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Flying without Limits: Unlocking Accessible Air Travel

Awww, summer vacation! Who doesn’t anxiously await that time away to unwind, unplug and recharge?

I recently returned home from my long-awaited summer vacation in Destin, Florida. Since I live in Virginia, I traveled by plane to maximize my time with friends and family.

As I sat at the gate in Charlotte, NC, waiting to board the final leg of my trip home with my small dog in tow, I noticed several people who were wheelchair users, several people with service dogs, and a couple of people that, like me, were wearing hearing aids.

That got me thinking. How accessible are airports in general? Are there any airports that are "getting it right?"

With a little research, I came across an article from the Public Broadcasting Service, PBS, that answers those questions.

According to the article "How airports can make travel more accessible for flyers with disabilities," "A recent report from the Department of Transportation showed that complaints from flyers with disabilities have more than doubled since before the pandemic,"

Through reading this article, I was introduced to "Navigation MSP," a program implemented at the Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport (MSP).

The program was launched in 2013 by Phil Burke, the customer experience manager for the airport. He established a similar program in 2014 for service dogs and their handlers.

"Navigating MSP" allows people with disabilities to come to the airport one Saturday a month to practice getting "familiar with the air travel process without the pressure of having to catch an actual flight." From checking in to boarding to using the aircraft restrooms, people with disabilities can rehearse their travel day before the real experience.

There is even a "...mock airplane cabin. It was previously used to train flight and cabin crews at Delta's headquarters in Atlanta. Delta paid to have it taken apart and shipped to MSP last fall, where it was reassembled and readied for its new purpose, educating travelers."

The Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport also offers services like "a lanyard with sunflowers that alert staff to travelers with hidden disabilities like hearing loss, and free access to an app that people with low vision or blindness can use to navigate the terminal independently."

MSP is now considered a leader when it comes to accessibility.

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Maggie Vaughan, CPACC
Content Marketing Practitioner
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