Traveling is often tough for kids, but for children with autism spectrum disorders, it can be a completely disorienting.
JetBlue is working with airports and local autism awareness groups on its “Wings for Autism” program, which aims to provide a relaxed environment for families with special needs children to get comfortable with sights and sounds of our airports and planes.
The first airport and group to participate was Boston Logan International Airport and the Charles River Center, which will take place April 6 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Families interested in participating sign up through the Charles River Center.
For the past three years, the airline's Boston crewmembers have volunteered their time to introduce the possibility of travel to children with autism spectrum disorders. More than 400 families in the Boston area have had the opportunity to rehearse the travel experience and see whether travel is feasible for their families.
This year, JetBlue will extend the program to other cities in its network. On May 4, JetBlue's Burbank and Long Beach Airport crewmembers will partner to host the first-ever "Wings For Autism" event at Burbank Bob Hope Airport. Later this year, the airline will coordinate its first "Wings for Autism" program at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Autism now affects one in 88 children. Taking a family vacation with a child with autism can be stressful, and for many families it is often an impossible dream. Anxiety, long lines, loud noises and unfamiliarity all come into play when navigating through the airport.
"Wings For Autism" not only practices the boarding process, the program provides families with the time, resources and compassion for their children to become more comfortable with this new experience. JetBlue works with The Charles River Center, to train crewmembers to meet both the anticipated as well as unexpected needs of families traveling with a child with special needs.
"Wings For Autism" experiential field trips allow families to get familiar with air travel in a realistic, yet relaxed setting. The trips include trained JetBlue crewmembers providing assistance throughout the process, the use of a stationary JetBlue aircraft for families to practice the boarding process, time for families to become familiar with a plane's interior and the opportunity to meet the pilots and inflight crewmembers.
Every child deserves the chance to go on a vacation with his or her family, says Ian Deason, director of airport operations, JetBlue.
"Our crewmembers found an extraordinary way to utilize our work to provide an invaluable experience to a previously underserved community,” Deason says in a release. “Our core values include caring, integrity and passion which our crewmembers live on a daily basis. It is truly inspiring to see our crew be able to make the dream of a family vacation a reality."