By Natalie Fiorilli
As more and more airports add quiet spaces for individuals with autism and other sensory-processing issues, one feature in particular stands out in Pittsburgh International’s new sensory-friendly space.
Travelers entering the area can turn left and find themselves walking through what appears to be a passenger boarding bridge – and what’s at the end of the jet bridge? An airplane, of course.
While brainstorming ideas for the space, the airport’s sensory room committee thought to include a real-life airplane experience. Knowing the team would need to get an airline on board, committee member Jim Moorhead, assistant superintendent of field maintenance for PIT, knew just who to ask: his next-door neighbor, Bill Schmitt.
In a backyard conversation across the fence with Schmitt, an aircraft maintenance technician (AMT) for American Airlines, Moorhead asked if American would be interested in participating.
“He said, ‘Sign us up, right here, right now. We’ll figure it out tomorrow,’” Moorhead said.
Schmitt soon presented the idea to John Falbo, senior manager of base maintenance at PIT, and once the American Airlines management team gave official approval, he began looking for authentic aircraft seats to include in the space.
“At that time, I don’t think anyone really knew exactly what we were doing yet. But once we got the seats, the project took a little bit of direction,” Schmitt said.