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Blue Horizons for Autism: Families Find Success at JFK Airport!

This is a post by Ali Watters of the Autism Speaks Family Services team. The team is so excited about the success of the Blue Horizons event and we hope to have many more in the future!

On Saturday, September 21, we were thrilled to partner with JetBlue to host Blue Horizons for Autism at JFK Airport in Queens, NY.  Blue Horizons provided over 300 people with the opportunity to navigate the air travel experience in a realistic, relaxed environment, surrounded by other families in the autism community. We know that air travel can be challenging for individuals affected by autism due to sensory issues, communication difficulties and other symptoms. As a result, many families do not fly due to the fear of the response it could elicit from their children with autism, as well as fellow travelers and airline crewmembers. Blue Horizons was designed to allow families to practice the airport experience with the goal of opening the doors to future travel opportunities for families in the autism community!

Every effort was made to ensure the run through was as close to the actual air travel experience as possible. Families arrived at JFK’s Terminal 5 and walked right up to the ticket counter where they picked up their boarding passes and were given their boarding time and gate number. They then made their way through TSA security and explored the terminal or sat at their gate until boarding time. After all of the participants had boarded the plane by row number, the flight crew performed the full in-flight demonstration, and the plane pulled away from the gate! Air traffic control at JFK allowed the plane to circle the airport on the ground so families could experience the plane in motion. The participants were on the plane for roughly 30 minutes. Some were even able to sit in the cockpit with the pilots! Once they got off, there was a reception in the terminal of snacks and drinks to celebrate their accomplishment. We’d like to send out a special thank you to the ten behavior analysts from Nassau Suffolk Services for Autism who were onsite and volunteered their time to help support the participants throughout the day!

We have already gotten wonderful feedback from families who participated in Blue Horizons for Autism. Check out some of the comments below!

Such a great program! My kids enjoyed the whole experience. The staff from Jet Blue and Autism Speaks were great. Couldn't believe that during our "flight" not one meltdown. Can't say enough about this program Thank You for a great experience!

This was awesome!! Took my son today and JetBlue was wonderful!! They made this experience so pleasant and fun for my son. They were very helpful and I'm so grateful to them for doing this! My son loves planes now!

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for today. Our sons had a great day and everything went so smoothly. Thank you for helping us in our efforts to return to life as we once knew it :)

Want to let you know how much my son (and I) enjoyed yesterday's event at JFK. I was deeply moved and several times fought back tears. Thank you and all of the employees at JetBlue who gave so generously of their time on a Saturday to help our kids.

My 7 year old son had a fear of airplanes so I signed up for the event as soon as I found out about it. I was amazed he boarded the plane without incident. Now I have confidence we will be able to travel via airplane. Thank you, Autism Speaks!! 

We were so pleased with the success of the event and we hope to work with JetBlue in the near future to host other Blue Horizon events around the country! Stay tuned to our website and Facebook pages for potential opportunities near you!

If you are preparing for air travel with your family, be sure to check out Adventures in Autism: A Guide to the Airport Experience, which we created to help families get ready for their trips!

*We would like to thank JetBlue, Port Authority, TSA and Wyndham Worldwide for making this event possible!

[slideshow:2, order=top, width=550, height=350, img=| /sites/default/files/images/training_0.jpg||| Over 40 volunteers are briefed Saturday morning before the passengers arrive!||, img=| /sites/default/files/images/plane.jpg||| The JetBlue plane was able to ride around the tarmac for 20 minutes!||, img=| /sites/default/files/images/staff_at_gate.jpg||| JetBlue staff announcing that it’s time to board!||, img=| /sites/default/files/images/family_boarding.jpg||| Families wait to hand their boarding passes to the gate attendants to get on the plane.||, img=| /sites/default/files/images/family_walking_on_jb.jpg||| One excited family heads down the ramp to their seats.||, img=| /sites/default/files/images/flight_attendant_jb.jpg||| Friendly flight attendants provided in-flight announcements and safety directions. Photo credit: JetBlue||,img=| /sites/default/files/images/group_on_plane.jpg||| A view from the front of the plane.||,img=| /sites/default/files/images/boy_with_ipad.jpg||| One passenger plays with his iPad before thef light attendant announces electronic devices must be turned off during takeoff.||,img=| /sites/default/files/images/boy_chips_jb.jpg||| Participants were given JetBlue chips and water on board the plane. Photo credit: JetBlue||,img=| /sites/default/files/images/applause_getting_off_plane_jb.jpg||| Volunteers cheered as participants walked off the plane back into the gate. Photo credit: JetBlue||, img=| /sites/default/files/images/reception.jpg||| Families celebrated with snacks, drinks and cupcakes from Baked By Melissa after the event!||, img=| /sites/default/files/images/family_at_reception.jpg||| One happy family is excited about their experience at Blue Horizons for Autism!||, ]

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.