Wings for Autism® Lands in Honolulu


HONOLULU - The Arc will host an inaugural Wings for Autism® event at Honolulu International Airport (HNL). This event is being held in partnership with the Hawaii Department of Transportation - Airports Division, Hawaiian Airlines, The Arc in Hawaii, Hawaii Autism Foundation, and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Wings for Autism®, one of The Arc’s newest national initiatives, is an airport “rehearsal” specially designed for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), their families, and aviation professionals. The program was originally developed by the Charles River Center, a local chapter of The Arc in Massachusetts, and the Massachusetts Port Authority.

Wings for Autism helps alleviate some of the stress people with disabilities and their families experience when traveling by air. The program provides families with the opportunity to participate in the entire airport experience by practicing entering the airport, obtaining boarding passes, going through security, boarding an airplane and preparing for departure. Wings for Autism® also gives airport, airline, TSA professionals and other personnel the opportunity to observe, interact and deliver their services in a structured learning environment. Since last year, over 800 families from all over the country have taken part in these events.  

More than 30 families from Oahu have signed up to benefit from this experience.  Upon arrival, parents, children and other travelers will check in to receive their boarding pass, go through security, and be greeted at the gate prior to boarding the plane. A small reception will be held at the Hawaiian’s Plumeria Lounge to celebrate the event and provide an opportunity for discussion.

“We are excited to be expanding the Wings for Autism® program to Hawaii. For parents of children with autism spectrum disorders, everyday tasks can sometimes prove to be far more difficult for their child. Air travel can prove particularly challenging between clearing security, the overwhelming noises, and harsh lights. We are grateful to our partners on the ground in Honolulu – Hawaii State Department of Transportation – Aviation Department, Hawaiian Airlines, Honolulu International Airport, TSA, Hawaii Autism Foundation, and our local chapter of The Arc, The Arc in Hawaii – who are committed to making air travel possible for families with children with autism and other intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc. 

“I recently spoke with a mother who has not left Oahu in 12 years because she was afraid to take her son on an airplane.  She anticipated problems for her son as well as other passengers.  This family is going to come to the Wings for Autism® rehearsal to see if he can handle it, then try an interisland flight to visit family,” said Kriste Draper, Executive Director of Hawaii Autism Foundation.  “Wings is important everywhere, but especially in Hawaii where you are so isolated.  Taking a plane is often your only option for travel.”

“The Arc in Hawaii is thrilled to be one of the partners in Wings for Autism. Traveling can be such an adventure for many of us, but for some with intellectual and developmental disabilities, the process to get on an airplane can be very scary,” said Lei Fountain, Executive Director of The Arc in Hawaii. “We welcome the opportunity to participate in this wonderful endeavor.”

“The Hawaii Department of Transportation - Airports Division is honored and excited to be part of the Wings for Autism program and look forward to welcoming everyone to the Honolulu International Airport,” said Chuck Lee, Planning Analyst of the State of Hawaii Department Of Transportation - Airports Division.

“We are delighted to partner with Wings for Autism to launch this educational program for Hawai‘i families and travelers,” said Ann Botticelli, senior vice president of corporate communications for Hawaiian Airlines. “Our customer service employees and in-flight crewmembers look forward to welcoming them onboard and offering an enjoyable and memorable learning experience.”  

The Arc - The Arc advocates for and serves people with I/DD, including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of more than 650 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.