American Airlines + California, Canada Airports Celebrate Return Of  Programs

by SharonKurheg

When COVID hit, just about everything in the travel world shut down. It took a while for airlines to start up again, and even longer for passengers to rival 2019 levels of travelers.

Thankfully, with a current COVID variant that’s considered to be relatively mild for most people, more and more places are opening up. However, the people in charge of some travel-related programs remained timid, frequently because of the close personal contact required to make the respective programs run as they were intended.

Fortunately, 3 such programs – one each in Winnipeg Canada and San Francisco CA, along with one that American Airlines sponsored, are now open again.

SFO’s Yoga Room

San Francisco International Airport’s two yoga rooms opened in 2012. They came about via passenger request and since the Airport Director at the time, John L. Martin, was himself a fan of yoga, it didn’t take much coercing.

Said to be the first airport yoga rooms in the country, they could be found at Terminals 2 and 3 of SFO ever since.

The yoga rooms have been  closed since COVID, however SFO was thrilled to announce that they were finally re-opened earlier this week:

YWG’s Hug Rug

Winnipeg Richardson International Airport introduced its “Hug Rug” in the airport’s Arrivals Hall in 2013. It quickly became an iconic meeting place for family and friends to greet their friends and family who were flying in.

From 2013:

Not surprisingly, the Hug Rug was removed when COVID hit, to help promote physical distancing.

Happily though, YWG’s Hug Rug was “re-installed” at the end of last month. It coincided with the advent of Spring Break.

“With restrictions continuing to be lifted, community members are telling us they’re ready to connect again with loved ones,” said Nick Hays, president & CEO of the Winnipeg Airports Authority (WAA). “We can’t wait to welcome back more travelers safely. What a better way to do so than rolling back out the unofficial welcome mat for our province.”

American Airlines’ “It’s Cool To Fly American” program

For those who have family members who have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), flying on a commercial flight is “iffy.” With each experience of being on a plane comes sensory inputs that those of us who are neurotypical might take for granted – sights and sounds like crowds, intercom announcements, lights, screens, safety demonstrations, etc. But to a person with ASD, and to that person’s family, any of these things can instantly create fear, anxiety or discomfort and become a challenge that, in the moment, feels insurmountable. That can lead to a meltdown.

American Airlines introduced It’s Cool to Fly American (ICTFA) in 2014. It’s essentially a mock travel experience. People with ASD and their families concerned about the hustle and bustle of air travel are able to experience nearly every aspect of it without actually taking off. They park, check in, wait at the gate, board, taxi, return to the gate and retrieve their luggage.

Wherever the program is running, they partner with local autism and special needs community groups, as well as airport colleagues to make the airport/plane process less of a mystery. This helps those with ASD, as well as their families know what to expect from their air travel experience. This, in turn, brings greater inclusion, awareness and understanding to those on the autism spectrum.

From the Dallas Morning News:

Bruce Sickler, who runs the program for American, said the company has hosted about 6,000 passengers and family members in the past seven years at its biggest hub airports but also smaller airports, too.

“It’s targeting kids with autism, but we don’t turn anyone away,” Sickler said. “Anyone that has anxiety can come, even adults with anxiety.”

People as old as 26 have participated along with their families, Sickler said.

Not surprisingly, the ICTFA program went on pause when COVID hit. But happily, it’s just started up again, this past weekend, with a program in Dallas.

There’s currently a waiting list for those who want to participate. The next events are in Charlotte, N.C., on April 23 and Los Angeles on May 7. Philadelphia, Orange County CA, Jacksonville FL, Cleveland and San Diego are also on the schedule. And American program leaders hope to do another round at DFW, its largest hub, this fall.

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