family travel

Airports, vacation spots get autism-friendly

Courtesy The Arc

 

Travel can be really stressful. Even scary sometimes.

For families who have children with autism and/or other intellectual and developmental disabilities, the trip to and through the airport, and on to grandma’s house or a vacation in another city, can be just too difficult to even consider.

But there are programs and truly caring people out there who are trying to make that process a little easier.

Here’s a slightly shortened version of my piece on autism-friendly travel efforts I wrote for NBC News:

Because her almost 5-year-old son Matthias has sensory issues associated with autism Latonya Bingham’s family only takes vacations to places they can reach by car, sometimes leaving the house at 2 a.m. when the roads are calm and quiet.

Bingham would love to take Matthias on a trip by plane, so this week mother and son signed up for an  air travel ‘rehearsal’ at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

The program allows families to practice going to the airport, passing through security, waiting in the gate area and getting onto a plane — all without the cost and commitment of a plane ticket — and is coordinated by The Arc, a Washington, D.C. organization that has hosted 75 similar events at more than 40 airports around the country.

Matthias has issues with crowds and loud noises, so Bingham was worried Matthias would have problems with the TSA experience and the boarding process, but all went smoothly until Matthias was on the plane, where “He felt too enclosed,” said Matthias, “He preferred the window to be open – and was ready to get off after 5 minutes.”

The chance to do an airport test run definitely made a difference for Katy Guerra’s son Danny, a 10-year-old with autism who doesn’t do well with change or fast-paced environments.

The military family is used to moving but has never had the opportunity to move together as a family overseas.

“We had put off taking trips because we didn’t want to be ‘that family,'” said Guerra, “and Danny has always made it clear he cannot go in airplanes because the air is too thin. So we knew there would be some issues.”

But after going through one of The Arc’s Wings for Autism programs, (also known as Wings for All) and spending two months preparing, Danny took his first plane ride: a 14-hour flight to Seoul, South Korea.

Test runs like this not only give families a chance to see how a child with a special need will react to the airport experience, they give airport, airline and TSA employees a chance to learn and practice how to interact with children and adults who have autism and/or other intellectual and developmental disabilities as well.

Sensory Rooms and Autism-Friendly Travel Destinations

In April 2016 Delta Air Lines opened a quiet, multisensory room at the Atlanta airport with a mini ball pit, bubbling water sculpture, tactile activity panel and other items to help ease the airport experience for customers traveling with children on the autism spectrum.

Myrtle Beach International Airport in South Carolina opened a “quiet room” for people with special needs not long after, and this month, Europe’s first airport sensory room for passengers with autism opened at Ireland’s Shannon Airport.

In the tourism-focused Myrtle Beach area “autism-friendly” goes beyond the airport.

The new $3.2 million ADA-approved Savannah’s Playground has special sensory-friendly features, there’s a quiet room for people with autism at the Myrtle Beach Speedway and, with a special card secured online or in-town locations, families can secure special accommodations for a child with autism at area attractions, hotels and restaurants where staff has been specially trained.

And to make sure potential visitors know the community gets that traveling with kids who have autism can be especially chaotic and unpredictable, in January, 2016 the town council in Surfside Beach, on the southern end of the Myrtle Beach, signed a proclamation declaring the area to be the first official autism-friendly travel destination.

 

Bonus airport amenities

Not content to rest on the laurels of being named highest in guest satisfaction in this year’s J.D. Power North American Airport Satisfaction Study, Portland International Airport is forging ahead with new amenities for travelers.

This week it’s a cool new play area for kids on Concourse D near Gate D7. that has places for parents to sit, shoe cubbies, sculpted foam play elements (I see a plane, a bunny, a duck, a deer, and is that a pickle??) on a soft safety flooring system.

And if you’re traveling this week, be on the lookout for holiday decorations, music, and visits by Santa Claus and his elves in many U.S. airports.

On Tuesday, December 20, for example, the Austin Jazz Workshop is performing holiday hits from 1-2 p.m at Austin Bergstrom International Airport and on Wednesday, December 21, Santa will stop by Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport from 10 am to Noon for a meet and greet – and photo ops – on the ticketing level in the terminal.

Souvenir Sunday: Open House at PIT Airport

pit-airport-santa

Now that Thanksgiving is over, it’s time to get going on that holiday shopping list.

And for the third year in a row, Pittsburgh International Airport will be doing its part by hosting a one-day Holiday Open House – on Saturday, December 3 – where the general public gets access to all the post-security airport shops.

The airport updated and upgraded its mix of local and high-end retail shops and restaurants not too long ago with the likes of Martini, Vino Volo, Strip Market, Armani Jeans, Hugo Boss, Harley Davidson and Sportzburgh and on December 3 will have an on-site Santa, music, free parking and a wide variety of retail and dining specials.

It’s a great event for locals, of course, but a reminder for anyone passing through PIT Airport to check out the shops anytime. Especially because in Pennsylvania there’s no tax on most clothing – and shoes.

Registration details for the Open House and a list of specials for the day are here.

pit-kidsport

And next time you’re at PIT Airport, make your way over to Concourse C, where there’s a new and improved Kidsport as well.

 

 

 

 

Travel Tidbits from BWI & ANC Airports

Here’s news about some nice new amenities at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgoood Marshall Airport (BWI) and Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.

BWI playground

BWI has this nice new playground equipment at the Thomas A. Dixon Jr. Aircraft Observation Area and park, which is part of the BWI Trail network, a 12.5 mile scenic trail that encircles the airport.

BWI VIctoria's Secret

BWI also recently added three new specialty shops: Sock it to You, a locally owned shop in Concourse C selling, you guessed it, novelty socks; Victoria’s Secret Beauty, selling makeup, fragrances and select lingerie; and Marhsall Rousso’s, offering women’s fashions and accessories.

ANC Pork & Pickle

Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (ANC) had a ribbon cutting event for the grand opening of Pork & Pickle (fun to say, right?), a modern gastropub and bbq concept from HMSHost.

The restaurant smokes it meats on-site and the menu includes smoked pork spare ribs, smoked beef brisket, smoked paprika BBQ turkey breast, ‘dirty chips’ (made with BBQ trimmings), and the restaurant’s signature ‘pork & pickle’ pulled pork sandwich with bread & butter pickles.

This is Alaska, so there’s also Alaskan hot smoked salmon salad and Alaskan cod & chips on the menu and a nice variety of local and regional beers.

Not going to Alaska anytime soon? There’s also a Pork & Pickle in Kansas City International Airport, in Terminal B.

Air Carnival at O’Hare & Midway Airports

ORD air carnival

Send in the clowns – well, at least the stilt walkers and the balloon-animal makers…

This summer Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway Airports are bringing back the Air Carnival – a program designed for children but certainly entertaining for all.

Air Carnival will feature face painting, balloon sculpting and stilt walkers at various spots in the terminals each week, as well as music, free food samples (including cheesecake and cotton candy) and appearances by Ronald McDonald, Mr. Potato Head and Anna, Elsa and Olaf from Disney’s popular movie, “Frozen”.

MIDWAY BALLOON SCULPTING

The Air Carnival will take place each Thursday in Midway Airport and each Friday in O’Hare from June 16th through August 12th from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Air Carnival kicks off today (Wednesday, June 15) at Midway with The Chicago Blues All Stars playing in the Midway Boulevard food court starting at 12:30 p.m.

You can see the full schedule for Air Carnival activities scheduled at O’Hare here and at Midway here.