Making air travel easier for all

In most cases, a scheduled flight that never actually takes off might cause concern. But that exact event happened at the Redmond airport on October 19th, 2019, and the passengers considered it a big success.

The Redmond Airport partnered with Alaska Airlines and the Autism Society of Oregon to create a realistic “dress rehearsal” for anyone whose disability makes air travel especially challenging. This day featured a program called “The Sky’s the Limit,” offered people with disabilities and their families a chance to practice traveling by plane.

Participants in the program went through the whole airport process. They received boarding passes, went through security, waited at the gate, and boarded the aircraft. After everyone was buckled in, the plane accelerated down the runway before it taxied back to the gate.

Zele Paz, age 13, participated in the program with her parents Kari and Maro Paz, of Bend. The Paz family loves to travel, and looks forward to a time when Zele can comfortably travel by plane with them. They all found this day to be a good step in that direction.

The security screening process was easier than they expected, according to Kari Paz. “The TSA people were so helpful and supportive. They seemed really glad to be part of this event,” she said.

Maro Paz added, “There was some nervous anticipation on the plane—at least from some of the parents, as we waited to see how the kids would react. But everyone thoroughly enjoyed the time on the plane.”

Both parents agreed that their daughter’s favorite part was when the plane accelerated down the runway. “She’s an adrenaline junky, so she loved it,” laughed Maro.

Students and families who missed the Sky’s the Limit program can still find helpful ways to make air travel friendlier for everyone. Here are five ideas and resources to check out before you plan your next trip!


1. Apply for TSA Pre-check

By applying and qualifying for TSA Pre-check, travelers are cleared for some parts of the security screening. That means that you can leave on shoes, light jackets, and belts during screening, and often the lines are shorter. Learn more about TSA Pre-check.


2. Get familiar with security screening and TSA Cares

Watch this TSA Cares video to see what happens during each step of the security screening process. You can also call TSA Cares at (855) 787-2227 for answers to question, or to arrange extra help at the airport. Bes sure to call at least 3 days before your travel date! You may also want to fill out a TSA notification card before your trip. and hand it to the TSA agent at security, to help them understand your disability.


3. Roll past the crowds

If navigating busy airport walkways is a challenge, a wheelchair may be the solution. Any person with a disability can reserve a wheelchair to help get through the crowds to their gate. Find information about airlines’ disability services, along with the phone numbers to call.


4. Use the DPNA code when booking flights

Airline tickets can include codes for special requests. The DPNA code stands for “disabled passenger with intellectual or developmental disability needing assistance.” This lets the airline know you may need extra time to board, for example, or you may need bulkhead seats on the plane. If you book tickets through a travel agent, they can add the code; if you book tickets online, call the airline to have the code added.


5. Ready to fly solo? You can still get a family escort to the gate.

Young adults with disabilities may be ready to learn to travel on their own—but getting to the gate can still be tricky. An escort pass can help! Escort passes let a family member accompany you through security and go all the way to the gate. They can stay with you until you have boarded (although the escort cannot actually board the plane.) Most airlines give escort passes at the ticket counter, but call your airline for details.