WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. (WTNH) – From checking in at the counter to greeting friendly staff and going through a TSA checkpoint, a recent practice boarding event, hosted at Bradley International Airport, is all about walking children with autism through the air travel process to increase their comfort and understanding.
“It’s so meaningful and so incredible,” says Tom Doxey, President of Breeze Airways.
“You know, she’s never flown before. She’s gotten a lot better with handling unknown situations but this is something that was an unknown for all of us,” said Wethersfield mom Jessica Fritz Aguiar who wants her 10-year-old daughter, Reagan, to become familiar with all the activity at the airport.
“They’ve made it really easy. I felt a little bit of stress getting her in here and wanting it to go smoothly but it’s been great so far,” she says, as Reagan adds that she’s excited to board the plane.
This is the second such event at Bradley, drawing double the amount of participants as the first which took place several months ago.
Alan Day, the father of a child with special needs, helped spearhead this effort.
“We started looking at what is provided in the travel industry to help the neuro-diverse population and the answer was nothing,” said Day.
His organization is called Autism Double-Checked because the experience is also about training staff at the airports.
“The point of an event like this is to bring both entities together and to do it in reality,” Day said.
So, families boarded the Breeze Airways plane with excitement, taking their seats, listening to announcements and soaking in the environment.
“We would hear as families would come off of the airplane, hear them say, ‘Next time we’re going on a real flight and we’ll go to Disney World. You did this!’ And you see these beaming faces of the kids,” said Doxey.
The ultimate goal is to open the world up to these families.
Reagan, who loves all Disney characters, is thinking about what she saw while her mom is planning for the future.
“She’s going to go home and tell her little brother who is not on the spectrum all about it and that will be part of the experience,” said Fritz Aguiar. “It will be a new thing to sort of put in her tool box that she can discuss.”
Breeze Airways and Autism Double-Checked are planning to offer these sessions at Bradley International Airport every six months or so.
Organizers are also hoping to start them up at T.F. Green Airport in Providence.
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