On Sunday, September 18, 2016, more than 300 people in the autism community from the New York City area participated in the fourth annual Blue Horizons for Autism at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens. Blue Horizons, hosted through a partnership between JetBlue Airways and Autism Speaks, provides families with the opportunity to practice the full air travel experience in the most realistic setting – the airport!
The goal of these events is to help families prepare for future travel. Most participants have never flown before, and Blue Horizons is a great opportunity for them to “try out” the experience with their families in a fun and supportive way. Participants in two boarding sessions arrived at the airport and checked in at the ticket counter. They traveled through TSA security, following all of the rules required during an actual trip through the airport. Participants waited at the gate, boarded the plane with their boarding passes and flight attendants simulated the on board experience. The plane then taxied around the runway before pulling back to the gate where passengers deboarded and cheering volunteers awaited their “arrival”.
In addition to the many volunteers from JetBlue, TSA, JFK airport and Autism Speaks, the event was supported by staff members from Nassau Suffolk Services for Autism, a non-profit organization in Commack, N.Y. The NSSA team helped children and adults with autism who faced challenges throughout the day.
“I just wanted to send a note thanking the staff members from your school for helping at the blue horizons event at JFK today,” wrote one mother to the Executive Director of NSSA. “They were absolutely amazing and did not give up on our son! I know he was a difficult passenger but three of your staff members did everything they could to help and even though it wasn't a pretty start. My son finally conceded and sat nicely for his ride on the plane...thank you so much!!! We hope to do this again in the future...And again, it would NOT have been possible without your tremendous support.”
Said another parent, “We attended the event at JFK today, and it was amazing. It really helped my son experience the airport, and made him more at ease for our actual trip next month. The support and encouragement from the volunteers, and Jet Blue staff were key, and they provided some suggestions on how we can make the actual flight a positive experience. Fortunately my son really liked going on the airplane, and even asked to have the window seat!”
Autism Speaks would like to sincerely thank JetBlue, TSA, JFK Airport and Nassau Suffolk Services for Autism for all of their efforts that made this day so memorable for families in the autism community. Stay tuned for more information about Blue Horizons for Autism!