The Arc will hold its first Wings for Autism event on Saturday, April 11, at Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport.

Held in partnership with ExpressJet Airlines, the Transportation Security Administration, Baton Rouge Airport and The Arc Baton Rouge, the event is an airport “rehearsal” specially designed for individuals with autism spectrum disorders, their families and aviation professionals.

The aim of the program is to alleviate some of the stress that families who have a child with autism experience when traveling by air.

The program provides families with the opportunity to practice entering the airport, obtaining boarding passes, going through security and even boarding a plane. This experience is equally useful for families with someone who has other intellectual or developmental disabilities and who are concerned about the ability of their family member to travel.

Wings for Autism also gives airport, airline, TSA professionals and other personnel the opportunity to observe, interact and deliver their services in a structured, learning environment.

The United Airlines aircraft being used for the event will allow for up to 50 families from the South Louisiana area to benefit from this experience. Rehearsal starts at 7 a.m. Upon arrival at the airport, participants will check in to receive their boarding pass, go through security and be greeted at the gate prior to boarding the plane. A small reception will be held afterwards.

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“We are excited to be hosting this brand new event here in Baton Rouge. For young persons with autism, air travel can prove particularly challenging between clearing security, the overwhelming noises and harsh lights. This program will not only alleviate the stress children and their parents may feel, but help educate airport and airline professionals about how best to serve children with autism or other intellectual and developmental disabilities in the future. We are grateful to our partners at Baton Rouge Airport, ExpressJet/United Airlines, and the local TSA, who are committed to making air travel possible for families with children with autism and other intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said Barry Meyer, executive director of The Arc Baton Rouge.

Jim Caldwell, air service development and marketing manager for Baton Rouge Metro Airport, added that the “program literally opens a window to the world for families with children with autism and other disabilities by demystifying the airport experience.”

“Everyone deserves a memorable vacation with their loved ones. That’s why it breaks my heart to think of the families who have never been able to travel outside of the Gulf South area. Most families take airplane travel for granted, but those who care for children with autism often fear getting on a plane, or even going through security at the airport. Thanks to the support of our Wings for Autism partners and volunteers, our goal is to produce this event several times a year, enabling all families to travel with more confidence,” said Susanne Romig, director of Community Relations and Development for The Arc Baton Rouge.