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PANYNJ Hosts Event at Newark Liberty Airport to Familiarise Autism Community with Airport Experience

Date December 18, 2023

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has hosted a training weekend at Newark Liberty International Airport’s new Terminal A for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families by providing a simulation of the air travel experience. The event, ‘Wings for All’, was coordinated with the goal of providing individuals and their families with an opportunity to familiarise themselves with the air travel experience, which can be intimidating for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“Traveling can be challenging and intimidating, especially for families like mine that are traveling with individuals who have intellectual or developmental disabilities,” said Port Authority Vice Chair Jeffrey Lynford. “It is important that we work to alleviate any stress that comes with air travel. We are grateful for this partnership, and for the volunteers who make this programme possible. These experiences are also valuable in assisting the collective airport team to learn how to better serve our diverse community.”

The training included 159 registered families, as well as dozens of volunteers, who participated in simulated security screening, movement through the terminal, and the boarding process of an aircraft. Airport staff from the Port Authority, United Airlines and the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) participated in the training for passengers. The agencies also used the opportunity to train staff on how to better assist individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and their families to ensure their safety and comfort.

“Wings for All is a life-altering programme,” said Michael Kunz, CEO of Munich Airport NJ LLC, the operator of Newark Liberty’s Terminal A. “By helping families and individuals understand and experience the airport and airplane environments first-hand, the programme creates familiarity with the process, reduces fear, increases confidence, provides peace of mind, and in short, it opens up the world for these kids and their families.”

Participants moved through Terminal A’s newly opened sensory room, a 1,000-square-foot space designed in consultation with leading autism experts from the Anderson Center for Autism, which had certified the space and provided training to terminal staff.

“At United, we strive to make the flying experience inclusive and comfortable for customers of all abilities whether they’re flying from our busiest hubs like Newark Liberty or smaller stations across the country,” said Linda Jojo, Executive Vice President and Chief Customer Officer, United Airlines. “Events like Wings for All provide us the opportunity to learn first-hand how to create those experiences for our customers with IDD and their families.”