About two dozen families introduced their special-needs children to the airport experience through Mercer County’s inaugural Let’s Investigate Flying Together (LIFT) exercise at Trenton-Mercer Airport.
LIFT, which was organized by the County of Mercer, Trenton-Mercer Airport (TTN) and the Mercer County Special Services School District, is designed to allow children with autism to become familiar with TTN, airport procedures and the federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) process before taking an actual airplane trip. The 90-minute program May 6 took participants through the experiences of entering the airport, getting boarding passes, going through security, sitting in the passenger hold area, and collecting their luggage through baggage claim.
“Our goal was to help families prepare for a positive flying experience from Trenton-Mercer or any other airport,” said Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes. “This first exercise went very smoothly, and we hope to offer additional LIFT events for people with special needs who could benefit from an airport exposure program.”
Airport officials and Special Services School District staff members were on hand to answer questions and help participants understand the airport procedures. Also taking part in the exercise were TSA, Worldwide Flight Services, Mercer County Sheriff’s Office and Sky Lounge at Ewing restaurant.
Feedback received from participating families following the exercise will help shape future LIFT programs. Overall, participants said they enjoyed the airport experience and would consider traveling from TTN.
“Thank you for organizing this event! Frankly, I have some anxiety regarding flying with my son and … exposing him to the process and environment before we actually fly will lessen that,” wrote one parent, who offered a special thank-you to the TSA staff for their desire to learn about the autistic population and how they could best assist travelers, making sure they are safe but compliant.
“Everything went well,” wrote another parent. “My 4-year-old enjoyed his first experience in an airport.”
Some participants said they were disappointed that they were not able to board an aircraft, but organizers expressed hope that an aircraft could be made available for future LIFT exercises.