Kids with Autism Overcome Their Fear of Flight

Dozens of kids and their parents show up to a big warehouse in Pacoima twice a year to test their threshold of being in an airport, going through security, boarding a plane and the stamina of a flight.

The event, Open Sky for Autism, was created by Talaat Captan. Talaat owns Air Hollywood, an aviation-themed production sound stage and studio in Pacoima. The facility is a popular spot for filmmakers and commercial production. Every April and October, Talaat opens his doors to children with autism and their parents. The program is intended to curb any fears parents and kids have about air travel.

Talaat says he was inspired five years ago after watching a kid and his parents struggle through security at LAX. He says he later found out the boy had autism and that’s when he decided to do something to help. Talaat brought in the non-profit advocacy group, REACH, and was able to get actual commercial pilots and flight attendants to volunteer. The TSA even sends a team to give the participants an actual experience of going through security screening.

In fact, the TSA hands parents a card with great information about preparing for the screening process with a special needs child.

The TSA tells the parents to call the number (855-787-2227) at least 72 hours in advance. You’ll have to provide ticket and departure information. From there, a supervisor told me a TSA officer will meet you at a designated spot and escort your family through the screening process.

Open Sky for Autism is free to participants. However, they do require a 100% refundable deposit of $25.00 to ensure attendance. A free lunch and beverages are provided.

Once kids and their parents get through security they wait for their ‘flight’. I’m told waiting is part of the learning process as it helps to prepare kids and parents of the reality of air travel. A gate agent will announce boarding and everyone walks through an actual jet way to board the aircraft.

Once seated, the volunteer flight attendants do the safety briefing and the simulated flight begins. During the flight the kids will experience turbulence – a bit of Hollywood magic in the form of hidden mechanics. Water is served from actual beverage carts and the flight attendants walk up and down the aisles to check on the passengers.

After landing, everyone walks off to a cockpit set where kids can interact with a real commercial pilot, play with the knobs and buttons, and take pictures. There’s also a lavatory set so kids can appreciate how small and cramped it is.

‘Flights’ happen every hour and Talaat told me there’s about 50 kids per flight. At its peak there might be 1,500 people participate in one day.

Darlene Hanson from REACH told me this is the perfect dry run for families wanting to travel with an autistic child but have been too afraid to try. She says she knows many families who book travel only to find out they have to abort their trip at the airport because their child couldn’t handle the situation. Darlene says this event is worth the time.

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