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The sweetest airport wants to be the most accessible airport too

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As far as sweet airport amenities go, Indiana’s Fort Wayne International Airport (FWA) has others beat. For about 25 years now, volunteers have been welcoming passengers to Indiana with big smiles and free, fresh-baked cookies.

When no volunteers are on duty, a self-serve cookie kiosk is set out so that no traveler must go without a welcome-home snack.

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“We’re a proud member of the Fort Wayne community and want to be a good neighbor for the airport,” David Richhart, Ellison’s director of national accounts, said. “We know people love and have come to expect free cookies when they get off the airplane here. And we won’t allow the airport to be without cookies.”

This passenger-first approach extends to the terminal renovation and expansion project underway at FWA.

Beyond cookies and curb cuts

The cookies are still there, of course. They come from Ellison, a wholesale bakery across the street from the airport. For many years, Fort Wayne’s Chamber of Commerce bought the cookies wholesale and branded the packages with the airport’s name. Not long after the airport handed out its 3 millionth cookie, the bakery offered to supply them for free.

The Ellison bakery now sends over about 7,000 one-ounce packets of assorted bite-size cookies each month.

cookies at gate

In addition to providing sweet treats, the airport is determined to make its updated terminal as accessible and inclusive as possible because, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four adults in the U.S. has some type of disability.

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Like many airports, FWA already has a host of accessible features in place, such as a sensory room and family restrooms. Additionally, its Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Program signals to airport and airline staff that a traveler may need some extra care, patience and assistance.

The airport is adding and upgrading an extensive list of other features, thanks to grants and federal funding as well as its architectural and construction firm, Mead & Hunt. Many local and regional groups representing disabled populations gave input for the improvements.

Below are just a few of the universal design features that technically fall under the “accessibility” label but can be quite helpful to every traveler.

Rolled curbs

Most of us are familiar with curb cuts — those ramp-like features cut into sidewalks so wheelchair users can more easily maneuver. They also make life easier for walkers, bikers, kids, people pushing baby carriages and anyone rolling a suitcase.

FWA has extended the curb cut concept so the entire curb is a “rolled curb.” This makes it easier to load and unload passengers using wheelchairs. It also means no one has to lift a suitcase, a baby stroller or anything heavy from the curb onto the sidewalk.

Low-profile baggage scales

In the ticket lobby, the baggage scales at the check-in counter are just an inch off the floor. This thoughtful and accessible design feature ensures that no one, especially those with limited upper body strength, has to lift heavy luggage.


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Lounge-style seating

The couch-like seating in the ticket lobby and out by the gates isn’t just there to look pretty. It was chosen because it doesn’t have armrests at the ends or in the middle.

fwa airport

The lack of armrests makes seating more comfortable for larger people, for those who want (or need) to sit close to someone else and for travelers with mobility issues who may need help sitting down, standing up or moving from a wheelchair.

Wayfinding tools

Ever get lost at an airport or have a tough time finding your gate number?

That won’t happen at FWA.

gate number fwa

There aren’t many gates anyway, but regardless, all signage is brightly colored to make it easy for everyone to find their way through FWA. The gate numbers are notably large, and the terrazzo flooring has a contrasting pattern that flows in the direction of travel.

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For travelers with low or no vision, there is also a tactile cane trail with ribbed tiles set into the terrazzo; it runs through the entire terminal building, from the check-in counters through the security checkpoint and to the gates.

Reasons for extra accessible features

FWA has upgraded and/or added glass jet bridges in its new terminal. It also features a family restroom with an adult changing table, a hearing loop system, mothers’ rooms, adjustable-height countertops with power points, a service animal relief area and a kids play area.

kids area

It is all part of the airport’s goal “to be the best front door possible for the Fort Wayne and the Northeast Indiana community,” airport spokesperson Katie Robinson said. “We’ve worked with local agencies to go beyond what is necessary and compliant to create an environment that takes away some of the stresses of travel for those of different abilities.”

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