United Airlines is helping more than 800 children and their families get into the holiday spirit on “Fantasy Flights” to the “North Pole."
The families, departing from 12 airports nationwide this month, board aircraft bound for Santa's hometown for a special holiday experience. After a quick flight, they arrive at magical winter wonderland which airport gate employees have completely transformed with lights, Christmas trees and other holiday decorations.
Many of the children suffer from serious illnesses or are in recovery. To help lift their spirits, United employees volunteer their time and raise money to create these one-of-a-kind experiences and memories for families in their communities.
It is the airline’s 24th year participating in the program. The first Fantasy Flight occurred in London, England in December 1991, when United Airlines donated a 727 to fly 100 children from an orphanage to Lapland, Rovaneimi Finland for reindeer sleigh rides and a visit to “Father Christmas Village.”
The concept has gradually expanded to 46 cities. This year’s participating airports are Boise, Chicago-O'Hare, Cleveland, Denver, Houston Bush, Guam, Los Angeles, Newark, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Francisco and Washington-Dulles.
More than 1,400 volunteers and 300 United employees in costume infuse holiday cheer into every detail of the experience. They include flight attendants and pilots dressed in festive attire. Employees on the tarmac don elf hats.
Tinsel, ornaments and thousands of feet of lights cover the airports. Flight attendants even add a unique twist to the onboard safety demonstration, announcing it in the style of "Twas the Night Before Christmas."
At the North Pole, Santa and Mrs. Claus hand out more than 2,500 presents and the kids join in festive activities and games to finish off their unique journeys.