'It was amazing:' Mock flight program helps kids with special needs soar to new heights

CHICAGO (WLS) -- One program is helping kids soar to new heights, through a trial airport and flight experience.

It's Cool to Fly allows travelers with disabilities and their families to mock a flight routine and make them comfortable with the experience of air travel. The program, hosted by American Airlines, takes flight twice a year, in May and October.

"This event kind of allows families to kind of test the waters. They want to know they can go visit grandma someday, and this allows them to practice and get all their worries and anxieties out of the way, said Clearbrook President & CEO Tony DiVittorio.

Getting boarding passes, going through TSA security checkpoints, and large crowds can be an overwhelming experience that prevents many families from flying.

"I'm very grateful that things like this exist because before we had my daughter, I would have never thought the importance of something like this," said parent Ryan McCarthy.

Families are given the full experience, they go through security, take their seats, listen to safety announcements. Then, the plane taxis out around the airport, and of course, everyone gets a snack.

"We have a flight crew, flight attendants and a cockpit crew, we push off the gate taxi around for about 45 minutes and do a simulated takeoff and landing," said American Airlines Traffic Coordinator Ed Pizza.

Once the mock flight is complete each child is handed a certificate of completion.

"It was amazing, it was better than I expected. I had so much anxiety doing this, especially going through TSA and anxiety for my son," said parent Shawna Pearson. "They were so kind and understanding, and the staff was just awesome, I could not have asked for a better experience."

"The cockpit crew keeps returning, they just love the program," Pizza said. When (parents) come off, they are realizing that air travel is a possibility in their lives. It's a wonderful thing."
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