A sweet ride

Wonderful story from the Washington Post:

Fantasy Flight at Dulles Delivers Holiday Magic
Sick Children and Their Families Visit Santa

Andrew Luckabaugh could hardly contain himself. The Fairfax County 9-year-old was aboard a Boeing 777 at Dulles International Airport, bound for the North Pole. Soon, he would be meeting Santa Claus and telling the big guy what he wants for Christmas this year.

"A Wii," Luckabaugh said with a smile yesterday, referring to the video game system.

Luckabaugh, who is in remission from Hodgkin's disease, was one of about 150 children who headed to the North Pole yesterday, along with their families, as part of United Airlines' annual Fantasy Flight. The program, started in 1990, takes children with life-threatening conditions and terminal illnesses from hospitals and hospices across the region on a make-believe flight to visit Santa on his home turf. United employees, along with other sponsors, volunteer time and services each year to make it an extra special Christmas for such children.

"It was an emotional day," said Chazz Banks, manager of international operations for United Airlines and this year's Fantasy Flight chair. "Just to see the smiles on the faces of the children who are suffering, the parents -- we give them a day off."

The interior of the plane was decorated with tinsel, red ribbons, wreaths and Christmas ornaments. Flight attendants wore bells and blew cinnamon-scented bubbles. Some wore antlers. Others wore elf ears and jester hats. There were candy canes for everyone.

For Linda Cassell, 38, of Purcellville, the flight was a way to honor her son, Christopher, who died of a metabolic brain disorder in August, a week after his first birthday. She hoped to inspire others who might be going through similar hardships. She and her husband brought their daughter, Allyson, 4, on the trip.

"I'm just blown away by the happiness that surrounds these kids and their families . . . for what they have to go through," she said.

An announcement came over the intercom: "Ladies and gentlemen . . . we are United Sleigh Ride One with nonstop service to the North Pole."

The aircraft shook as it sped down the runway. Just as the plane was about to lift off, its engines were put in reverse and the intercom announced that the plane had reached its destination. Passengers erupted with applause and cheers. They disembarked to several gates that had been transformed into a winter wonderland: There were Christmas trees, arts and crafts, face painting, music and food. Clowns and other characters, including SpongeBob SquarePants and Ronald McDonald, greeted the youngsters and posed for photos.

And then came the big guy himself, Santa, with Mrs. Claus. They handed out presents to the children and their siblings based on the kids' wish lists. Children's Hospice International, an Alexandria-based nonprofit organization that partnered with United on the flight, had forwarded the lists to Santa.

Awesome -- kudos to United for doing this!

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This page contains a single entry by DaveH published on December 14, 2008 7:30 PM.

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