Thankful for ‘Wings for All’ Experience

by Beth Sheehan

Thank you so much to The Arc, Upper Valley for sponsoring the Wings for All event last September. This was such an amazing event and came at the best time of our life!

When I saw the ad for the event, we were a couple months away from my son’s Make-A-Wish trip. My son Oliver is 8 years old and has Down syndrome. He has some very serious health complications that hospitalize him often. Oliver has had many life flight trips, but had never flown for fun, so this airport rehearsal event was perfect for his needs.

Oliver and family at Wings for All.

I couldn’t believe Wings for All was happening so close to our trip. I signed up instantly. I knew Oliver would be nervous to fly because he would think he was going to a hospital. The event itself was so fun. It was so organized and as close to a real flight as it could be.

Oliver did get nervous in the tunnel waiting to board plane. He didn’t want to step foot through the door of the plane. Because this was a practice event, no one got nervous about him holding up the line, or worrying about dealing with impatient people who just don’t get how hard stuff like this can be for many people.

We explained calmly to Oliver that it is just chairs in there, he watched his sister go in and come back out. He slowly peeked through the door and was so excited to see rows of chairs! He marched right in and found a seat! He was so proud of himself.

Our daughter Piper had never flown at all, so this was so beneficial for her as well. They were both able to explore the plane and meet the crew.  I haven’t flown since before 9/11 so there have been so many changes. It was so helpful to know what to expect, how to pack to make things easier, as well as how much time everything will take.

All of this made a world of difference when Oliver’s trip came along. Our Make-A-Wish trip was scheduled to fly out of the Twin Cities. Oliver was nervous, because the airport was packed, but he knew what to do at security. He knew the tunnel wasn’t scary, and marched right on the plane.

Oliver on his Make-A-Wish trip.

Oliver’s Make-A-Wish trip had some ups and downs due to weather and health issues, and we hope to take the kids on a Disney re-do some day! I hope next time we can fly out of Grand Forks. Such an asset to have that airport so close. The staff was so accommodating and friendly!

I would love to do the Wings for All event again, just to keep him familiar with the process in case we ever do get to go somewhere fun again! Thank you so much to all who made this event possible!

Note: Wings for All is one of The Arc of the United States’ national initiatives, an airport “rehearsal” program specially designed for individuals with autism spectrum disorders and other disabilities; their families and aviation professionals. 

The Grand Forks Event was planned and organized by The Arc, Upper Valley and made possible by a generous award from NDAD’s Faye Gibbens Memorial Grant.  Event partners included Allegiant Air, Grand Forks Regional Airport Authority, Avflight GFK, and the Transportation Security Administration.

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