Presley’s Place At Pittsburgh’s Airport Is A Model To Be Copied


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Airports are mini-cities of activity. Planes moving in and out, people running to catch flights, others being pulled over for extra security. Restaurants and shops try to keep the lines short or create enough demand for a line. For most people, airports are manageable spaces that sometimes can be exciting, and the activity and noise that comes with an airport visit is just part of the drill.

For those with sensory challenges, airports can be overwhelming and even scary. Just under 3% of children are identified as being on the autism spectrum, and some of these children find it difficult to navigate the busy airport environment. Families traveling with someone with sensory challenges can find that the airport is a real challenge, and may even choose to drive on a long trip rather than fly. Pittsburgh’s airport (PIT) addressed this reality three years ago with the opening of Presley’s Place, and this has become a model that other airports should follow.

About Presley’s Place

Presley’s Place is a room on the A concourse at Pittsburgh International Airport that is made especially for people with sensory challenges. It is open 24/7, and is an inviting, quiet, and pleasant space where families can relax before taking their next flight. With support from American Airlines, the location also includes a mock-up of a real airplane, and this too can make the ultimate experience of boarding less stressful for some.

The name comes from Presley Rudge, the son of Jason Rudge, a heavy equipment operator at PIT. Presley has autism, and his dad noticed how his son was helped at pre-school by a sensory-sensitive place. Jason wrote to PIT’s CEO Christina Cassotis, and she worked with others to make the space a reality. Traveling with someone with sensory challenges can present difficulties, and Presley’s Place addresses this with a space made to help make the travel work.

Attracting New Travel Demand

The World Health Organization estimates that 16% of the global population has some sort of disability. The CDC says that over 25% of U.S. citizens have some kind of disability. For airlines, disability has often been responded to with a wheelchair. Wheelchair services at airports are extremely helpful for those with limited mobility, but a wheelchair is not the solution for other kinds of disabilities.

The airline industry is potentially missing millions of passengers if they don’t actively think about solutions other than wheelchairs. Presley’s Place is a response to a specific condition, and by doing this they make air travel more comfortable, or even possible, for a part of the population that needs this kind of space. If other U.S. airports put in their own sensory-sensitive spaces, this likely would create more families willing to fly. The obvious first airports to add would be a family-friendly spot like Orlando. As good as Presley’s Place is if you are traveling through PIT, a nationwide network of spaces like this is what will attract a new audience for travel.

Low Cost And High Impact

Michael Swiatek is the Chief Strategy and Planning officer for Avianca airlines. Michael is also blind, making him one of the only, if not the only, blind senior officer in the airline industry. Michael is pragmatic about his challenges and understands airlines well enough to think about what airlines can do. He gave a great talk at IATA’s World Passenger Symposium last year, and as part of this talk challenged the industry to think about things that are “low cost and high impact.” He also believes that the industry needs to address accessibility in ways beyond a wheelchair since he thinks about how to grow the passenger base as part of his job.

Presley’s Place meets this challenge at PIT. It’s not that the space is cheap — no real estate in an airport is cheap. But compared to other spaces in the airport it was developed very efficiently. Compare this to a customer lounge, for example, and it was developed for small fraction of that cost. Getting a partner like American to donate some equipment helped, and the industry has lots of ways it can help in this way.

A Model For Other Airports

Presley’s Place is unique to PIT, and other airports should use this model to develop their own space, or spaces, for their sensory-challenged travelers. What’s mostly needed is a conviction that it’s the right thing to do, and a recognition that making the airport more accessible for more people is a good goal. Using local airline partners, as PIT did, will help.

Beyond sensory-sensitive spaces, Presley’s Place and Michael Swiatek’s challenge should motivate airports and airlines to think about ways to make the airport and airline environment more accessible to more people. Wheelchair service is great for those that need them. The CDC says that in the U.S., mobility issues affect 12.1% of those with a disability. Deafness and blindness combine for another 10%, and these are the areas next most fruitful to address since mobility is now generally well covered. Let’s find low cost and high impact ways to get more people on airplanes!

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Lisa Holden
Lisa Holden
Lisa Holden is a news writer for LinkDaddy News. She writes health, sport, tech, and more. Some of her favorite topics include the latest trends in fitness and wellness, the best ways to use technology to improve your life, and the latest developments in medical research.

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