MONTGOMERYVILLE, Pa. (WTXF) - Ben Hartranft—also known as the mayor of North Penn High School—happens to have autism, and he wants to shed light on what it means to be on the spectrum.
The 19-year-old recently experienced a life "first" when he flew on a plane by himself.
He lights up talking about his first time flying on a plane without his parents.
“I flew in from Philadelphia to Atlanta Airport, and I saw my brother over the weekend,” he said.
He went to Atlanta, Georgia for a three-day weekend to see his brother Dan at college. Flying solo is a big accomplishment for this young man, who is thriving and gaining some independence living with autism.
“I had one carry-on bag and it did not get lost, so they were great to me,” he said. Ben says his trip went smoothly thanks to a program called TSA Cares that he found out about at school. He called himself and let them know he was coming. He documented his trip on social media.
“They helped get through the gate and they took me right through security right to the gate and then the flight attendants actually upgraded my seat,” he said. To help others help him Ben wore a sticker his dad made. It reads “Please be patient with me. I have Autism.” His mom Sandy says it’s a huge help.
“So many kids with autism have sensory issues and you think about the whole screening process and the noise and all that and airports are confusing,” she said.
Sandy got a little nervous when one of Ben’s flights was delayed and the gate changed, but staff took care of him.
“When he’s moving he’s fine but to know that there’s something, traffic or something impeding his process that kind of escalates his anxiety,” said Sandy.
TSA workers and Spirit Airlines employees took selfies with Ben, and the pilot gave him a tour of the cockpit.
“I felt pretty excited because I wanted to meet new people and tell them about my disability and tell them that April is National Autism Awareness," he said.
The sticker made by Ben’s dad made all the difference.
“Just take that extra second, understand if I’m being a little loud or I’ve asked you the same question more than once and as soon as people see that they’re like 'I get it,'” said Sandy.
“This quote is by me and it says, 'Having autism isn’t a bad thing. It doesn’t characterize who we are,' said Ben.
For more information on TSA Cares, see here.