Ralph Cutié, Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Miami-Dade Aviation Department, tells International Airport Review how the department is committed to making air travel accessible and how they are helping passengers with reduced mobility (PRM) overcome obstacles.
MIAair Tour at MIA. CREDIT: MIA
The Miami-Dade Aviation Department, the operator of Miami International Airport (MIA), remains committed to its goal of promoting accessible travel and ensuring everyone gets to enjoy the magic and wonder of flight, regardless of their disability.
What we’re doing to promote accessible travel
In recognition of National Autism Awareness Month in April 2023, Miami International Airport hosted its first post-pandemic MIA Airport Instruction and Readiness (MIAair) tour for more than 40 children with special needs. The tour allowed participants to walk through the airport travel experience from start to finish in a safe and controlled environment. Attendees included children from the Kendale Lakes Elementary School’s behaviour management class.
MIA was also the overall winner of the 2021 Airport Accessibility Award during the sixth Annual Airport Passengers with Reduced Mobility (PRM) Leadership Conference”
The children, accompanied by their teachers or guardians, practiced entering the airport, getting boarding passes, going through security, and boarding an American Airlines plane. The programme also served as a learning experience for airline and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers at MIA. More than 150 children and adults with special needs have participated in the tours since the programme’s inception back in 2015.
The MIAair tour programme is just one initiative within MyMIAccess, a diverse menu of services, amenities, and information for MIA passengers with disabilities that have gained national and international recognition. In July 2022, MIA received the Civil Rights Advocate and Partner Award from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which honours ADA coordinators and airport sponsors who have demonstrated excellence in meeting the letter and spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. MIA was also the overall winner of the 2021 Airport Accessibility Award during the sixth Annual Airport Passengers with Reduced Mobility (PRM) Leadership Conference, after earning 50% of the votes from the virtual conference’s 159 attendees from 42 countries around the world.
Another MyMIAccess programme is the airport’s accessibility lanes, which allow passengers with disabilities or limited mobility arriving at MIA from foreign destinations to request special queueing assistance when travelling through the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) area.
If a passenger does not request a wheelchair from their airline but still requires special queueing assistance in the Customs area, they can complete an accessibility lane request form at MIA’s website 48 hours in advance of their arrival. Once they arrive at Customs and provide their name to a Miami-Dade Aviation Department (MDAD) employee, they will be directed to the accessibility lane for CBP processing. Submittal of the request form provides access to the special assistance accessibility lane but does not guarantee expedited service. Passengers with limited mobility are also encouraged to request a wheelchair directly from their airline
Our on-site facilities to help PRM
During Mobility Awareness Month in May 2021, Miami-Dade County leaders and advocates for the local disability community held a plug-in ceremony to celebrate MIA’s installation of 10 new wheelchair charging stations. MIA is one of the first U.S. airports to install charging stations, which exceeds the basic Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) airport requirements. The charging stations are available at eight post-security and two pre-security throughout the airport. Locations for the wheelchair charging stations and MIA’s other accessibility services are available on the airport’s MyMIAccess web page.
In November 2020, MIA became one of the first 10 U.S. airports and 34 worldwide to provide sunflower lanyards free of charge to travellers with hidden disabilities. The lanyards, which act as a discreet indicator to airport employees that those passengers may need some extra time during the travel process, were unveiled during a ribbon-cutting ceremony with community partners for MIA’s second multi-sensory room.
The goal of the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Lanyard global initiative is to raise awareness that some disabilities, such as autism, hearing loss, and PTSD, are not visible. MIA employees have also received customer service training about the lanyards and best practices for serving travellers with hidden disabilities.
Also in November 2020, MIA opened its second multi-sensory room in its South Terminal near gate J3, where young passengers with cognitive and developmental disabilities can find a calming place to relax during the travel experience. MIA’s other multi-sensory room is in its North Terminal, near Gate D31. The rooms include sensory-soothing fixtures such as an aquatic bubble tub, wall puzzles, cushioned seats, and a light projector, all within a dimly lit space. The rooms are open seven days a week from 06:00 to 22:00.
Lastly, MIA has four service animal relief areas (SARA) that are easily accessible to all passengers beyond security, so service animals and pets can do their business without having to exit and re-enter the security checkpoint.
The SARA facilities are equipped with a patch of Astroturf, two sprinkler heads, and a drainage system to maintain cleanliness, as well as cleaning supplies for owners to clean up after. If MIA’s four-legged travellers want to get outside the airport for some fresh South Florida air, MIA also has three outdoor animal relief areas outside of its North, Central, and South terminals.
Promoting accessibility support digitally
In recognition of Blindness Awareness Month in October 2019, representatives from Miami-Dade County, Aira, and the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired gathered at MIA to announce the airport’s addition to the Aira Airport Network – a free mobile service that allows blind or low-vision travellers to receive up-to-the-minute flight information, navigate security, use self-service kiosks, find restaurants and services, identify baggage, and more.
With just the tap of a button, Aira users connect with real, highly trained professionals who can see their surroundings through their mobile device’s camera. The app is free to download from the Apple App and Google Play stores, and thanks to Aira Access, the service is free to use at MIA.
Receiving international recognition
In recognition of our commitment to prioritising and ensuring an accessible, safe, and inclusive travelling experience for passengers with disabilities, MIA was accredited by the Airports Council International (ACI) Accessibility Enhancement Accreditation (AEA) programme in May 2023.
MIA is the first airport in Florida and the second in the United States to be accredited by the programme, which was created by ACI in September 2022 based on existing international best practices and recommendations, including those in the ACI Airport and Persons with Disability Handbook. The AEA programme also received input from global airport members, industry partners, and accessibility advocacy groups.
We agree with ACI that it is crucial for airports to ensure that they prioritise their national regulations on all matters related to accessibility, safety, and inclusiveness of travellers, airport workers, and the visiting public, when applicable, while continuously enhancing access for all and aiming to remove barriers in the airport experience.
Ralph Cutié is the Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Miami-Dade Aviation Department. He oversees operations at Miami International Airport (MIA) and four general aviation (GA) airports in the Miami area, which together generate $31.9 billion in business revenue and support more than 275,000 direct and indirect jobs. MIA leads the way, handling more than 50 million passengers and more than 2.7 million tons of cargo annually, placing it among America’s busiest international passenger and cargo airports
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