JetBlue’s ‘Wings for Autism’


”Wings For Autism’ is a  program developed three years ago by JetBlue airlines to help kids with autism become more familiarize with airport settings.
Here are some highlights from May 4th, 2013 event, at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, for those who didn’t get a chance to attend. This post can be printed as a PDF and be used as a visual aid or part of a social story to show kids with autism what to expect at the airport.


The airport

Bob Hope Airport is the perfect place to hold the ‘flight drill.’
It is smaller, quieter and easier to navigate than its international counterpart, LAX.

 JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' AIRPORT BALOONS

The atmosphere at the JetBlue ticket counter was festive –the families were welcomed by colorful balloon columns and excited staff members.

 JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' WELCOME

By 1:00 PM the first families arrive, present appropriate identification and just like on a real flight receive their boarding passes.

 JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' STAFF

The TSA checkpoints

After having received the boarding passes the families walk past food venues and shops to the TSA checkpoint.

 JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' CORRIDOR
 The first family has arrived at the TSA checkpoint.They’re about to find out first-hand that with the right planning; the screening process can be a breeze.
 JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' SECURITY
The families wait in a small line after which the boarding passes and drivers’ licenses/passports are checked again.
Many larger and busier airports have a separate line for families and passengers with disabilities.

 JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' QUEUE

Upon arrival at the TSA checkpoint travelers are expected to put, their bags and personal belongings like jackets, belts and shoes in the gray bins.
Electronic devices like laptops or iPads need to be uncovered and placed in a separate container. 
Adults and kids over the age of twelve need to remove their shoes off and put them in the bins.
While the bags are screened,  passengers proceed (barefoot or wearing socks) to pass the scanner.
Passengers who do not wish to go through the scanner can request a pat down instead. 

 JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' TSA

Parents who want to avoid unnecessary TSA ‘incidents’ should practice the scanning position with their kids at home.
The position includes standing upright, feet 12 inches apart and both arms straight up in the air.

 JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' SCREENING

At the gate

At the Boarding  Gate, JetBlue, and Burbank, airport surprised the families with a delicious snack buffet that even included Vegetarian and Gluten-Free options.

 JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' LUNCH
JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' FOOD

Many parents came well prepared with iPads and other electronic devices to occupy the kids while waiting to board the mock  ‘flight’. 

JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' GIRL

Most parents used the wait at the boarding gate area to network and meet other parents with children on the autism spectrum as well as grab a quick bite to eat.

The flight attendant checked the passengers boarding passes before they exit the terminal.
Guests were told to keep track of those passes as they were entered into a special raffle at the end of the event.

JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' TRAVELERS
A few of the kids had to be patiently coaxed by their parents and the flight crew to try the new experience.
JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' GATE

The flight passengers were all warmly welcomed onboard by the  dedicated airline crew (all of which had volunteered to participate.)

JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' PLANE

During the ‘mock flight.’

All passengers were given time to familiarize themselves with their new surroundings – press all tempting buttons, watch the screen personal TV as well as look at the view out the aircraft window. The pilot kept the engine running to give the kids with autism a real sense of what the sounds would be like on a regular flight as well as the much-needed air conditioning.

JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' BABY
The flight attendant announced the flight was ready for taking off, and the safety demonstration ensued.


JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' SAFETY DRILL


Before deplaning the kids were in for an unusual treat-visiting a real cockpit and sitting in the copilot chair.

JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' PILOT
Parked on the tarmac was yet another surprise-a working fire truck, which the participating kids and their siblings could explore.

JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' TRUCKS

The airline raffled off four tickets at their event flight.All participants received a  ‘Wings-For-Autism’ T-shirt and fun filled goodie bag.

JetBlue's 'Wings for Autism' GIFTS

JetBlue plans to expand the program to several new airports like Long Beach, California and JFK in New York in the next few months.For information contact JetBlue via their web page.

Jetblue’s New Program for Families with Autism

Many of you might have heard by now of JetBlue’s new program to introduce autistic kids to flying called “Wings for Independence.‘ In case you were wondering how it felt to be there -here’s a first-hand account from our reader, Jessica Lowrance.

Experiencing Jetblue's program "Wings for Independence" for Autistic Kids

How we heard about the program:

I have a five-year-old autistic son and a three-year-old daughter who has a speech delay (which is common with siblings of autistic children). My son is in a program here in Woodland, Ca called “Leaps and Bounds”  for children who have autism.
He came home with a flier about the program called “Wings for Independence” and I immediately RSVP because lately my son has developed an interest in transportation.  We’ve taken the ferry to Fisherman’s Wharf, and we have tickets coming up for the Sacramento River Train.
I wasn’t sure how we’d get him on an airplane (both physically and financially), so when I saw this, I KNEW he’d love it.

Arriving at the airport
We arrived at 6 P.M. or so even though check -in was around 7p. M . We arrived early (intentionally)  and parked very far away to give us time to explore the airport before checking in.
We had taken multiple elevators, escalators, and walkways before we arrived at our check- in counter (it was also to wear the kids out a bit!)  They advised us to bring ‘luggage’ which was empty, but it was, so we could have it checked and also carry on.

Navigating the airport
We arrived, checked our baggage and received our tickets for our flight.  We were instructed on how to make our way through the airport to our terminal and began our little journey throughout the airport.
We took the trolley to security (we rode that trolley about four times! My kids loved it)  and handed our tickets over and proceeded to security.  We let several people ahead of us because we were having difficulty getting our children to stand still, but eventually we got them through the metal detector.
We walked into a convenient store to pick up some snacks and then headed to our terminal at about 7:15 P.M.

Flight delays!
We were scheduled to start at 7:30 P.M. and luckily; the airport was nearly empty, so the kids ran around for 15 minutes. The fifteen minutes turned into forty-five minutes, which made it seem more like a REAL flight with average delays.  By 8:15 P.M., we had about 50 people around us.
We soon realized we may have “under” packed as all the other families were well equipped to keep their children busy: they had brought coloring books, crayons, I-Pads, and games.

This was our first experience, so we brought NOTHING, but it was alright because our kids preferred to run around and look at the rain through the windows.  We have then informed that the scheduled meet- and- greet with a pilot would begin shortly and that we were slated to get on a plane by nine p.m. ( we had to wait for an actual flight to arrive, and it was delayed a bit).

Meet and Greet
Around 8:30 p.m., we got introduced to a pilot who had three autistic children and loved volunteering for this program because he knew what kind of challenges we faced.
We also got to speak with flight attendants who gave us a lot of useful information we probably would NOT have known.
One of the things we learned was that you could tell the desk when you to check in you had a child who requires special attention, and they’ll guide you through the airport almost like an escort (which I thought was great!).
The children were getting a bit restless because it was quite late in the evening, but all the volunteers were a great help. They sang songs, played games and kept the children very interested.

At about, 9:15 p.m. we got on board the JetBlue plane -we handed over our tickets and found our seats.  They gave us headphones for the televisions in front of our seats, went through routine procedures ( safety regulations) and let the kids roam around the airplane.
The kids even went into the cockpit and were handed out snacks for them to enjoy.  They let us stay on the plane for as long as we wanted and when we got off the plane, they gave us a goodie bag with LOTS of things inside.  We went to baggage check to pick up our ‘luggage’ and made the long journey back to our car.

How did the experience help
Needless to say, our kids were WIPED out on the way home! I can’t wait for this program to be offered again, Officials said it’ll be a lot earlier in the daytime, and hopefully, we wouldn’t have to wait so long to board a flight, but  I think it worked out great because it seemed like a REAL delayed flight!

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