Air travel is not easy for anyone these days. Between airport traffic, parking, security lines and delays, the inconveniences can seem endless.
For people with disabilities, the process can be even more complicated and intimidating.
The Arc of Central Alabama, an organization that serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families, worked with Southwest Airlines – with support from Regions Bank – to host a program recently to make air travel less daunting.
The Arc’s Wings for All program welcomed a group of their younger clients, ranging in age from three to 18 years, and their families at the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport for a mock-travel experience.
The Wings for All program is a life-changing event for so many families.
The event helps further the organization’s mission to support inclusion and participation for people with disabilities. And that important mission is shared by Regions, as well.
Kathy Lovell, Regions Disability Services and Outreach manager, said, “Air travel is an important part of life. Everyone looks forward to going on vacation or visit family and friends.”
“This is a trial run that gives these young people some confidence. When a real trip is planned, they’ll better understand all the steps involved and will have a very positive experience to recall,” she said.
The participants were ticketed and went through the normal check-in process, including TSA security screenings. They boarded the plane, were served drinks and snacks (very important!) and were provided the usual safety information by flight attendants.”
“We tried to make the process as close to a real flight experience as possible,” said Ashton Johnson, director of development at the Arc of Central Alabama.
A lucky few even got to enter the cockpit and sit next to the pilot in the co-pilot seat.
“The Wings for All program is a life-changing event for so many families,” said Paula Bedran, who participated in the event with her son, Mason. “It helps families understand what challenges may occur at an airport, so that they can plan and pack accordingly for their actual trip. This event is also a great way for those with disabilities to experience everything without going anywhere, so that when their trip comes up they are not overwhelmed with all the newness of the airport and the crowds.”
The Arc of Central Alabama has hosted Wings for All since 2015 and Arc chapters across country have also held the program in other cities and airports – with Regions’ support. But this was the first time they’ve been able to do it since the pandemic curtailed many of their in-person activities.
Along with Kathy Lovell, who spoke to the group on the plane about Regions’ commitment to help remove barriers for people with disabilities, Community Relations Officer Sarah Moss and Regions volunteers were on hand to support the event.
“We were so pleased with Wings for All 2022. It was a great event and we received really positive feedback from the families,” said Emily Hamilton, vice president of development at Arc of Central Alabama. “We are grateful to Regions for the financial support and for providing milk and cookies to the participants after they deboarded the plane. It was a long travel day for these kids, even though they never left the tarmac!”
Bedran also expressed gratitude to Regions and all the organizations and volunteers who made the program possible. “As a parent of an autistic child, I can speak to the importance of this event. I am so thankful for Regions, the Arc of Central Alabama, the Southwest crew, the Birmingham airport and their staff and the TSA staff, who received additional training to help serve these individuals,” she said.
“Wings for All gives the gift of travel to so many families!”