Children living with autism learn to fly on Autism Aviation Days

Jun 14, 2024

Over the last two months, employees at Air Canada and our partner, Jazz Aviation LP, the Air Canada Foundation and the Canucks Autism Network organized Autism Aviation Days in BC to introduce kids on the autism spectrum and their families to elements of air travel by learning and practicing airport processes. Following the two first events held at Victoria International Airport at the end of April, three single-day events took place on May 4, 25 and 26 at Vancouver International Airport, where 180 children experienced the security process, boarding an Air Canada Express CRJ-900 aircraft, taxiing around the tarmac and de-planing.  

“Helping children spread their wings is what we do at the Air Canada Foundation”, said Rebecca Smillie Nedelec, Director, Community Engagement at Air Canada. “By partnering with organizations like the Canucks Autism Network, we can provide these unique experiences that help reduce barriers and improve accessibility to air travel for children of all backgrounds.”  

Families with children on the spectrum of autism can face different challenges and barriers, especially when it comes to air travel. These events allowed children to rehearse the entire pre-flight process in a safe and supported environment. Autism Aviation Days aim to decrease anxiety associated with air travel and build confidence for future journeys not only for the children but also the parents.  

“Our favorite part of the event was to be able to expose our family to things that we don’t normally get to do. Change and new experiences are hard, so this helps! This whole experience, especially the flight portion, made us feel more at ease knowing that he is comfortable sitting and waiting. The Canucks Autism Network and the Air Canada Foundation definitely helped us,” explained Mike Paris, Xander’s dad. 

“Autism is an invisible disability. The Canucks Autism Network and the Air Canada Foundation putting programs like this together so they can get accustomed with the airport culture and prepared for what it’s going to be like is a game changer. The fact that Air Canada is supporting our Canadian children by doing this, I couldn’t have asked for anything better as a mom,” said Anita Rudge, Jayden and Ashton’s mom. 

With the first Autism Aviation Day taking place in 2023 and the success of these events in BC, the Air Canada Foundation and its partners look forward to furthering their support for the community and expanding their reach, offering more scheduled Autism Aviation Days throughout 2024. 

“The Air Canada Foundation was instrumental in making these events happen. Autism Aviation Days are so important for our families to learn that travelling is something that is possible for them and it’s making this whole industry more accessible and inclusive,” declared Jenny Carwana, Manager of Accessibility Initiatives and Partnerships at the Canucks Autism Network. 

Sunflower Program 

Last year, Air Canada became the first airline in North America to adopt the Sunflower program, which enable us to better assist and serve our customers with non-visible disabilities such as autism. The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower is a globally recognized program that employs the use of a discreet sunflower symbol to identify customers with non-visible disabilities. By choosing to wear the Sunflower lanyard, Air Canada customers can indicate to airline staff that they may require additional assistance, have specific needs, or simply require more time while travelling.  

For more information 

Families with children with autism who are planning travel can reach out to Air Canada’s specialized medical desk for additional information. Sunflower lanyards are available at the following Canadian airports: 

  • Calgary International Airport 
  • Edmonton International Airport 
  • Fort McMurray International Airport 
  • Fort St. John Airport 
  • Greater Moncton International Airport 
  • Hamilton International Airport 
  • Kamloops Airport 
  • Kelowna International Airport 
  • Montréal Trudeau International Airport 
  • Nanaimo Airport 
  • Ottawa International Airport 
  • Prince George Airport 
  • Regina International Airport 
  • Toronto Pearson International Airport 
  • Vancouver International Airport 
  • Winnipeg Richardson International Airport 

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