Home > Government Relations > Fly Away: Mock Flights Prepare Families With Children on the Spectrum For Air Travel

Fly Away: Mock Flights Prepare Families With Children on the Spectrum For Air Travel

This post is by Stuart Spielman, Autism Speaks Senior Policy Advisor & Counsel.

On February 23rd, five families with children on the spectrum gathered at Newark Airport and boarded a Continental Airlines plane that never left the ground.  By any measure, their trip was a success.

For the children involved, the mock flight provided experience with each phase of air travel: gathering belongings for the trip, riding to the airport, waiting in line at the ticket counter, passing through security, heading to the gate, waiting (again) to board the plane, boarding the plane, preparing for take-off, “flying,” deplaning, waiting (yet again) at the luggage carousel, and then traveling home.  During their journey, the children encountered airline personnel as well as officials from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).  Just as the children gained experience with air travel, so did the airport officials learn more about them and their families.

The mock flight at Newark Airport was arranged by the Autism Explores program based at the Albert Einstein Medical Center, directed by Wendy J. Ross, MD.  Dr. Ross came up with the idea for the airport program after one of her patients had a traumatic travel experience.  “I thought, ‘This can never happen to one of my families again,” Ross said.  Dr. Ross has worked with airline, TSA, and other officials to develop the Autism Explores program, which couples simulated travel with training sessions for airport, TSA, and airline officials.  Her work has been supported by Representative Robert Brady of Pennsylvania and Senator Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey, among others.

Dr. Ross hopes to expand the mock flight program to airports around the country.  She is working on developing similar teaching programs for museums and other destinations for families on the spectrum.

For more information about the Autism Explores program, call (215) 456-6083.

  1. helen
    March 2, 2011 at 10:38 am

    I applaud Dr. Ross for doing this for families that need it! I was really lucky, to my son, our flight from Utah to Virginia (1 layover) was like an extended car ride and he loved it! No freak outs, no nothing…. it helped that the layover was time to eat and use the facilities :)) lol… nothing extended! Different Not Less!!!

  2. sandra
    March 2, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    this is a great program. i have a son with autism and not many people understand about it and i applaud this effort to make travel easier for a family with children with autism.

  3. Laura Craig
    March 2, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    I flew my son Southwest on a two hour flight. Had major anxiety of how he was going to handle it. The young lady at the curb-for baggage at the airport in Phoenix for Southwest, did a wonderful job of makeing our trip comeing home a little bit easier. She put my son as pre-boarding. Which disabled passengers qualify. By doing this we sit whereever is most comfortable for him. We sat in the back, by the restroom. When you get to the airport, you tell them you have a disabled passenger and need preboarding. I also brought extra things for him to keep him busy on the plane.

  4. March 2, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    Thank you Dr. Ross and Autism Speaks for what you do for us!!! This is such a GREAT idea! Double education ;)

  5. L
    March 2, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    This can be done at BWI in Baltimore, MD on Southwest. Someone I know who works for Pathfinders for Autism did this and her son had a great experience.

  6. Anita
    March 4, 2011 at 8:07 am

    Wish this kind of program could expand all over. Many different types of businesses could learn how to avoid unfortunate upsets if they just had a little knowledge and empathy. Actually the folks at service agencies like SSA could use some education too.

  7. geo
    October 20, 2011 at 12:03 am


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