Pittsburgh Airport Opens ‘Sensory Room’ to Help Flyers With Autism

Jul 24, 2019

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Flying can be stressful for everyone. But for travelers with autism, crowded airports and their bright lights and unfamiliar sounds can be particularly overwhelming.

This is why Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) says it has opened “Presley’s Place,” a 1,500-square-foot “sensory-friendly” space for passengers young and old to de-stress and acclimate to the experience of traveling in a controlled and safe place.

“We want to make flying accessible to everyone,” Pittsburgh International Airport CEO Christina Cassotis said in a statement. “This room is an opportunity for special needs travelers from children to adults to have a place to decompress and get prepared to fly.”

Photo courtesy of PIT.
Photo courtesy of PIT.

The new space at PIT is located off of Concourse A. It features a family area, private rooms and part of an American Airlines cabin, meant to help familiarize passengers with the flying experience in a non-intimidating way. The entire area is soundproofed and is meant to serve children and adult passengers.

The space was designed with help from advocacy groups, as well as individuals and caregivers of children with neurodevelopment challenges, who provided input on features the space might need. The original plan came from airport employee Jason Rudge, whose 4-year old son Presley gave him the idea.

Photo courtesy of PIT.
Photo courtesy of PIT.

“A caregiver for a kid with autism might think, ‘I’m never going to be able to fly anywhere with my family — it’s too hard to travel with someone with autism,’” Rudge said. “Having a sensory room at the airport changes that thinking to, ‘Maybe we can take that trip after all.’”

Presley’s Place is now open, and the American Airlines cabin — dubbed by PIT as an “airplane experience” area — will also be open to passengers during first-time flyers classes meant to reduce fear and anxiety in travelers new to flying.

Featured photo courtesy of PIT.

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