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Wings for All to create airport experience for special needs individuals in Minot

Initiative creates airport experience for special needs fliers

Submitted Photo Participants in the 2019 Wings for All walk toward airport security.

Minot International Airport will host the community’s second Wings for All event this Saturday. The Arc initiative allows families with individuals who require special accommodations to walk through a scenario that offers an airline boarding experience in a relaxed environment.

Donna Bye, who is assisting in organizing the event, said Wings for All activities are planned for times when the airport is fairly quiet, with no actual flights in progress.

“So the families have the best experience they can,” she said.

According to The Arc, people with disabilities such as autism often experience barriers to participating in air travel. Airports and airplanes can be overwhelming and full of unexpected and overstimulating variables, such as bright lights, noises, security screenings and crowds. Too often, there is a lack of understanding among airport and airline staff, leading to confusion on how to handle accommodations or unexpected behaviors when a flier is overwhelmed or anxious about navigating the air travel process.

In participating in Wings for All, individuals will check-in to receive boarding passes, pass through the Transportation Security Administration checkpoint, wait in the boarding area and board an aircraft.

Submitted Photo Some of the family participants in the 2019 Wings for All event at the Minot International Airport gather around the large windows overlooking the airfield.

One parent or caregiver is required for each individual needing special accommodation. A small luggage or carry-on bag can be brought for a more realistic experience and will be available at baggage claim following the event.

There is no age requirement to participate and no cost.

This year’s local Wings for All is funded by Minot’s Power of the Purse, with support from the Minot Center for Pediatric Therapy toward a reception at the close of the event. Bearscat Bakery will be providing donuts, and door prizes will be given. Families also will be able to interact with the pilot and flight attendant at the reception.

Maria Romanick, acting airport director in Minot, said the event is beneficial to airport staff as well as the families. Staff are able, through the event, to become familiar with the needs and behaviors of children with disabilities such as autism, she said. Those children may react strongly to checking in a bag with their favorite toy, take extra time removing shoes or react to loud airport noises with additional loud noises of their own.

“So I think it’s a good program overall for the participants and then the staff that are here,” she said. “We are excited to be able to contribute to a community event that we hope will help spread the word and just give an opportunity for the community to see that we want to support them in things that may be difficult. Traveling isn’t always a fun experience, and I think that this shows that we’re willing to work with individuals who have disabilities, and that we want to be a part of a good experience for them.”

The first Wings for All event in Minot occurred in 2019. Bye, who was involved in organizing that event as well, said she had been looking for information or a video that would describe the airport and airplane experience for her daughter. She learned about a Wings for All event in Grand Forks and began making the contacts to bring a similar event to Minot.

The $2,000 cost that enables The Arc to provide the management and insurance for the event was raised in 2019 through an autism walk, business donations and assistance from an autism support group for parents.

“We had such a great turnout and support with that, that we wanted to try it again,” Bye said.

The event can accommodate up to 50 individuals with special needs and an adult travel buddy.

Although the event is free, families are encouraged to register by 5 p.m. on Thursday to meet the 48-hour advance notice set by TSA for security reasons.

Families are asked to be present by 5 p.m. to go through a modified security process by 5:30 p.m. Free parking is available for those who bring in their tickets for validation. There will be two boarding experience opportunities.

To register for the 6 p.m. boarding, go to https://fs30.formsite.com/wingsforautism/fnrilxbe4d/index.html.

To register for the 6:30 pm boarding, go to https://fs30.formsite.com/wingsforautism/q4i2blkqov/index.html.

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