Airport autism event helps kids adapt to air travel

SPOKANE, Wash. - Washington families are finding freedom to fly through a unique autism airport program. Saturday, the Arc of Spokane hosted an event called Wings for All. Families faced long lines, crowds, and security at the Spokane International Airport to practice every step of air travel. 

Kimberlee Johnson came with her boyfriend and son Brantley. He helped agents get their belongings through the security checkpoint and waited with a big smile on his face while Johnson tied his shoes.

"I think getting on the plane is going to be more difficult than being on it, " Johnson said. 

This was not ordinary Alaska Airlines flight. Saturday's event was all about helping kids with autism and their families. "Individuals and children who have intellectual development disabilities can gain the confidence, along with their families, to have a successful flight experience," said Arc of Spokane Executive Director Sima Thorpe. 

Wings for All gave these families a chance to rehearse every step, from grabbing their boarding passes to boarding the plane. Mike Komiti and his wife drove from Federal Way with their five-year-old son Damon to be here. This was Damon's first time on a plane. His father said he'd never even thought about taking him on one before. 

"It's already difficult enough to travel with him, by car, long distances and stuff," Komiti said. 

But the trip to Spokane was worth it, to get this important practice. 

"He had some anxiety going through the gates and through the metal detector. Once he got through it, he got over it. So that was a huge step for us, and I think it was a huge step for him as well." Komiti said. 

Damon was one of dozen kids looking forward to a great experience. Ninety people participated in the event, now in it's third year in Spokane. 

"They see the outcome. They're going to be able to go somewhere and that is exciting," Johnston said. 

The plane never left the ground. Instead, the pilot navigated it down the runway, then returned everyone back to their gate. It was a short, but sweet trip. It was the perfect length to give both the kids and parents the confidence to confront their fears and let their dreams of a family vacation soar.