Low cost airline JetBlue set a new benchmark in access to air travel with the launch of Blue Horizons for Autism in cooperation with Autism Speaks.
Blue Horizons for Autism may be a small step for JetBlue, but it is definitely a giant leap for inclusion in air travel. On 21 September, Autism Speaks and JetBlue hosted more than 100 families for Blue Horizons for Autism, an airport rehearsal travel experience, at New York’s JFK Airport.
JetBlue is not new to promoting inclusion to air travel for people with ASDs. Last May, the airline’s Burbank team participated in their first ever Wings for Autism, an event JetBlue’s Boston Crew members have been involved with since May 2011.
In the United States, Autism affects one in 88 children. Air travel for families with autistic children can be a stressful time; congested airport terminals, long queues, flight delays can easily impact the journey for people with Asperger syndrome.
Preparations for the JFK event began one week earlier. Autism Speaks staff conducted the training of JetBlue crew members and TSA staff about autism and how to best meet the needs of families and passengers affected by autism.
"This was important to me as a crew member and the parent of a child on the spectrum," Corwin Kong, Security Manager at JetBlue said. "My daughter was able to be in an airport for the first time and we stayed for two hours. We also made it onto the plane but had to leave shortly after because she became very nervous. We’ll try again next time but thanks to everyone for your dedication to bringing humanity back to air travel.“
Blue Horizons for Autism simulated the entire process of a typical journey. Families began their day by checking-in at JetBlue’s ticket counter, and then proceeded through TSA security and the waited at a designated gate for their mock flight. Upon boarding the plane, JetBlue crew members led the families through routine pre-take off procedures and safety demonstrations. To simulate the in-air experience, the plane taxied for 20 minutes around the airport and pulled into another gate to disembark. Families were then treated to a reception to celebrate their accomplishment.
JetBlue and Autism Speaks are hoping to conduct programs in five other cities; Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, and San Juan. JetBlue and Autism Speaks also prepared this checklist of useful tips for parents traveling with autistic children:
1. After you book your flights, call JetBlue’s Disability Assistance Line to identify any special accommodations your family might need when traveling. Be sure to let crewmembers know of your requests when you check in or arrive at the gate.
2. Practice waiting on lines before going to the airport. Bring incentives if necessary to help keep your child calm during waiting periods.
3. Make sure your child is aware that ALL electronic devices must be turned off before take-off and landing. Be sure to have non-electronic toys or activities for these times.
4. When dressing for the day, keep in mind that shoes, belts and jackets will have to be removed going through security. It is advisable to wear clothes with zips instead of buttons, slip-ons instead of tie shoes.
5. Going through the airport can be a challenge for any family but be kind to yourself and try to remember to have fun.