A 12 year old boy is sitting in the waiting area of what appears to be an airport terminal with other people waiting to board an airplane. But, he’s not at an airport, and the plane isn’t real. We’re at a movie studio in the San Fernando Valley. The studio uses its sets to help families with autistic children learn to deal with the stress of air travel.
Talaat Captan is the CEO and Founder of Air Hollywood. Located in Pacoima, the 100,000 square foot studio has sets used to shoot everything from airport checking to a flight inside of a jumbo jet.
More than 100 children and parents are here today taking part in the “Open Skies For Autism” program. Air Hollywood works with “Reach,” a group which helps those with developmental disabilities, to offer the program. Darlene Hanson, with “Reach,” says families go through everything from ticket check-in to a simulated flight.
Two of the families are at an airline ticket counter, picking up their tickets. They then file down a corridor and up to some security gates where a number of TSA agents are stationed. While the sets aren’t real, the people staffing them are. More than a dozen TSA agents are here, volunteering to help.
After families go through ticketing, and TSA screenings, they are ushered into what looks, and feels like a real airport waiting area. Part of what the autistic kids are learning is that waiting is part of the process. Finally, it’s time to board. People walk through a realistic looking boarding gate, and enter the passenger cabin of a jumbo jet.
While the flight isn’t real, the flight attendants are, and they take people through standard seat and preflight routines. There’s a short simulated flight, complete with noise and vibration, and then it’s time to deplane.
The hope for families is that this will allow them to travel with the kids on the autism spectrum incident free. The five year old program is free. Captan it feels great to have families come back with travel success stories as a result of the experience they get through “Open Sky.”
The next "Open Sky" event is planned for this Ocotber.