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How Wings for Autism Helped the Fitzpatrick Family Take Their First Family Vacation

10/06/16
Charles River Center, Needham

Dear Wings for Autism Team,  

 

It’s been a couple of weeks now since we returned from our family trip to New Orleans in August with our son Sean.  Dave and I want to thank all of you at the Charles River Center, Massport and Jet Blue who implemented the Wings for Autism program for him.  Sean loved being treated as a V.I.P and he was able to overcome his anxiety over flying and getting through an airport, so he could get from Boston to New Orleans and be a part our family reunion.    This was his first flight in seven years, and the both the travel and the entire trip went so much better than we ever could have imagined.    And we know we have you all to thank for getting us off on a great start and getting us home.

   

We are grateful to Charles River Center for starting this program in collaboration with Massport and Jet Blue, and for inviting us to the practice walk-through last November, which really helped to prepare Sean for what he’d experience at Logan Airport.

   

We arrived at Logan on August 3 a bit concerned, as Sean’s anxiety had kicked in, but once we parked and caught the shuttle to the departure area, we were met by a Massport Customer Service Specialist, who marched us to the ticket counter and immediately got us checked in.  Sean stopped as he entered the terminal and showed signs of panic at seeing all the people and the long lines, but we were able to assure him he wouldn’t have to deal with any of that and he would move through very quickly. 

   

Once we got through check-in in record time, Sean balked and said he didn’t want to go through Security as he was afraid of it.  But again, he was reassured that he was going to get through without waiting in lines.  And then a wonderful TSA officer came out to meet Sean, and was just lovely with him.  He opened up a separate line that we walked through up to the x-ray machines.  The other TSA officers were very helpful and patient with Sean and got him through very quickly.  By the time that was done, Sean was feeling very positive and happy about the experience and proud of his ability to get through that without having a meltdown.

 

We were then taken to the airplane gate and met the Jet Blue desk crew. They kindly allowed Sean board first, so he didn’t have any shoving or pushing as he got to his seat.  And they immediately gave him a can of ginger ale to hold on to, which he had been very anxious about.

   

There were some tense moments on the flight to New Orleans, when Sean heard sounds he didn’t recognize and we experienced a tiny bit of turbulence.   But the TV screen and some noise-cancelling earphones were very helpful, as was the fact that it was a direct flight. Again, the airplane crew could not have been more attentive and hospitable during the flight and when we deplaned. 

   

Our trip was lovely, visiting family in New Orleans and on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. 

   

When it was time to fly back to Boston, we had wonderful support from the General Manager of Jet Blue in New Orleans.    She met us at the entrance to the airport and took all of our luggage to check, and she had already gotten our boarding passes.  She also expedited our passage through security, and escorted us to the Jet Blue gate.  This time our flight was delayed a bit, but she kept in touch with the crew preparing the plane and walked us onboard before any other passengers.  She and the crew were so helpful in getting Sean settled and ready for the flight. He was much better on the way back, as he was more familiar with sounds and issues he might experience.  And again, we were blessed with good weather and a smooth flight.

   

When we arrived back at Logan and were deplaning, we were met by the General Manager of JetBlue at Logan, who came to make sure everything went ok.  Sean was so thrilled by this and told him how grateful he was for the help he received.  He even told us on the way home that he would like to go back to see family in New Orleans some day.  

 

Dave and I just can’t believe how smoothly this trip went, when we had been so anxious about it for so long.   We are deeply indebted to Charles River Center, Massport and Jet Blue staff who were there to help Sean and us and make our family vacation a real joy!   And we only hope more families in the U.S. will be able to experience the incredible level of service and assistance that we did through the Wings for Autism program.   Many, many thanks, and bless you all!

   

Sincerely,

   

Ellen, Dave and Sean FitzPatrick


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