A Worthy Goal
By Mark Brewer, A.A.E., AAAE Chair
When someone becomes chair of AAAE, he or she receives the privilege of setting a priority or establishing a benchmark with the
intent to make a difference for both the association
and the industry. Some chairs before me have
focused on the accreditation program or other
important professional development initiatives. I
want to take a slightly different tack.
To set the stage, as a boy in Bristol, Conn., I
wanted to be an astronaut. In the 1970s, NASA’s
space program was going through challenging
times, and my college degree quickly transitioned
into something closer to earth — airport
are the users of the business, and customer
service means service with a smile, information,
ease of access and a quality experience. This
part of the equation, although always evolving,
seemed to become a little formulaic. We met ADA
requirements, we had great service, we offered an
increasing number of new amenities, and we held
our employees and tenants to a high standard.
I thought we had it covered. We were looking
forward: dedicated, committed and justifiably
proud of our accomplishments.
Recently, though, something happened that
changed my perspective. All of those career-oriented initiatives are still important, but
sometimes even the well-meaning miss the forest
for the trees. We were uninformed and unaware
that we were missing a growing segment of the
U.S. population that is avoiding air travel.
While all travelers are equally important, not all
travelers are equal.
A few months ago, I participated in a training
program designed for the families of children with
autism and those of us at the airport who interact
with them. Frankly, I hemmed and hawed because
the training was on a weekend. Like all of you,
I work hard and am somewhat protective of my
limited down time to recharge my batteries.
But I sucked it up, gave up a Saturday, and am
so glad I did. What I learned, everyone reading
this article needs to hear about as well. Even
better, be prepared to carry the message to those at
your facility who can make a difference.
Did you know one in every 55 males born today
Did you know one in every 88 females born
today has autism?
Did you know that there is an autism spectrum
ranging from high achievers to low functioning?
Did you know that many of these children and
their families want to travel through our airports
but most find it far too challenging?
How many of you have ever walked through your
airport and overheard someone say, “Why can’t
that mother just control her child?” I’ll bet many.
With these stunning autism statistics in mind,
there is probably more to the story. It is very
possible that the mother is dealing with a child
who falls somewhere on the autism spectrum.