Who hasn’t imagined what it would be like to fly? To break free of the bonds of Earth and float upward? The folks at iFLY at Universal Studios CityWalk have been making that happen for folks for more than a decade. For the past year, they’ve been flying those who not only want to overcome the pull of gravity, but the pull of their disabilities as well.
iFly is a chain of indoor skydiving facilities where visitors learn to float on a cushion of air in a wind tunnel. And the CityWalk location hosts all-abilities nights on the last Friday of each month, flying those with physical and developmental challenges. “We’ve had children with autism, people who are blind, people with limited mobility. Everyone’s been unique, and we’ve definitely flown a variety of customers,” says General Manager Diana Rios.
The flight crew makes accommodations for these special customers, but that’s actually true for just about anyone who flies with them. “All of us are different in a sense,” Rios says. “When we train our instructors, there’s that uniqueness to each customer.”
A second instructor can help those with limited mobility enter the wind tunnel, get them into position and fly alongside them.
For those with developmental or sensory challenges – or anyone who might be apprehensive – instructors take extra time to explain the process. The earplugs worn by all fliers help dampen the noise, and a full-face mask attached to the helmet keeps the wind at bay. “It keeps the air out of your face when you’re flying, and we’ve noticed that it does tend to help,” says Rios.
Subtitles are part of the pre-flight training video to assist those who are hearing impaired. For the blind and visually impaired, instructors take extra time to explain the process and substitute physical touch for the hand signals they normally give to students during a flight. “The instructors just take their time with them,” says Rios, “walk them through, explain the process to them, make sure they understand what they’re getting themselves into.”
The whole idea is to ensure that these special customers have the same experience that anyone else would have. And if the feedback they receive is any indication, they’re making that happen. “We haven’t had a single customer who hasn’t enjoyed it,” Rios says, “especially customers with limited mobility. They can’t believe that they actually flew.”
The experience is open to anyone ages 3 and up, and there is a weight limit of 260 pounds for safety reasons. Beyond that, Rios encourages everyone to give it a try.
It’s best to reserve a spot at least a week in advance for all-abilities night. Flight packages normally start at $59.95 per person (which includes two flights and all equipment rental), but all-abilities pricing starts at $39.95 for anyone with a disability and the friends and family who accompany them. “It’s something they can do together, which is great,” says Rios. If all-abilities night doesn’t fit your schedule, Rios says the crew will fly those with all abilities any day of the week.
If you have any concerns, just call ahead and explain your situation so that the crew can figure out how best to make a flight happen. “We will do our best to fly anybody, as long as it’s safe and as long as they’re willing to work with us,” Rios says. “You get that rush, that feeling that you can’t compare to anything else. We’re just trying to make sure that everybody gets that from us.”