SYR Hosts Airport Rehearsal Program for Individuals with Autism and Intellectual and Development Disabilities

Syracuse, New York –The Syracuse Regional Airport Authority (SRAA) announced today that Syracuse Hancock International Airport (SYR) hosted another successful Wings for All® event this morning. In partnership with The Arc US, Arc of Onondaga, and United Airlines, today’s event served as an airport rehearsal program for individuals with autism as well as intellectual and development disabilities (IDD). The inaugural Syracuse version of the highly sought-after event was held in 2019 and today’s event marked the return of the rehearsal program to Syracuse after a three-year pause due to COVID-19.

The program aims to alleviate some of the stress that individuals with autism and IDD and their families experience when traveling by air. The rehearsal provides families the opportunity to experience and learn about how their loved ones will react to the wide-ranging stimuli found in the airport environment. Additionally, airport, airline, and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) professionals are given the opportunity to interact with and learn from people with autism and IDD, as well as their families. This provides a better understanding of how to provide services to better accommodate the unique needs of travelers with autism and IDD.

“Today’s event is a direct reflection of the SRAA’s drive to provide a best-in-class airport customer experience to travelers of all abilities,” said SRAA Executive Director Jason Terreri. “We greatly appreciate the partnership of United Airlines, Arc of Onondaga, and The Arc US to bring this deeply meaningful event once again to SYR.”

“We are thrilled to help provide a great experience that proactively focuses on the needs of people with autism and IDD,” said Janet Lamkin, Senior Vice President of Market & Communication Innovation at United Airlines. “What we learn from events like Wings for All® will make the overall travel experience that much better and more inclusive of everyone.”

Approximately 20 families of individuals with autism and IDD rehearsed the entire airport process this morning including parking and walking to the terminal, checking in for their flight, passing through the TSA security checkpoint, navigating the terminal to their gate, and boarding an aircraft provided by United Airlines. Once aboard the aircraft, passengers were provided a snack and beverage service and had the opportunity to interact with United Airlines employees who were guided by United’s Bridge Business Resource Group – whose mission is to connect people of all abilities. Volunteer therapy dog teams from the airport’s Pets Easing Travelers (PET) Program greeted passengers both participating in the rehearsal as well as regularly scheduled travelers.

“We are so excited that the Wings for All® program is back in Syracuse thanks to the partnership between The Arc of Onondaga, Syracuse Hancock International Airport, and United Airlines. Air travel is stressful for most – for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, it can be downright frightening and overwhelming. The change in routine, noise, unfamiliar surroundings, and crowds can all be too much and hold individuals and families back from memorable moments and connections. This program not only helps alleviate those burdens and give a sense of familiarity and comfort, but it also helps educate airport and airline professionals on how they can best serve travelers with autism or other disabilities. It’s vital in breaking down barriers in accessibility and quality of life” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc of the United States.

“Part of living a full life in our community includes being able to travel to faraway locations. People with intellectual/developmental disabilities and their families often experience barriers to participating in air travel. Wings for All® provides the opportunity for families to experience and learn from an ‘airport rehearsal’ and we are truly grateful to the team members from the Syracuse Airport and United for their efforts to make travel accessible for all,” stated Ellen Gutmaker, Executive Director, Arc of Onondaga.

Wings for All® is a national program of The Arc US. Over 25,000 individuals have attended Wings for All® events at airports across the country, providing over 16,000 families the opportunity to participate in the rehearsal program. Nationwide, 38% of participants have reported being able to take a trip within a year of attending the program with 87% of those individuals further reporting they were able to do so successfully with no or minor challenges.

Balloons for today’s event were generously donated by Mickey’s Balloons.

Click here to learn more about accessibility at SYR.

Click here to learn more about The Arc.

Click here to learn more about Arc of Onondaga.

Click here to learn more about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at United Airlines.