Philadelphia International Airport Hosts First Wings for Autism Event, Enhancing Travel Experience for Families with Disabilities

Wings for AutismImage via the Philadelphia Airport

PHILADELPHIA, PA — In an innovative effort to make air travel more accessible and less daunting for individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities, Philadelphia International Airport (PHL), in collaboration with The Arc of Pennsylvania, Frontier Airlines, and MarketPlace PHL, successfully hosted its first-ever Wings for Autism® event on April 27. This pioneering initiative offered approximately 30 families from the Philadelphia region a unique opportunity to familiarize themselves with the airport environment and the various stages of air travel in a stress-free and supportive setting.

The participating families embarked on a comprehensive simulation of the air travel experience, starting from check-in at Frontier’s Terminal E, proceeding through the TSA security checkpoint, waiting in a designated boarding area, and culminating in boarding an actual Frontier aircraft—albeit one that remained grounded. To cap off this invaluable experience, each family received a gift bag at baggage claim and was treated to lunch, underscoring the event’s aim to create a positive and memorable learning experience for both the families and airport staff.

Denise Bailey, the Department of Aviation Vice President of Business Diversity and Accessibility at PHL, highlighted the significance of such events in enhancing accessibility and understanding within the airport community. “To be able to offer opportunities to make air travel more familiar and feasible to all of our community members makes our airport and services more accessible and builds our internal stakeholder understanding of this important and growing part of our community,” Bailey stated.

Beyond providing a unique rehearsal experience for families, the Wings for Autism® event served as an educational tool for airport, airline, and TSA staff. It allowed them to gain firsthand experience in interacting with passengers with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs), thereby improving their ability to accommodate and assist all travelers with compassion and proficiency.

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Leah Douglas, the Department of Aviation Director of Guest Experience, reflected on the event’s success and its impact on participating families. “All of the families were very grateful to have the unique opportunity for this all-encompassing rehearsal experience. There were smiles all around and everyone deemed it a success,” Douglas remarked. With plans to host additional Wings for Autism® events in the future, PHL is committed to expanding this initiative, allowing more families to benefit from this thoughtful and inclusive approach to travel preparation.

The Wings for Autism® event represents a significant step forward in making air travel a more inclusive and less intimidating experience for individuals with IDDs and their families. By providing a platform for rehearsal and learning, PHL not only enhances the travel experience for a vital segment of the community but also sets a precedent for airports nationwide to follow suit in fostering a more welcoming and accessible environment for all travelers.

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