Program provides airport walk-through for people with special needs

HOUSTON – The Arc is an organization devoted to supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

One of its missions is to help that segment of society become fully engaged in their communities. Being able to navigate air travel goes a long way toward accomplishing that.

“You ready to get started?” Catherine Henry asked her son, Jaylyn.

Along with his brother and uncle, John Henry, the trio were at Bush Intercontinental on Tuesday to participate in Wings for All.

It’s a program put on by The Arc in partnership with United Airlines and the Transportation Security Administration.

It’s designed to give participants a chance to experience the process of flying without the pressure of travel.

Not only does Jaylyn have autism, but he’s got a big trip to see his aunt coming up and he’s never been on a plane before.

“[I] was kind of freaking out about it so I was like, ‘Awesome, we have something,’” Catherine Henry said, describing Wings for All. “It’s hard. You know, 'cause you constantly having to worry like when you bring them to school, like are they in the best of care? Are they going to have a meltdown today? Are they going to runaway today? Is it going to be a good day?”

During the event, the group and their families go through the entire process of traveling by air. They check in at a ticket counter, receive boarding passes, go through security, find their gate and, yes, even board a fully staffed plane.

“Dealing with security, I think that’s an issue for anyone is to follow those commands and I think having that experience with someone you don’t know directing you and following those directions is very important,” John Henry said.

“You always hear, ‘No you can’t, no you can’t, no you can’t’ and so I want him to be in the process of believing that he can do something. This is a great way to integrate them into just a community of people that we live with so it’s awesome,” Catherine Henry said.

When asked if he’s ready for takeoff, Jaylyn responds with an enthusiastic, “Yes!”