United Airlines sends over 100 terminally ill children on a special dream trip to the North Pole for the holidays
There’s more than one way to get to the North Pole (official airport code: NTP). Some go by flying sled, some by train.
But on December 14th, over 100 deserving children in the Children’s Hospice International network went in style — on the prestigious Snowflake 1 courtesy of United Airlines.
In fact, this year was the 30th anniversary of United Airlines’ Fantasy Flights, The Points Guy reported.
Originally founded by former shift manager Don Swanzy and Kirk Douglas at Washington-Dulles airport just outside of Washington, D.C., they wanted to do something special for the organization that does so much for families of children with life-threatening illnesses.
Their plan to send critically ill children and their siblings to the North Pole aboard a McDonnell Douglas DC-10 was so ambitious, Children’s Hospice International’s founder Ann Armstrong-Dailey recalls wondering if it was some kind of a prank.
But 30 years later, this crazy little idea has grown into something truly amazing.
The inaugural flight was a quick one. Due to the fragile nature of many of the children meant they wouldn’t be able to handle a proper flight.
But no one ever said that a little Majical rocket fuel couldn’t speed up time a little, so all the pilot had to do was rev the engines enough for the wheels to lift off the ground for a few seconds.
After arriving at Santa’s Workshop, the children all got their picture taken with the Big Guy himself.
Today, North Pole flights can be found all around the world and are often far more involved.
A team of hundreds of volunteers is needed to make it all possible, including volunteer pilots and flight attendants.
Each family making the trip is assigned a special attendant to escort them through the immaculately decorated airport — even the security lines and airport taxis are decorated for the occasion.
Throughout the departure gate, stations are set up to provide holiday snacks and drinks along with activities such as face painting.
Of course, the fun doesn’t end once boarding commences. Once the families arrive at their seat, they are greeted by caroling flight attendants decked out in their own holiday gear.
Every single seat is given its own holiday makeover: tinsel, Christmas presents, wrapping paper, and enough tinsel to decorate a Christmas tree farm.
And that’s just the plane ride — the main attraction is, of course, the North Pole itself, and it doesn’t disappoint.
With the help of volunteers from local military, law enforcement, and fire departments, the children were invited to take part in dozens of activities such as “North Pole Night Vision Lessons,” arts and crafts, additional face painting, character meet and greets (including Anna and Elsa of Frozen fame) and lunch.
The volunteers also handed out hundreds of stuffed animals to the children throughout the day, because what is Christmas without a stuffed animal or three?
As for Santa, he is there in all his jolly good cheer just as he has been since Snowflake 1’s first flight — only these days he takes Christmas Day to answer inquiries.
Each child that visits receives their own personal bag of toys!
United Airlines’ Fantasy Flights was originally meant to give these children and their families one day out of the year where they can feel normal, where they can forget all bad things for a little bit and be just like everyone else.
In this regard, it’s difficult to describe United’s efforts as nothing more than a rousing, and heartwarming, success.
Although Snowflake 1 might one-up his rickety old sleigh, something tells us that Santa approves.