Flair Airlines trains flight crew to be ‘autism aware’

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Flair airlines trains flight crew to be ‘autism aware’
WATCH: It's a first in Canada: Flair Airlines is the only carrier in the country to have its in-flight crew trained to assist its guests with autism. As Jill Croteau reports, families say it's an encouraging step towards social change – Apr 2, 2019

Travelling can be an anxious experience for even the most seasoned flyers. One of Canada’s low-cost carriers has recognized the increased needs of some of its guests and has launched “a first-in-Canada” training program.

All of Flair Airlines’ flight attendants have completed an “autism aware” course. Flair’s executive chairman David Tait said it’s long overdue.

“It’s something the travel industry has been very neglect in doing,” Tait said. “The frightening thing for travel with an autistic family is, it takes the child out of their comfort bubble, their home.

“Eighty per cent of families with an autistic child, when asked: ‘Are you likely to take a family vacation?’ Most are likely to say ‘no.’

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The certification course, administered by Connecticut-based Autism Double-Checked, is designed to prepare flight attendants to recognize and cater to the needs of guests with autism.

Angela Gough’s son, Ryder Millard, has autism. She said they frequently fly to Ontario to visit family. She said travel had been a barrier in the past.

“There are crowds, lineups are particularly hard, anything out of the ordinary — having to stand still, lots of strangers, different food. It can be very difficult and for a couple of years post-diagnosis we just didn’t do it,” Gough said.

9-year-old Ryder Millard. Angela Gough

She said there was a lot of preparation prior to take off. She’s grateful an airline has offered to make accommodations to make travelling less intimidating.

“It takes a lot of stress off the family to not feel like everything has to go perfect, like we can’t have a meltdown and be in a plane thousands of feet in the air is so stressful,” Gough said.

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Those who work with children and adults with autism say this is a pivotal change. Lyndon Parakin, executive director with Autism Calgary, applauds the decision.

“Parents are vulnerable to being judged on how they are dealing, it’s not a visible disability so people can make a lot of assumptions,” Parakin said. “A little bit of accommodations can go a long way for making a person feel valued and capable of experiencing other things people take for granted.”

Flair is looking at recruiting hotels later this spring to partner with them so they can help families familiarize themselves with a getaway experience before they head off to a destination. They hope to plan the event dubbed “Autism Flights Hotel Nights” for mid-June.

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