One of the many educational events hosted by SUN ‘n FUN during the year is a new program called Transition to the Sky.
Designed to introduce flying to travelers with special needs, Transition to the Sky allows people to experience the process and the procedures of commercial air travel. The step-by-step practice and explanation of how to perform these routine tasks in a realistic environment builds confidence and teaches understanding, according to program officials.
Sponsored by AeroShell and SUN ‘n FUN, the program simulates an air travel experience from ticketing, check-in, baggage handling, security screening, boarding, and claiming luggage.
Education Director Richele Floyd and Robb Williams, executive director of the Aerospace Center for Excellence, act as airline staff and guides. Volunteers also assist by acting as TSA agents and ticketing staff.
At the latest event, held March 22, 16 participants and their guardians, including a service dog in training, experienced the program. Some of them came from Noah’s Ark, an assisted living facility for adults with special needs. Others came from outside Polk County.
“Everyone was happy and excited to participate,” said Floyd. “I explained why, for example, we have to take off our shoes when we go through security. The service dog had been to Tampa International Airport before, but I understand he was afraid of stairs, so he had to learn how to climb the stairway into the plane, instead of walking through a gangway.”
Williams acted as pilot as he explained features of the aircraft and fielded questions.
“I have to admit that we have always been nervous about flying because we were afraid of all the unknowns,” said one mother. “An airport can be an overwhelming place for anyone, much less someone with autism. This program gave me an opportunity to watch him move through all the different stations and observe his behaviors. I think he had a great time! He was like a sponge, especially when the pilot was talking about what to expect when you are on a plane. I think all the participants learned a lot and I feel so much better about actually going to an airport.”
Several Transition to the Sky events are held throughout the year on the SUN ’n FUN campus and the Lakeland-Linder Regional Airport terminal. Dates for the next event have not been set.
Find out more at FlySNF.org/Educational-Programs/Transition-To-The-Sky.