About 120 kindergartners and first graders from the Children First Academy of Phoenix will be transported to the North Pole via airplane Friday morning.
The elementary children, most of them homeless, will board a special flight that only departs from Sky Harbor International Airport once a year.
This flight is called “SANTA 1.”
It will only be a short half hour plane ride, but once the children arrive at their snow-covered destination, the Valley of the Sun will seem like a distant memory.
This is the Fantasy Flight; a yearly tradition United Airlines crew members and employees host for local underprivileged children. To the kids, this seems like the opportunity of a lifetime. When else do they have the chance to get out of school to meet Santa Claus in his workshop? To the crew members, this is a joyous and humbling experience, one that they freely donate their time and money to.
“It really is a special experience ... to see the looks on the kids’ faces when they arrive at the North Pole is priceless,” Brian Smith, a captain from United Airlines and Ahwatukee Foothills resident said. Smith will be flying the Boeing 757 on Friday morning.
For many of the children, this will be there first time ever being on a plane. It will be just like regular boarding protocol, Smith said, with actual tickets and a check in at Gate 3 in Terminal 2.
Once on the aircraft, crew members and special guests, many of them retired airline employees from Ahwatukee Foothills, will entertain the children and prepare them for landing at the North Pole.
The “North Pole” is actually Gate C, a remote area of the airport that has been fully decked out in holiday style. Santa, Mrs. Claus, and all the elves will be there to welcome the children at the doors and then host a Christmas party complete with gifts, games, music and food.
“The kids not only get toys, but things they need, like toiletries and clothes,” Smith said.
The kids from Children First Academy of Phoenix, most of them 6 to 8 years old, were selected to participate in flight based on academic achievement.
This will be 16th Fantasy Flight United Airlines has hosted in Phoenix. To help pay for costs like jet fuel, sponsors such as the ASU Cheerleaders, Phoenix Police and K-9 Unit, the Phoenix Fire Department, the City of Phoenix and Sky Harbor International Airport have donated money to support the flight and the children. United Airlines Fantasy Flight is a 501 C -3 designated charity and all donations made are tax deductible.
For more information, visit www.unitedfantasyflight.com
Leslie D’Ambrosio is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. She is a sophomore at Arizona State University.