A group from C.A.R.E.S. Inc., a Western Pa. program that offers services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, tours Presley's Place at Pittsburgh International Airport. (Photo by Beth Hollerich)

WATCH: PIT Travelers Rediscover Presley’s Place

With air travel on the rise, more passengers flying to or from Pittsburgh are discovering—or rediscovering—a calming oasis in the middle of a busy airport.

When Pittsburgh International Airport opened Presley’s Place in 2019, it set a new global standard for sensory rooms and amenities focused on travelers with sensory sensitivities.

The space, tucked away in Concourse A just past Gate A9, is exactly what some travelers need.

“You really don’t think of an airport as having a place like this to be honest,” said Kylie Radaker, a direct support professional with C.A.R.E.S. Inc. of Western Pennsylvania, an organization that provides services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

C.A.R.E.S. recently brought a group to tour Presley’s Place.

“To be able to have a place to be just a little more isolated and get away from everything that is more overwhelming for them can make their traveling experience so much better,” Radaker said.

According to the CDC, about 1 in 44 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder and more than 5 million adults are living with autism.

“Presley’s Place is exactly what it’s for: to help people who may be more sensitive to sensory stimulation to help them come here and decompress before they can get on an airplane,” said Samantha Stedford, PIT’s Director of Customer Experience. “Also, to familiarize themselves with getting on an airplane before they actually have to experience it.”

Note in the suggestion box

Presley’s Place is the result of  a note left in the company suggestion box by Jason Rudge, a heavy equipment operator at the airport,  suggesting a sensory room. Rudge’s son, Presley, has autism.

PIT CEO Christina Cassotis read the note, called Jason into her office, and decided on the spot to build the 1,500-square-foot space. Presley’s Place has become a blueprint for similar spaces around the world, particularly in transportation hubs like airports and train stations.

Nearly 2,000 guests have passed through its doors, a number that would be even higher if not for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now the numbers are picking up.

“We are getting so many requests to tour Presley’s Place since people have been coming back to travel,” said Stedford. “We will take them through ticketing, security, all of the way over to Presley’s Place and their gate to show them what the entire experience is like before they actually take that flight for the first time,” said Stedford.

Presley’s Place is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Families can simply visit the room when traveling but can also request a tour by emailing PIT at info@flypittsburgh.com

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