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American Airlines brought the “It’s Cool to Fly” program to San Diego this weekend ahead of Tuesday’s World Autism Awareness Day.

The carrier invited children with autism and their parents to participate in a mock flight at San Diego International Airport on Saturday.

The free event saw as many as 50 people pass through security, head to the gate, board a plane and taxi around the runway as if they were about to take off on an actual flight.

Daniel Castillo, whose two sonsโ€”six-year-old Elias and seven-year-old Nicholasโ€”both have high-functioning autism, took part in the trial run, which typically lasts several hours.

“They have a lot of energy and there can be a lot of noise sensory issues. Things like that, you know, make it a little bit different for them,” Castillo told NBC San Diego. “I think theyโ€™re going to be fine.”

“You watch, from start to finish, the parents coming into the airport. When they are sitting and waiting for the plane, you see this face of concern; the what-if factor is all over the parentsโ€™ faces,” said Bruce Sickler, an American Airlines employee who inspired the program after suffering an injury in 1993 that limited his mobility.

“They worry how their child is going to react because theyโ€™ve seen their reaction before. But then you get on the plane and see that little bit of worry release. Then you get off the plane, and they are excited; they know how much their child can do and that this program has helped make a difference.”

Other airlines including Delta Air Lines have launched similar experiences for children with disabilities and some airports around the world have even made efforts to improve the passenger experience for travelers with autism.

Courtesy of Patrick Clarke

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