Large and long illuminated rectangular light fixtures hang by the dozens from the high ceiling on the Mobile Regional Airport (MOB). In the middle of the wide-open terminal foyer a long escalator quietly hums taking passengers to the main concourse.
Trickling in like raindrops on a plane window, families carry backpacks and roll-aboard luggage into the terminal. With wide eyes sparked with excitement, the children look around for their next adventure.
Slowly they make their way to the ticket counter to begin their rehearsal day at the airport. Today, these parents and their children with autism are taking the next step to easing themselves into the regular motions of taking a trip by plane.
Wings for Autism is a program designed by The Arc, a national non-profit organization helping people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, that gives families and their children a chance to lessen any stress of traveling by air before they make a real departure. The rehearsal takes participants from the ticket counter, through security and to boarding the aircraft.
Envoy Station Agents at MOB helped the participants check their bags, print their boarding passes and board the aircraft. The program was a collaboration of The Autism Society of Alabama, Mobile Arc, Mobile Airport Authority, and regional airline partners. The event is also part of American Airlines “It’s Cool to Fly American” program.
Many of the families participating in Wings for Autism have trips coming up soon, and the program is perfect for their needs.
“We’re going on a trip to South Carolina this summer, so we’re testing to see how he will do on a long ride,” says the grandmother of nine-year-old Lawryn. “But he’s so excited to get on an airplane for the first time!”
Lawryn jumps up and exclaims, “yeah!,” and zooms around with his arms out like an airplane. In fact, many of the children posed the same way looking like a fleet of Embraer jets taxiing down a runway.
Little Johnny jumped up and down in sheer excitement. Five-year-old William held on to his mother’s hand as he cautiously approached the escalator. A red-headed little girl stands in awe as she nears the security checkpoint.
Like seasoned travelling professionals the children go through security with hardly a hiccup. And once they’re through the metal detectors, it’s off to the gate for the main event.
Attention to cuteness
Not only is Wings for Autism beneficial to its participants, but employees of the airport can also learn from the day’s rehearsal trip. Sure, children can brighten up any cloudy day, but more importantly they can bring out the best in customer service.
“This program really teaches us patience and to be more considerate of people with special needs,” says Envoy Station Agent Jamila “Super J” Ali.
“For us, the attention to detail becomes our focus,” says Envoy Station Agent Shanna Corbin in agreement with her coworker. “Children require more attention and it’s good for us to be more mindful of that.”
Chuck Davis, Envoy Regional Managing Director, was on hand to volunteer with Wings for Autism. Ecstatic to be a part of the effort, Chuck expresses his gratefulness for any program that reduces challenges for the travelling public, he says.
Also, as is apparent by his pinned-on grin, Chuck loves helping children. All around him, fluttering around the concourse, children laugh, play and shriek with anticipation.
As soon as the boarding calls are made, the children and their parents are lined up raring to go. With a few beeps from the scanner and a “welcome aboard” from the gate agents, the children begin their journey down the jet bridge.
Finally, the gate doors are closed and the children have officially boarded their first plane. After a short taxi around the airport runway to get a feel for the experience of sitting on a full plane with all its noises, smells and sounds, the children return from their trip newly initiated to the world air travel.
“We are pleased to have the opportunity to help Wings for Autism,” says Chuck Davis. “We’re honored and excited to share with these wonderful families what we love – the thrill of travelling by air.”