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Disabled Passengers Benefit from Program at Bush Airport

Exposure to airport prior to trip helps alleviate fears

September 29, 2011

© Houston Airport System
Potential passengers with disabilities get a firsthand look at the flight process through Project Airport.
Traveling by air can be an intimidating experience for anyone, but the process can be especially daunting for those passengers who are coping with disabilities.

With this reality in mind, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Continental Airlines are working together to alleviate the concerns of those disabled passengers living in the Houston area who may have special needs and requirements when flying.

The program is called “Project Airport” and it offers passengers with disabilities a chance to visit George Bush Intercontinental Airport and hear directly from TSA and Continental Airlines representatives about what they should expect to see when traveling by plane.

The program is the result of a collaborative effort between Continental Airlines and The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research at Memorial Hermann Hospital. Participants are typically individuals who have undergone some sort of traumatic brain and/or spinal cord injury who are now using a wheelchair.

“I think it’s great,” says Charles Kuehn, a program participant who plans to fly to New Jersey in October. “It’s really going to help me and alleviate some of my fears.”

Kuehn and the rest of his group gather in the International Arrivals area of Terminal E at Bush Airport, where they receive a specialized briefing from a TSA representative. Group members learn about what they can expect to encounter when navigating an airport security checkpoint and what services are available to assist them on their next trip. The group is then taken through the security checkpoint and processed as if they were departing passengers, even boarding a Continental plane in order to maximize the reality of the entire experience.

“I try to make the process come alive,” says Patty Bonham, customer support administrative assistant for TSA. “We talk to them about items they can bring with them, like their wheelchair tool kits and medicines, and we let them know that if they want they can go through a private screening process.”

Representatives with United Airlines, which is in the process of merging with Continental Airlines, have already had a firsthand look at the program and say not only will the Houston model remain in place but will be taken to other airports across the country.

“It’s an amazing program,” says Rosalie Crabbe, manager of assessable programs & industry affairs for United Airlines. “It’s been so well received that we are planning on expanding it to all of our airport hubs.” 
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