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'Test flight' for people with disabilities to practice air travel

'Wings for All' is a program for people with autism or intellectual and developmental disabilities to rehearse the airport experience and alleviate anxieties.

BANGOR, Maine — The process of flying can be overwhelming for many of us.

However, for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities, the travel process can cause major anxiety. Big crowds, long lines, bright lights, and loud noises can all be triggering for such people. That is why many families that have a loved one with autism or a disability prefer to drive to their destinations.

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Now, a new program coming to airports is helping to alleviate some of the stress and anxiety that comes with travel. The program offers "flight tests," a practice airport experience. 

"It is an air-travel run for individuals on the autism spectrum and also other cognitive disabilities," says Andre Porello, an Allegiant Air representative.

Before the airport trial, flying seemed out of the question for the Beils family. 15-year-old Kristian Beil has autism and is non-verbal. Now, after going through the program, Kristian's father Mark Beil says he might take 15-year-old Kristian on his first real flight soon.

"If we wouldn't have done this, I never would have tried getting on a plane, now I would try doing that," says Mark Beil.

The Wings for All Program allows families to walk through every part of the flying process, from getting the plane tickets, checking in, passing through TSA security, finding the gate, and then boarding an Allegiant airplane.

"He has the anxieties so we thought getting him here, getting him on a plane just to see how he'd do would kind of gage to see if we are ready to go on a trip," says Jessica Cyr, who brought her son to 'Wings for All' on Saturday.

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For many participants, this was their first time at an airport and their first steps onto an airplane. 

"We encourage them to push the call attendant button, go and flush the toilet, it's louder than your toilet at home! Any of those sensory things that these passengers might struggle with when they travel," says Porello.

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"The success stories are really why we do this," said Porello.

The airplane never left the ground, but many were able to find out if air travel is right for their special needs family members.

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The program ensures people with disabilities are equally able to participate in air travel as everyone else is. 

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