Accessibility at Miami International Airport

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By: Melanie Gomez

Navigating one of the largest, busiest airports in the US sounds like a daunting prospect to any parent contemplating a vacation with the kids. Add special needs or disability into that journey, and one might be tempted to cross air travel off the list completely. Here is why Miami International Airport (MIA) is one of the friendliest, easiest places to pass through for your family, no matter the exceptionality that affects you.

There are, of course, common denominators in every airport, tiny or global, that cannot be avoided and provide almost identical experiences: check-in lines, TSA security zones, and boarding procedures are the same virtually everywhere in the US. However, even in these areas, MIA excels at awareness and accommodation for special needs. If you’re in the Greater Miami area a few days before your flight, they offer a phenomenal “rehearsal” program called MIAair that allows special needs travelers the opportunity to practice the entire travel experience in a safe and controlled environment. Definitely click the link above to learn more about it and make an appointment if you have a new or trepidatious traveler.

There is an unmistakable friendliness towards a special needs traveler at MIA which you may think is just part of the warm Latin culture that permeates the airport. But it turns out that a welcoming and open attitude towards individuals with differences is an intentional atmosphere that MIA works hard to cultivate and maintain. ADA Awareness and Sensitivity training is not only ongoing, but touches every employee at the airport, including janitors, concessions employees, etc. There is ongoing training focusing on invisible disabilities and how to interact with children and adults who have special needs. The kindness you will experience is not a happy coincidence, but rather a valued characteristic for airport staff that is promoted by devoting time and resources to it.

Here is a list of the top 5 most important features for ease of travel that you will find at MIA:

  1. Companion Bathrooms. Moms with boys and dads with daughters know the importance of this one. These large, private rooms also garner first place for most traveling with wheelchairs or who require accommodation for any type of medical device. You’ll be hard pressed to find an airport anywhere in the world with more of these heavenly oasis than when walking through MIA. You can find them in every passenger area, near almost every typical restroom location. There are over 35 located throughout the airport.
  2. Disability Awareness and Acceptance. MIA is continually training every employee on this and they’ve done a fantastic job.
  3. Wheelchair accessibility. It is strategic and obvious through every aspect of the airport, from the parking lot through the concourse and terminals, to include every eatery, store and restroom area.
  4. Dietary options. This one is often overlooked, but if you’ve spent the past six months working gluten or other ingredients out of your child’s diet, there’s nothing quite as pleasant as finding a wide array of food that fits. You’ll find menu after menu with special dietary restricted offerings.
  5. Service Dog relief area. Amazing! This feature is truly cutting edge. If you are traveling with a service dog this one surely just put a smile on your face! Check out this YouTube video, MIA Pet Relief, for all the furry details.

The aforementioned benefits are specific to the airport facility itself. In addition, there are a lot of really helpful services that you can take advantage of at any U.S. airport to enhance your special needs travel experience. Here are some recommendations, no matter the airport:

  • travel at off-peak hours
  • call the airline ahead of time to make sure your seats are together and near the lavatory
  • secure an appointment with TSA Cares to avoid standing in long lines and make sure the TSA agent you deal with is trained for travelers with special needs (especially if you do have to travel during peak hours)
  • speak with the gate agent to acquire pre-boarding privileges; arrive early.

Hopefully this quick snapshot of MIA and the variety of efforts they have made to help special needs families feel welcome and enjoy a smooth-as-possible experience will help with your decision to take the plunge and book the trip!

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