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Expecting strong summer, Albany International Airport announces accessibility upgrades

A banner at Albany International Airport with the observation deck in the background.
Alexander Babbie
A banner at Albany International Airport with the observation deck in the background.

Albany International Airport continues to make accessibility upgrades ahead of what’s expected to be a busy summer.

Airport Authority CEO Phil Calderone expects a busy summer for travelers unhindered by COVID-19 restrictions for the first time in three years.

“So our enplanements are now around 85 to 90% of 2019 levels. We saw during the spring break actually exceeding 2019 levels, and we're hopeful that this summer will also exceed 2019 levels," Calderone said.

The airport saw over 1.5 million departing passengers that year, the last before COVID. It’s undergoing a $100 million terminal expansion to further boost flight and passenger capacity and was recently named an Accessibility Enhancement Accreditation recipient, the fourth globally and first in the United States. The accreditation comes from the Airports Council International, an organization of airport authorities whose mission is the standardization of global airport operations.

Calderone said Monday that the airport takes its commitment to accessibility seriously.

“Some of the actions we've taken include staff volunteer training programs, implementation of the Sunflower lanyard program, our therapy dog program, our iPad app over our free Wi Fi, which is designed for the blind and visually impaired. And so many of the building design features," Calderone said.

A program that began in London, the sunflower lanyards allow people who have invisible disabilities to signal that they may also need assistance. Sunflower Program North America director Lynn Smith says it’s a vital investment in accessibility.

“The program started in Gatwick Airport, the Hidden Disability Sunflower Program, in 2016. In 2020, it was brought over here and I got involved in the U.S. Albany was one of the top third airports that came on board, and they instantly understood what a little symbol could mean," Smith said.

Calderone says the upgrades are aimed at reducing sensory overload.

“Some of the exciting new concepts that we have in the $100 million terminal expansion project include a sensory room for those with neurosensory challenges. It includes a new children's area for families once they get through the TSA checkpoint. It includes greater recompose areas for folks once they get through that TSA checkpoint," Calderone said.

Steve Smith of the Albany Police Department is also Board Chair of the Northeast Association for the Blind. He says travelers with disabilities are a large portion of those on the move.

“According to the CDC, nearly 61 million Americans experience some type of disability. And out of that 61 million, 27 million of those travel by air annually," Smith said.

Maureen O’Brien, President and CEO of New York State Industry for the Disabled, or NYSID, says accessibility is especially important since Albany is a medical destination.

“The Capital Region is home to the Melodies Center, a pediatric cancer care and blood disorders unit at Albany Medical Center. Many patients travel here for care. It's important for those patients to be able to move through the airport with ease," O'Brien said.

O’Brien added that the airport is making strides in hiring workers with disabilities.

“Not only does the airport authority work to provide greater accessibility, they've made a commitment to working with NYSID to diversify their supply chain, prioritizing the employment of individuals with disabilities. I'm so proud of this partnership that we have to provide floor cleaning services here at the airport," O'Brien added.