By Kate Raddatz

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A program at the Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport is helping children and adults with special needs feel more comfortable in the air.

“The kids, they’ll come here with their families. We like for them to show up with their bags as if they’re actually going to go travel,” Delta pilot Ian Barrett said.

The “Navigating MSP Airport Program” took off five years ago. It’s a partnership among the Metropolitan Airports Commission, Fraser, and the Autism Society of Minnesota. The program is offered once a month at the airport.

“The loud noises might get to him,” Gabriella Giancola, from Andover, said.

michael giancola Program At MSP Airport Helps Those With Special Needs Prepare To Fly

Michael (credit: CBS)

Giancola’s 6-year-old son, Michael, has autism. He arrived at the airport Saturday to join the December event, with a bag he packed himself.

“Maybe the enclosed space [will be difficult], we don’t know quite yet, but we’ll figure it out as we go,” Giancola said.

Michael and other kids and adults go through security, tour the terminal, and board an airplane with the help of volunteers. They also meet the pilot of their airplane.

“I’d like to welcome you to flight 4955, service to Funsville,” the flight attendant said over the intercom.

The experience helps those with special needs get used to the waiting and the sounds. Plus, mom and dad get assurance their children can do it.

“Flying is a whole slew of new sensory experiences,” Stephanie Schroeder, who registered her daughter for the program, said. “She’s doing great so far.”

While the plane never actually taxis away to take flight, the experience gives kids and adults, even some nervous fliers, the courage to do the real thing all on their own.

Now that he’s done the trial run, Michael will be flying soon for a vacation in Tennessee.

“It’s a fun day for all of us,” Giancola said.

The free program has monthly sessions except for February due to the Super Bowl next year.


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