack smart. “Plan outfits for your family for the length of your stay, and only one or two more for unexpected wardrobe changes,” she says. “Compress fluffy sweaters and jackets in space-saving compact travel bags from The Container Store or Flight 001.”
7. Next year, consider traveling before official school vacation. Over the years, we’ve pulled the kids out of school for trips, and we’ve considered the stress saved worth it (besides, the day or two right before vacation aren’t typically heavy-learning days at school). As Valencia says, “Everyone travels as soon as school lets out for vacation. Beat them to it.”