Kidding around at Lambert-St. Louis Int’l Airport


Lucky kids at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport (STL) now get to play in a new 1,500 square-foot transportation-themed play that comes courtesy of the The Magic House, St. Louis Children’s Museum.

Located in the C Concourse at Gate C2, the play area has a mini airport with a kid-sized plane, air traffic control tower, car rental counters, luggage conveyor belt and an airport screening area with (pretend) x-ray machine.



Other forms of transportation are represented as well: in addition to a car, a truck and a van, the play area has a mock MetroLink light rail train.

(Photos courtesy Lambert-St. Louis International Airport)

Flying with autism

Littlejohn Family

Henry (in center, with red shirt) and his family during Wings for Autism event


Air travel can be stressful for even the most experienced road warriors. But it can be much tougher for families with a child on the autism spectrum who becomes unnerved by the lines and security procedures at the airport and the tight quarters and strange noises on an airplane.

For the Littlejohn family it was dreadful.

In 2010, they had plane tickets to fly from Boston to Orlando for a vacation at Walt Disney World. “My son Henry, then 6, has autism but had traveled well before. This time he was very anxious on the way to the airport. And by the time we got on the plane he was melting down; kicking and screaming,” said Susie Littlejohn.

Before the plane could take off, they had to make a decision: Her husband ended up going on to Orlando with their older son, Jack; Henry and his mom got off the plane and went home.

Littlejohn thought the air travel process might go smoother if children like Henry had a way to practice going to and through the airport and getting onto the airplane. She mentioned that idea to Jennifer Robtoy, the director of Autism Services at the Charles River Center in Needham, Mass, and Robtoy got in touch with Massport, which operates Boston Logan airport, to see if something could be worked out.

“Within an hour of sending an e-mail to Massport, I got a reply,” said Robtoy. And within six months Massport, TSA,  the Charles River Center (which is a chapter of The Arc) and several airlines (including JetBlue, United and Delta Air Lines) had created Wings for Autism, now a regular event offering families with children on the autism spectrum a chance to go to the airport and get on an airplane during a low-stress, dry run.

“A lot of families aren’t sure if air travel is a possibility for them if they have a child with autism. But during this event they simulate everything as if you’re traveling,” said Littlejohn, whose family has attended all but one of the Wings for Autism events Boston Logan has hosted.

“You park, take the moving walkway from the garage, wait in line, show your ID, get boarding passes and make your way through security. Everyone has a boarding time and gets on a plane,” she said.

During the event, the airplane engines are kept running so kids can feel – and hear – what that is like. The planes don’t actually leave the ground, but when it’s time for “takeoff” the cabin door is closed and safety announcements are made. During the “flight,” beverages are served and there’s a snack service.

Kids are also invited to visit the pilots in the cockpit.

Wings for Autism

Rebekah Tirrell, of Johnston, R.I., receives a flight lesson from Jonathan Wakeman, first officer at JetBlue, during “Wings For Autism” program at Boston Logan Airport – Courtesy JetBlue



“We’ve found that some kids have issues walking down the jetway or when it is time to step on the plane,” said Brad Martin, director of customer service at Boston Logan.

For others it’s when they’re getting strapped into their seatbelts or going through the emergency drill with the flight attendants.

“We know that for some kids it’s just not doable,” said Martin, “But some kids are just fine with everything and then the family knows they can do this.”

Martin said Boston Logan’s Wings for Autism program not only helps kids and their families tackle some of air travel issues, it also teaches airport and airline employees, as well as TSA officers, about the challenges autism can place on traveling. “They learn what to look for and how to handle certain situations and it teaches them to be patient and to see how they can help,” he said.

And that attitude can rub off on other travelers.

“If other passengers see a staff member willing to give a hand when a child with autism is having a hard time at the airport, they may also be more accepting, aware and sympathetic,” said Littlejohn.

Autism now affects one in 88 children nationwide. So while the Wings for Autism program is a big success at Boston Logan airport, families traveling with a child who has mild to severe autism would like to find sensitive and trained staff at all airports.

That may happen.

The Autism Society of Minnesota participates in the Navigating Autism program at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and, thanks to a grant from Autism Speaks, The Arc has licensed the Wings for Autism program and will take it  nationwide to more than 50 airports within the next three to five years.

Wings for Autism events are currently planned at the Detroit and Baltimore airports. JetBlue is hosting a program at the Burbank Bob Hope Airport in California on May 4 and another one at New York’s JFK International Airport this fall.

“Because of this program, there will be fewer wedding, graduations and other important family occasions missed,” said Greg Principato, president of Airport Council International – North America, “More people will experience more and more places. And one of the limits autism can place on so many good people will be removed.”

And what about Henry Littlejohn, the 6-year-old whose meltdown inspired the Wings for Autism program in the first place?

Now eight, he was able to get on the plane during the event held at Boston Logan Airport earlier this month.

“It took a lot of hard work and patience,” said his mom, Susie Littlejohn. “We’re getting there, but air travel isn’t an option for us right now. We’re just so thankful there’s an opportunity to practice.”

(My story, Flying with Autism, first appeared in April 2013 as my At the Airport column on

Santa’s flight successful

Spokane Airport TSA

Although all elves must undergo enhanced pat-downs at airports, the NORAD Santa Tracker is reporting that Santa has been able to fly around the world with a sleigh full of wrapped packages without being hassled.

Whether or not you believe in Santa, NORAD’s Santa-tracking story is a sweet one. It dates back to 1955, when NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command) was CONAD, the Continental Air Defense Command

According to the NORAD website:

The tradition began in 1955 after a Colorado Springs-based Sears Roebuck & Co. advertisement for children to call Santa misprinted the telephone number. Instead of reaching Santa, the phone number put kids through to the CONAD  Commander-in-Chief’s operations “hotline.” The Director of Operations at the time, Colonel Harry Shoup, had his staff check the radar for indications of Santa making his way south from the North Pole. Children who called were given updates on his location, and a tradition was born.

NORAD’s website has an audio clip of Shoup describing that first call.

Changi Airport offers free rides on the super slide

October 1st is Children’s Day in Singapore and to celebrate Changi Airport is offering everyone – kids and adults – free rides on the world’s tallest slide in an airport.

Changi Airport Slide

Rides on the one-and-a-half story preview, or kiddie, slide are always free.

But tokens for rides on the four-story Slide @T3 usually require a receipt showing you’ve spent at least $30 in a single airport shop.

From October 1st through 3rd, though, no proof of purchase will be required: all rides will be free.


And here’s some good news: the rules for sliding will change once the Children’s Day free ride promotion is over.

Changi Airport giant slide

Beginning on October 4, 2010, tokens for rides on the big slide will be handed out to anyone spending just $10 at the airport.

You’ll find the entrance to the big slide in Terminal 3, Arrival Hall (Level 1), in the public area.

The entrance to the preview, 1½-story slide is in the Basement 2 area of the airport.

Both slides are open daily from noon until 10:30pm.

Happy Children’s Day!

Vintage postcard kids

(Thank-you Graphics  Fairy)