Vancouver International Airport and Canucks Network Partner to Raise Autism Awareness Through ‘Learn to Fly’ Program | West Observer

May 5, 2024 | by

Vancouver International Airport and the Canucks Autism Network have collaborated to offer a flight day simulation event called “Learn to Fly.” The purpose of this initiative is to increase accessibility for air travel for individuals on the autism spectrum. Airport staff explained that individuals on the spectrum often experience anxiety and sensory sensitivities that can make the airport environment overwhelming for them. By providing these tours, the goal is to reduce anxiety, minimize travel barriers, and boost confidence by preparing autistic individuals for what to expect, thus creating a less stressful and more predictable airport environment.

Participants in the “Learn to Fly” event were taken on a tour and given the opportunity to rehearse the entire preflight process on a recent Saturday. Lindsay Petrie from the Canucks Autism Network emphasized the importance of allowing families to conduct a dry run of the entire airport experience. The goal is to increase predictability and decrease anxiety for the participants. This event is held annually, but this year marked a significant first as participants were able to experience a short taxi on the runway while inside the airplane. One participant’s mother, Lalaiane Parker, shared that her son had been afraid to board an airplane since 2011, which had prevented them from traveling. She expressed hope that the event would help her son overcome his fear of flying and enable him to journey to visit family members living outside of Canada.

The “Learn to Fly” event at Vancouver International Airport, in partnership with the Canucks Autism Network, aims to provide individuals on the autism spectrum with a practical and hands-on experience to prepare them for air travel. By familiarizing participants with the airport environment and enabling them to rehearse the preflight process, the initiative seeks to reduce anxiety, increase predictability, and build confidence among autistic individuals. This year’s event included a unique opportunity for participants to experience a short taxi on the runway, enhancing their exposure to the flight experience. For families like Lalaiane Parker’s, whose son had previously been fearful of flying, the event represents a significant step towards overcoming travel barriers and empowering individuals to embark on journeys with reassurance.

The collaboration between Vancouver International Airport and the Canucks Autism Network to host the “Learn to Fly” event highlights a commitment to promoting inclusivity and accessibility for individuals with autism. By recognizing the challenges that individuals on the spectrum may face in navigating the airport environment, the initiative offers a tailored experience that aims to address their specific needs and concerns. Through hands-on activities and guidance from airport staff, participants are provided with the tools and support necessary to navigate the air travel process with confidence. The event serves as a positive step towards creating a more accommodating and understanding airport environment for individuals with autism and their families.

The positive impact of the “Learn to Fly” event is evident in the stories of participants like Lalaiane Parker’s son, who had previously avoided flying due to fear and anxiety. By participating in the event, individuals are able to confront their fears, gain a better understanding of the air travel process, and build the confidence needed to embark on future journeys. The event serves as a pivotal moment for families and individuals on the autism spectrum, offering them the opportunity to experience a supportive environment that fosters learning, growth, and empowerment. Through partnerships and initiatives like the “Learn to Fly” event, airports and organizations can work together to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for individuals with autism, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to access and enjoy air travel with comfort and confidence.


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