“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear.”
— H.P. Lovecraft
Traveling with children can strike fear into the heartiest Mom or Dad. I still remember our first trip with our youngest daughter, Rachel. We had to fly a short hop from Corpus Christi to Houston. Rachel was about two, and already we knew she was not a fan of anything unknown or fast moving. The Southwest jet we boarded that morning fit both categories. As I carried her up the jetbridge, she began to scream. I remember her grabbing my face with her little hands and saying,”no bye bye, no bye bye.” Just before they closed the door to the aircraft, Becki and I looked at each other and knew this was not going to happen. We quickly exited the plane, leaving the rest of the Customers onboard believing in the power of prayer.
That was over 15 years ago, and Rachel has since become a seasoned traveler, but it didn’t happen overnight.
Fear of flying is one of the most common fears in the world. For families with children struggling with developmental disabilities, the entire traveling process can be a terrifying ordeal. Between checking in at the counter and proceeding through TSA screening, your child can have a “melt down” before ever reaching the airplane door.
Southwest Airlines has partnered with the Autism Community Network of El Paso, and the TSA, to hold several Mock Flights over the past two years. Mock Flights are designed to give families with children who have special needs, a chance to experience the entire air travel process without ever leaving the ground.
Dave Taylor, Director of the group, had heard about a similar program in Philadelphia, and wanted to start something here in El Paso. After coordinating with the TSA and Airport authorities, we mapped out what a “Mock Flight” would look like. The “Mock Flight” would encompass every aspect of travel: planning in advance for the trip, driving to the airport, checking in at the counter, TSA screening, waiting to board, boarding, Inflight preparation including safety briefing, “takeoff,” inflight service, “landing,” deplaning, and picking up bags at the claim area.
Inflight and Flight Ops have been wonderful partners since the program began. These Crews are normally coming off long days and looking forward to a nice clean hotel room. Instead, we meet them at the Gate and ask for one additional leg. Not one Crew has turned us down, and after the event, they are filled with stories about the families they assisted. Everyone who has volunteered for a “Mock Flight” has come away with a sense that we really accomplished something. This project does help families directly, person to person. That kind of volunteer work is always the most rewarding.