For people with mental, physical or neurological conditions that are not visible, flying can exacerbate hidden symptoms.
Columbia Metropolitan Airport is the first airport in the state to help launch the in-terminal initiative.
The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Program, now added by West Columbia Airport, is in more than 140 airports worldwide, according to Kim Crafton, airport marketing and airport service development director. After seeing the program in other airports, local transit hubs decided to set up an initiative to provide support for people who may need additional assistance during flight.
These include people with cognitive or mental disorders and other chronic conditions, including autism, anxiety, PTSD or speech or hearing loss.
Crafton said the program not only allows airline employees to support any hidden disability, but it can also help fellow passengers show compassion and grace to those in need of additional support.
“After learning about the Hidden Disability Sunflower program, we immediately wanted to get involved,” the airport’s executive director Mike Gula was quoted as saying in a press release. “We make every effort to ensure that our passengers have a great experience while traveling through our airport. Adding to this initiative for people with hidden disabilities is another way we are putting the needs of our passengers first.
The program uses Sunflower-branded lanyards, pins and bracelets as an intelligent way for airline and airport employees to see if someone has an overlooked disability and can provide assistance as needed. According to the Hidden Disabilities website, sunflower pieces are free and don’t need to be returned at the airport, and travelers can keep them for future flights and even personalize their cards.
Personalization can include a photo, name, emergency contact, and any disability-related details.
Crafton said all airport staff and staff have received training and know what to do when sunflowers are identified.
Megan Barton, an employee, said employees watched training videos to understand the program and how to go above and beyond for a passenger with a hidden disability. This process has happened over the last few months, the release said.
Barton said anxiety often increases when traveling, exacerbating many of these issues.
The airport promises that extra time, attention and support will be provided to a person or family traveling with a hidden disability.
“When someone from Team CAE notices a person wearing a lanyard, bracelet or pin, they will ask them how they can help and stay with them until no additional support is needed,” says Crafton he said.
For example, making sure TSA staff are aware of a passenger’s disability, asking them to provide more assistance at security checkpoints and possibly escorting the affected person to their gate, car or garage.
No special privileges will be given to those identified with sunflowers. They won’t be taken to the front of the line, but special care will ensure that their travel experience is as smooth as possible.
“We are proud to lead the charge and be the first airport in South Carolina to incorporate this initiative,” Gula is quoted as saying. “For us, it’s about providing an outstanding traveler experience every time.”