Five PSA team members recently partnered with volunteers from American Airlines to provide a life-changing experience for a group of special needs children.
Through Wings for Autism and It’s Cool to Fly AA program held at Piedmont Triad International Airport (PTI), dozens of families with special needs children were introduced to the steps involved in the day-of-departure travel experience. They went through security procedures, how to board an aircraft, how to find their seat and experience taxiing on the runway.
Many families hesitate to travel by air because of a child’s special needs and how others may perceive the child’s behavior, said Sumanth Reddimalla, Assistant Director of Corporate Security and Emergency Response for PSA, who has been part of four Wings for Autism events.
The experience opens doors many families perceived as closed. “Allowing these individuals to practice opens up an entire world to them. Travel now becomes an opportunity and option. Often the struggle for these individuals is the unknown and with a program like this, that factor is removed and their anxiety levels are greatly reduced and manageable,” said Melanie Lopez, Flight Attendant for PSA.
The event provides crew members and the station employees tools they can apply on future flights to better assist customers with special needs.
Lopez, who has a background in special education, was participating in her fourth event, “Often, passengers with autism are non-verbal because they can’t handle the noise around them and wear sound blockers and I’m able to communicate with sign language. If our crew members take a few minutes to learn a few signs to communicate such as, “Hi, how are you?” and “What is your name?” we are able to make an entire community more comfortable onboard and show we care.”
Flight Attendant Britt Roach said, “This gives parents and children a chance they may never get in real life and that’s a practice run at traveling with a child with special needs.”
Roach said this event is special to him because it brought back memories of working with autistic and special needs children and adults at a healthcare facility. He said it is an honor to be able to participate and looks forward to future events. “A special ‘Thank You’ to PSA and American Airlines for the opportunity to let me help make someone else’s life a little bit easier.”
There is a rewarding feeling from participating, the volunteers said. “The overall experience for the crew was one of excitement to be helping individuals with autism experience this life-changing event. We all feel really honored and privileged to have participated and be a part of their journey. This event is one I hold near and dear to my heart.” Lopez said.
The event was successful through the collaboration between the ARC, PSA’s Dispatch Department, Security and crew volunteers, along with the PTI (Piedmont Triad International Airport in North Carolina) and American Airlines’ volunteer program.