”Wings For Autism’ is a program developed three years ago by JetBlue airlines to help kids with autism become more familiarize with airport settings.
Here are some highlights from May 4th, 2013 event, at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, for those who didn’t get a chance to attend. This post can be printed as a PDF and be used as a visual aid or part of a social story to show kids with autism what to expect at the airport.
Bob Hope Airport is the perfect place to hold the ‘flight drill.’
It is smaller, quieter and easier to navigate than its international counterpart, LAX.
The atmosphere at the JetBlue ticket counter was festive –the families were welcomed by colorful balloon columns and excited staff members.
By 1:00 PM the first families arrive, present appropriate identification and just like on a real flight receive their boarding passes.
The TSA checkpoints
After having received the boarding passes the families walk past food venues and shops to the TSA checkpoint.
The first family has arrived at the TSA checkpoint.They’re about to find out first-hand that with the right planning; the screening process can be a breeze.
The families wait in a small line after which the boarding passes and drivers’ licenses/passports are checked again.
Many larger and busier airports have a separate line for families and passengers with disabilities.
Upon arrival at the TSA checkpoint travelers are expected to put, their bags and personal belongings like jackets, belts and shoes in the gray bins.
Electronic devices like laptops or iPads need to be uncovered and placed in a separate container.
Adults and kids over the age of twelve need to remove their shoes off and put them in the bins.
While the bags are screened, passengers proceed (barefoot or wearing socks) to pass the scanner.
Passengers who do not wish to go through the scanner can request a pat down instead.
Parents who want to avoid unnecessary TSA ‘incidents’ should practice the scanning position with their kids at home.
The position includes standing upright, feet 12 inches apart and both arms straight up in the air.
At the gate
At the Boarding Gate, JetBlue, and Burbank, airport surprised the families with a delicious snack buffet that even included Vegetarian and Gluten-Free options.
Many parents came well prepared with iPads and other electronic devices to occupy the kids while waiting to board the mock ‘flight’.
Most parents used the wait at the boarding gate area to network and meet other parents with children on the autism spectrum as well as grab a quick bite to eat.
The flight attendant checked the passengers boarding passes before they exit the terminal.
Guests were told to keep track of those passes as they were entered into a special raffle at the end of the event.
A few of the kids had to be patiently coaxed by their parents and the flight crew to try the new experience.
The flight passengers were all warmly welcomed onboard by the dedicated airline crew (all of which had volunteered to participate.)
During the ‘mock flight.’
All passengers were given time to familiarize themselves with their new surroundings – press all tempting buttons, watch the screen personal TV as well as look at the view out the aircraft window. The pilot kept the engine running to give the kids with autism a real sense of what the sounds would be like on a regular flight as well as the much-needed air conditioning.
The flight attendant announced the flight was ready for taking off, and the safety demonstration ensued.
Before deplaning the kids were in for an unusual treat-visiting a real cockpit and sitting in the copilot chair.
Parked on the tarmac was yet another surprise-a working fire truck, which the participating kids and their siblings could explore.
The airline raffled off four tickets at their event flight.All participants received a ‘Wings-For-Autism’ T-shirt and fun filled goodie bag.
JetBlue plans to expand the program to several new airports like Long Beach, California and JFK in New York in the next few months.For information contact JetBlue via their web page.