Recently some of our Raleigh-based crew members had the opportunity to be a part of a very special event co-sponsored by American Airlines and the Autism Society of North Carolina. The event simulated the airport experience for children with autism so that they would know what to expect the first time they boarded a commercial flight. The children also had the opportunity to board a Trans States Embraer 145, and were shown exactly what would happen during the first 20 minutes of a real flight.
Captain Jonathan Jones, who was in the cockpit during the simulated flight experience, believes that the experience was a great way to acclimate autistic children to the airport environment before actually taking a flight. “Often times, environments like airports can be overwhelming for families touched by autism,” he remarked. “This means that families are putting their expenses at risk if they have to cancel travel plans due if their children become affected by the airport setting.”
The simulation exposed the children to just about every aspect of catching a flight, with the exception of taking off. The children and their families checked in with a gate agent at the ticket counter and checked their bags. After going through security, they headed to the gate area, where Captain Jones, as well as First Officer Will Browne, and Flight Attendants Amy Furlough and Misty Burmingham, spent the afternoon making them feel comfortable, even showing them pictures of what the inside of the aircraft would look like. The children then boarded the aircraft via a jetbridge. During the boarding process, the children were given gift bags to commemorate the experience, including their very own wings, just like our crew members wear.
After the children and their families were settled with their seatbelts fastened, the flight “took off” by pushing back from the gate and taxiing for about 20 minutes to a remote parking spot. Before the flight “descended” and returned to the terminal, there was even a beverage service.
Captain Jones said that organizers deemed the event a complete success, and the kids loved it, especially receiving the gift bags with the wings inside. “That really made their day,” he added. Captain Jones went on to remark on the importance of giving back to the communities we serve. “Our passengers are our neighbors. Events like this give us an opportunity to back to our them, and to actively contribute to our community.”