Lifestyle & Human Interest

United Airlines Flies Hundreds of Kids to 'North Pole' for Christmas


Don’t you hate how the holidays seem to lose their sheen as you get older? The magic of the season slowly vanishes beneath a veil of increasing responsibility.

Christmas in particular falls prey to societal pressure. Whether you celebrate Santa or Jesus’ advent, it’s easy to lose sight of all the magic and wonder as you ponder your credit card balance.

Not so with children. Every moment seems wondrous, and as part of annual tradition, United Airlines helps needy kids keep that magic alive.

That tradition is the Fantasy Flights, and the United website does a good job explaining what they are: “Around this time of year [i.e., December], hundreds of employees and retiree volunteers gear up for what are some of the most exciting events of the year – Fantasy Flights.

“Sixteen of our airport locations across the globe will bring holiday cheer to children in need by taking them on a very special trip to the ‘North Pole.’ The children, many of them terminally ill or suffering from serious medical conditions, are treated to a day filled with joy, gifts food, entertainment and most importantly a lot of love.”

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In case you’re wondering about the quotes around “North Pole,” the flights don’t actually ferry the children up to the top of the world. Rather, they take off, fly about, and then land at a different gate.

Sometimes Santa joins the passengers on the plane. Other times, he’s waiting with the elves once they land.

The demographic that the airline reaches out to varies from city to city. Each one picks a charity to connect with and a different group of needy children to aid.

For example, the Chicago-based United Fantasy Flight typically turns to Cal’s Angels, a nonprofit the helps little ones with pediatric cancers. “Some of these kids might not have flown on a plane before, and might not ever be able to,” Cal’s Angels program director Ashley Nakayama said.

“This is a highlight for many of our families. Some of our families who’ve had kids pass away since the event even continue to tell us that.”

“For some of these children, it might be their last Christmas,” flight attendant Jodie Stoppenbach explained to People on Dec. 8.

Flight attendant Sheila Omann added, “It is so heartwarming, heartfelt. It’s hard to hold back the tears, but the joy in their faces every single year is amazing.”

In fact, program volunteers seem to get as much out of the experiences as the children and their families. James Ona, who volunteers with University Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, told the North Jersey Record that “it’s beyond humbling.”

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“I normally don’t see my family because I work so much,” she added. “So when I get to see this kind of joy, I get to kind of share and watch and miss my kids.”

Indeed, the Fantasy Flight that took place at Newark Liberty International Airport included a rare sighting that utterly delighted its young occupants. While the flight was in the air, the captain announced, “A sleigh with six reindeer has been spotted to the right of the aircraft.”

The children began to scream, “Santa! Santa! Santa!” And for a moment, they could forget the woes that awaited them back on the earth and just live as children in the magic of Christmas.

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A graduate of Wheaton College with a degree in literature, Loren also adores language. He has served as assistant editor for Plugged In magazine and copy editor for Wildlife Photographic magazine.
A graduate of Wheaton College with a degree in literature, Loren also adores language. He has served as assistant editor for Plugged In magazine and copy editor for Wildlife Photographic magazine. Most days find him crafting copy for corporate and small-business clients, but he also occasionally indulges in creative writing. His short fiction has appeared in a number of anthologies and magazines. Loren currently lives in south Florida with his wife and three children.
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