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.

Onboard
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!

Comments

  1. Hello, I had noticed in the beginning you had spoke about your son being in the leaps and bounds program in woodland? I’m considering getting my daughter into that program, I’m scheduled to tour the 16th of June. I was really hoping to get a parents point of view if you could email me that would be great!! I’m sorry that this is a question rather then a comment.

    • Margalit Francus says:

      Hi Annie,
      Thanks for reaching out and contacting us.
      We apologize for not responding earlier but we were abroad traveling.We reviewed the program but our son never attended the program since he started flying over a decade ago and has flown over 500 times over the years.This post was written by one of our readers whose son actually did attend the program and enjoyed it very much.
      What we do need to emphasize about all these flight prep programs is that they are not a magic solution,so parents should attend multiple flight simulations in tandem to using other resources like social stories and visits to airports to help their kids .
      We hope this answers your question .Feel free to contact me with any other questions.

  2. Carrie Carlson says:

    Hi, I just came across your post. Was this at the Sacramento Airport?

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