A buzz of excitement and a touch of nervous anticipation filled Miami International Airport as over two dozen families convened for the MIA Air Tour on Wednesday, 17th April. This event, a highlight during Autism Acceptance Month, aimed to demystify air travel for children with disabilities. Through the comprehensive MIA Airport Instruction and Readiness Program, these families embarked on a journey to conquer flying fears by participating in a full-scale flight rehearsal.

Little Alexander’s eyes were wide with wonder—he was boarding a plane for the first time. His mother, Lavinia Ana, shared their mixed emotions. “I’m a little nervous but excited simultaneously,” she confessed. Their real trip to Romania was just a week away, making this practice run a crucial step in their preparation.

From the moment they checked in at the ticket counter to the final steps onto the airplane, each phase was designed to build confidence and familiarity. The families navigated the complex maze of airport security checks and bustling gate areas, all structured to simulate an actual travel day as closely as possible.

Ralph Cutie, the Director of MIA, emphasized the program’s inclusive spirit. “Our goal by having this program is for anyone, regardless of their disability, to be able to experience the magic and wonder of flight like everyone else can,” he stated, reflecting the airport’s commitment to accessibility.

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Miami-Dade Commissioner Raquel Regalado echoed the sentiments and emphasized the community impact. “We want our families in the spectrum and all of our families with disabilities to be able to enjoy what everyone else enjoys,” she said. “The next time they come, and they’re actually taking a flight, they’re not anxious, they’re not scared. They know exactly what to expect. They’ve been through the process, and that is transformative for our families and our passengers.”

During the event, children and parents also had the opportunity to meet and interact with flight crews and airport personnel, who shared tips on travel safety and comfort. This interaction demystified the roles of those assisting them during actual flights and personalized the experience, adding a layer of reassurance.

Testimonials from participants underscored the significance of the day. Anely Herrera, a parent who works at MIA, was optimistic she could finally get her son on a plane thanks to the rehearsal. “You know, coming to the ticket counter, making the line, going through security checkpoints, going into the aircraft and, hopefully, sitting, finally,” she said. “This will be wonderful for our family so we can travel with him.”

This experience benefitted not only the families but also the airline and TSA employees, who gained invaluable insights into the needs of travelers with special requirements. MIA also offers two multi-sensory rooms, essential resources for children seeking a quiet escape from the bustling airport environment.

Looking ahead to their upcoming travels, Lavinia hoped to get understanding from fellow passengers. “I hope everybody is understanding and kind and prepared a t-shirt for him, so we will be aware,” she remarked, indicating their efforts to communicate Alexander’s needs.

Miami International Airport’s initiative prepares children and their families for future flights and enhances the travel industry’s approach to inclusivity, ensuring the skies are friendly for all.