Customers participating in the Navigating MSP program at Minneapolis−Saint Paul International Airport can now take part in a unique, try-before-you-fly mock cabin experience, aimed to support travel equity through a new, innovative pre-flight experience and training facility.
The new Travel Confidently MSP Education Center officially opened its doors on May 23, thanks to the donations, contributions and hard work of Delta Air Lines, The Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) and the Airport Foundation MSP.
This one-of-a-kind facility, located near gate C16 in Terminal 1 at MSP, will enhance the Navigating MSP program by providing flyers with sensory, physical or cognitive disabilities, those with fear of flying, and service dogs a place to experience and become familiar with an aircraft cabin in a serene setting. It will also allow airport public safety professionals and airline support crews to further train in a realistic setting.
“We’re grateful for our ongoing partnership with the MAC and Airport Foundation MSP, who have furthered Delta’s efforts to create a world that is more inclusive and accessible for all,” said Mary Loeffelholz, Delta’s Vice President of Operations at MSP. “Giving back to our community is deeply rooted in Delta’s beliefs and values, and through the work of our people, we are very much looking forward to the ways that this facility will impact the MSP community.”
The new space includes a permanently installed 33-foot-long mock aircraft cabin and 42 aircraft seats, donated by Delta, thanks to the innovative thinking of Delta First Officer Richard Kargel.
Upon learning that the wooden aircraft cabin, previously used to train Flight Attendants and Pilots emergency evacuation procedures, was being replaced, Kargel knew there was an opportunity to repurpose the narrow-bodied trainer and its many components for a cause near and dear to his heart.
“My son, Shane, has autism, so I knew just how much a facility like this could improve the travel experience for him and so many others that live with sensory, cognitive or physical disabilities,” Kargel said. “With the full support of Delta leadership, along with the MAC’s vision for enhanced customer experiences, this idea became a reality in a way I never imagined. This facility gives us an opportunity to show people who never thought that they would travel, that it is possible. It gives families and flyers hope.”
In addition to the cabin, the Arts@MSP program, a joint program of the MAC and the Airport Foundation MSP, facilitated a community art project to enhance the visual experience of the new space. With this, the area became a blank canvas for local youth artists – Ethan Nevalainen, Athena Ali, Greta Kotz and Taylan De Johnette – from Juxtaposition Arts to create a stunning piece of artwork called “Equanimity,” which creates a relaxing and welcome atmosphere for the space.
The Travel Confidently MSP Education will be used to support MSP and community programs including:
- Navigating MSP: This program, offered by the MAC in partnership with the Airport Foundation MSP, Autism Society of MN and Fraser, offers free practice runs through the airport and on aircraft for children and adults who may experience discomfort when flying. This facility will be used when an actual aircraft is not available.
- Service animals: Service animal trainers or owners in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region will be able to reserve use of this facility when they need to practice boarding and travel procedures with their service animals in preparation for a real flight.
- Public safety: MSP firefighters and police will be able to train to respond to passengers or crew emergencies on aircraft.
- Airport services: Wheelchair service providers will be able to train to assist passengers who use aisle chairs in boarding or de-boarding aircraft, and cabin crew will be able to train to assist customers with use of on-board wheelchairs, designed for passengers to move to and from the lavatory.
“We are always looking for ways to build travel equity,” said MAC Chair Rick King. “It’s easy to take air travel for granted, but for many it presents unique challenges and requires different resources. The Travel Confidently MSP Education Center is one more way we can provide resources to the community and lower the barriers to flying for as many people as possible.”
Travelers can inquire about how to participate in these pre-flight experiences by registering with the Navigating MSP program.