Hartsfield-Jackson's Wings for Autism event.

Children with autism take on world’s busiest airport

Hartsfield-Jackson International hosted an airport “rehearsal” Wednesday for 40 families with autism to practice moving through the airport, boarding and being in the airplane cabin.

The program is aimed at reducing stress when flying for families that have a child with autism and raising awareness for airport, airline and Transportation Security Administration workers. The annual event is run by The Arc Georgia, an organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, in partnership with Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines.

The rehearsal can help acclimate those with autism “to the sights and sounds of the airport,’ said Hartsfield-Jackson general manager Roosevelt Council.

Delta captain Erich Ries, whose 11-year-old son is on the autism spectrum, during remarks to the families at Wednesday’s event said he has traveled with his son 50 times, but acknowledged “it’s not always easy.”

“I think I get more stressed with my son sometimes than I do flying the airplane,” Ries said. But the airport rehearsal gives families a sense of empowerment, he said. Delta also holds tours and has a multi-sensory room on Concourse F at Hartsfield-Jackson for children with autism.

“Our goal is to make them as comfortable as possible with the flying process,” said Matt Sparks, Delta’s vice president of airport operations at Hartsfield-Jackson.

Max Bingham, a Lawrenceville father whose son Matthias has autism, said when they attended the event last year, Matthias didn’t even want to go down the jetway.

But this year, “It ended up being a wonderful experience,” Bingham said. Matthias enjoyed the event and even wanted to sit in first class. 

David and Jovana Jimenez of Suwanee brought their 6-year-old son Ian to the airport for the rehearsal.

“Everyone understands,” Jovana Jimenez said. “Nobody is looking at you, staring at you -- you know, talking to you about your child, what’s going on with your child, what’s wrong with your son.”

David Jimenez said Ian is getting more comfortable at the airport, “so I think we may fly with him, maybe next year.”

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