Opening up the World for Children with Autism - United Hub

Opening up the world for children with autism

By Matt Adams, April 20, 2018

A version of this story appears in the April issue of Hemispheres in honor of National Autism Awareness Month

The raw emotions are still evident, even more than a decade later, when Houston-based Captain Kyle Gardner and his wife Irma talk about their first attempted flight as a family with their son Nicky. They were standing in the gate area at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport on their way to Los Angeles, but Nicky was struggling. As other passengers looked on, he threw himself onto the floor and let loose, screaming and flailing his arms and legs as Irma tried to calm him.

"I said to Kyle, 'I can't do this,'" Irma recalls. "There was no way I could put him on that flight. We were so anxious, and people were staring at us. They couldn't see that he has a disability, they just thought he was being a brat. I was so upset that I picked him up and we left."

Nicky, who is now 15, was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder shortly after his third birthday. As a young boy, he had a hard time adjusting to new environments, especially those, like airports, filled with noise and movement, and his discomfort could quickly escalate, leaving Kyle and Irma feeling powerless.

Houston-based Captain Kyle Gardner and his sons at Houston\u2019s October Wings for All eventKyle and his sons at Houston's October Wings for All event

While traumatic, the Gardners' experience is hardly unique among families with autistic children. That's why in recent years, airlines like ours and 45 airport authorities across the U.S. have teamed up with the Arc, a nationwide organization serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, to host Wings for Autism and Wings for All (the name varies by city) airport immersion sessions designed to give children with autism a greater level of familiarity and comfort when traveling.

When he first heard about the program at Houston's George Bush International Airport in 2014, Kyle jumped at the chance to volunteer. Twice a year, he puts on his uniform and helps lead a Wings for All group on a dry run through the airport, from the ticketing area, through security, to the boarding gate and onto on of our parked aircraft. Once on board, Kyle, his fellow pilots and a team of flight attendants put on a mock flight.

Kyle recognizes in the kids the same anxiety and fear that he once observed in Nicky. But, given his unique personal connection, he's able to reassure them and their parents that, with enough practice and a patient approach, anything is possible.

"There's one child who has come multiple times," he says, "but he was never able to get down the jetbridge. Last time, he made it all the way onto the plane, and that was a big accomplishment. These families keep coming back, and each time their kids make small improvements."

Nicky, Irma, Kyle and the Gardners\u2019 youngest son, Sebastian, at Machu Picchu, PeruNicky, Irma, Kyle and the Gardners' youngest son, Sebastian, at Machu Picchu, Peru

The Gardners didn't have a support system like Wings for Autism/Wings for All when Nicky was young, and they admit it was difficult. Eventually, through perseverance, they helped him become the seasoned flyer he is today, with a passport book that's filling up with stamps. At the Houston Wings for All event last October, Nicky accompanied his mom and dad and shared his experiences with the attendees, serving as inspiration for those who worry that air travel is beyond their grasp.

"We didn't want Nicky to only see the world through books," Irma says, "we wanted him to see it for himself. He loves flying now, and I feel like we don't have any limitations."

What keeps Kyle going back to Wings for All year after year is the hope that other families can reach that point, too. "Getting their child onto an airplane for the first time means that maybe one day they can visit Grandma or go to Disneyland together. You can't measure the impact," he says. "They are so grateful for that opportunity, and that's what stays with me. At United, caring is second only to safety, and our participation in Wings for Autism and Wings for All underscores that."

Houston's next Wings for All event is scheduled for April 24. For details, visit the Arc of Texas webpage.

United Makes it Easier for Customers to Find and Use Travel Credits

The airline offers customers the most transparent and user-friendly options in the industry to encourage and simplify using travel credits
By United Newsroom, September 23, 2021

CHICAGO, Sept. 23, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- United today announced it is giving customers even more flexibility when they need to rebook their travel by helping them to find and use their travel credits. United is the only airline to make it easy for customers to use their credits by automatically displaying them as a payment option during the checkout process. This functionality will be available for MileagePlus® members first and the airline is working to roll it out to all customers in the near future. Also, beginning next week, United will be the first to let customers use their travel credits for extra legroom seats and to pre-pay for checked baggage.

United Airlines Plans to Begin Flights Between Washington, D.C. and Lagos, Nigeria in November

United to operate the first ever nonstop flight between Washington, D.C. and Lagos and offer more flights between D.C. and Africa than any other carrier
By United Newsroom, September 17, 2021

CHICAGO, Sept. 17, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- United Airlines announced today that new service between Washington, D.C. and Lagos, Nigeria will begin November 29 (subject to government approval). The airline will operate three weekly flights connecting the U.S. capital to Nigeria's largest city, which is also the top Western African destination for U.S-based travelers. Tickets will be available for sale on united.com and the United app this weekend.

United, Honeywell Invest in New Clean Tech Venture from Alder Fuels, Powering Biggest Sustainable Fuel Agreement in Aviation History

United agrees to purchase 1.5 billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) over 20 years - which is one and a half times the size of the rest of the world's airlines' publicly announced SAF commitments combined
By United Newsroom, September 09, 2021

CHICAGO and DES PLAINES, Ill., Sept. 9, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- United and Honeywell today announced a joint multimillion-dollar investment in Alder Fuels – a cleantech company that is pioneering first-of-its-kind technologies for producing sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) at scale by converting abundant biomass, such as forest and crop waste, into sustainable low-carbon, drop-in replacement crude oil that can be used to produce aviation fuel. When used together across the fuel lifecycle, the Alder technologies, coupled with Honeywell's Ecofining™ process, could have the ability to produce a carbon-negative fuel at spec with today's jet fuel. The goal of the technologies is to produce fuel that is a 100% drop-in replacement for petroleum jet fuel.

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