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MIAMI (CBSMiami) — As Miami International Airport prepares to welcome millions of families traveling for the holiday season, the airport launched Tuesday the MIAair (Airport Instruction and Readiness) program, designed to give South Floridians with autism-related disorders and other special needs the confidence to enjoy air travel.

MIAair is the first U.S. airport program to partner with a major university and medical institution to offer guided travel rehearsals and materials to those with special needs. The program was developed in partnership with the University of Miami-Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) and the Ear Institute at UHealth – the University of Miami Health System. After a press conference by MIA officials, UM experts and UHealth physicians, MIAair participants and their families received a simulation of the airline check-in and TSA checkpoint screening process, followed by the grand finale – boarding an actual airplane.

MIAair participants checking in at American Airlines (Source: CBS4)

MIAair participants checking in at American Airlines (Source: CBS4)

“We want to ensure that anyone can experience the magic and wonder of flight, regardless of their disability,” said Miami-Dade Aviation Director Emilio T. González. “Air travel allows us to discover new places and cultures, and the MIAair program helps to make this possible for all South Florida residents with special needs. We are extremely excited to partner with the University of Miami – another global leader in our community – in this service to their patients and all special needs residents, and we look forward to opening new doors of opportunity for them.”

MIAair’s materials, which include travel checklists and tips in both English and Spanish, storyboard the entire travel experience for participants. The resources provide families with step-by-step photos and instructions of airport procedures, from getting a boarding pass to passing through security and boarding a plane.

“CARD decided to partner with Miami International Airport for MIAair because this project provides families of individuals with autism and related disabilities with tools to prepare their loved ones for air travel,” said Dr. Diane Adreon, Associate Director of the CARD program at the University of Miami College of Arts & Sciences. “Today, CARD provides free services to more than 9,000 families in South Florida. This project will expand our reach and touch the lives of many more individuals with autism around the world.”

“MIA and CARD have done a wonderful job launching MIAair for patients and families living with autism related disorders,” said Dr. Fred Telischi, Chairman of the Department of Otolaryngology at UHealth. “The Ear Institute at UHealth looks forward to further expanding the reach of MIAair to include those with hearing conditions such as hearing loss, tinnitus and balance disorders. Our combined efforts and resources will ensure that an even-greater number of individuals can experience the joy of a family vacation.”

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