A Heartwarming Holiday Event Takes Kids to the North Pole
Snowflakes were falling, laughter was heard all around and smiles were seen from children and adults alike. During the early Friday morning of December 3, United Airlines held its annual Fantasy Flight event. Gate C at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport’s Terminal 2 was transformed into a magical holiday wonderland complete with Santa’s North Pole, Mrs. Claus’ kitchen, games, crafting stations, holiday music and much more.
The event began with 113 children from two local schools, Children First Academy (formerly Thomas J. Pappas School) and Concordia, boarding a United aircraft. Their destination was the wintry North Pole. The children actually took a brief flight, a first for many of them. Upon arrival back at Phoenix Sky Harbor, Phoenix Fire trucks greeted the plane with a water arch. As the children disembarked, they were met by a cast of characters from Santa and Mrs. Claus to elves, Rudolph, Belle from Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, Tinkerbell and much more.
The holiday event featured a variety of activities for the children. They played putt putt golf, enjoyed a snowman bean bag toss and met a variety of Disney characters in addition to Daffy Duck, a Sock Monkey, Sparky from the ASU Sun Devils and Howler from the Phoenix Coyotes. Elves led the kids into Santa’s wonderland where they could tell Santa and Mrs. Claus their Christmas wishes. And, Ronald McDonald greeted the children, told jokes and stories and handed out breakfast sandwiches. The children were also given gifts through the Marine Toys for Tots Program.
The children enjoyed facing painting and balloon creations. Many made festive bookmarks while others decorated holiday sugar cookies. Additionally, the kids had the opportunity to meet members of the Phoenix Fire and Police Departments. Firefighters brought their mascot; handed out fire hats and showed the children some of the clothing they wear to fight fires. Members of the Phoenix Police Department introduced their K-9 unit. The dog became the center of attention as the children gathered around to say hello. And, the Phoenix Police Department gave the kids the opportunity to get up close to see their motorcycles.
This heartwarming event, a tradition for United Airline crews across the country, had an interesting start. Captain Bob Miller was one of the original pilots on the very first United Fantasy Flight in 1991. In December of that year, pilots took a group of children on a United 727 plane from London to Rovaniemi, Finland, home of Santa Claus. There, the kids traveled to the Christmas village, enjoyed cider, and went on a reindeer sleigh ride. That experience was a 14 hour day that included 8 hours of total flying Miller said. The United staff on that flight had so much fun that they decided to organize similar events in the US. Since 1994, this event has taken place at Phoenix Sky Harbor. Now in its 16th year, original organizer Captain Bob Miller said that each year gets better and better.
“This is really more than just a one day event,” said Miller. “We focus on creating a fun event, but also we want to provide positive role models for the kids. We have college students, pilots, firefighters and police here, among others. We want to show these children that you can go to school and do any of these jobs and be successful in life.”
Miller mentioned that a child who participated in one of first Fantasy Flights in Phoenix said that he when he grew up he wanted to work for United. That child kept his dream alive and today works as a baggage handler for United at Phoenix Sky Harbor.
This event would not be possible without the hard-work from volunteers. “These volunteers spent countless hours setting up and preparing for the event,” said First Officer Kevin Arnold, a first time volunteer who very much enjoyed the event. “They worked hard to give the kids a neat experience, and this event really gives those kids the chance to have a special day.”
The event had more than 100 volunteers from United Airlines, the Phoenix Police and Fire Departments, city of Phoenix Aviation Department staff and the Boy Scouts. In addition, Arizona State University’s Student Athlete Group provided 26 volunteers representing 10 different collegiate sports, who served as “buddies” to the kids and helped ensure that they had the chance to do everything they desired on this special morning.
First published: December 3, 2010