The skies were clear and the sun was setting Saturday as Alaska Airlines flight 1225 took off, fueled by a force more powerful than jet fuel. The magic of 64 children and Santa’s elves helped propel the Boeing 737 on its annual pilgrimage from Spokane International Airport to the “North Pole.”
This was no ordinary airplane ride. Flight attendants handed out glow sticks and led Christmas carols in a sea of glitter, red and white striped stockings, pointy ears, whimsical costumes, and a healthy dose of laughter. The plane exploded into squeals as the mischievous Seesaw, the North Pole’s only elf to make it on the naughty list, was discovered by flight attendants in the overhead bin wearing an oxygen mask and a life vest.
The children, ages 4 to 10, live in Spokane-area shelters and hostels and were selected to participate in the annual Fantasy Flight, organized by non-profit Northwest North Pole Adventures. Local social service agencies selected children who desperately needed to create positive Christmas holiday memories. Event sponsors include Alaska Airlines and its sister carrier Horizon Air, along with other companies that donated jet fuel, food, toys, and other items. Alaska, a sponsor for the past eight years, donates an aircraft for the half hour flight and many employees volunteer their time.
Watch: Evening Magazine feature on this year’s Fantasy Flight
Steve Paul, executive director of Fantasy Flight, serves as ringleader for the elaborate operation- taking on the role of Bernie the head elf, dressed in white with a red top hat. Paul spends the whole year planning the event and coordinating the 250 volunteers who make it possible.
Paul explained that Santa selected 250 of his best elves to bring the 64 children to his home at the North Pole.
He said the elves he selected must “embody the magic and spirit (of Christmas) so strongly that glitter will appear dull compared to how they glow.”
These special elves have been tasked with going in and finding the magical children.
“Santa only lets me come to Spokane if I’m really good,” volunteer Kim Krogh (elf Jinx) told a group of children on the bus en route to Spokane International Airport. “You’ve never been on a plane either? What do you think it sounds like?”
The elves have a mission: to make children who have come to see disappointment and heartbreak as the norm believe that magic can and does exist.
Alaska’s Spokane customer service agent Michelle Shupp (elf Lillie) called the event “life changing.”
Upon arriving at the airport, each child was partnered with their own personal elf, who guided them through the security checkpoint, festivities, presents, food and a plane ride that ended in Santa’s lap at his home in the “North Pole,” Landmark Aviation’s hangar at Spokane International Airport.
“You play, dance, talk, laugh, and cry,” Shupp said. She said it’s amazing to watch the transition of the kids throughout the day.
“These kids have been dumped on all their lives; they don’t believe in Santa, they don’t believe in elves,” she said. “Every promise that has ever been made to them has been broken; they are mad at the world.”
When the children step off the bus, they meet elves with boundless energy and love to give. With the ruckus of the elves and chaos around them, some of them are scared, she said.
Shupp said by the time the children leave the North Pole at the end of the evening “there is not a frown in the room.”
“It’s like watching a butterfly come out of its cocoon.”
Paul said he is committed to making a promise to these children and delivering on that promise.
“They will see Santa. They will pet a live reindeer. We deliver year after year,” he said.
Each year there is a waiting list for volunteers, said Paul.
“It was magical seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces, the happiness in dreary times.” said Kim Brown, a flight attendant participating in her first Fantasy Flight.
To break through the barrier into the “North Pole,” Paul (head elf Bernie) led the excited passengers in a chant.
“It’s working…” Paul said over the speaker as the plane accelerated to push through the airspace. ”Close the shades so we can keep it a secret as to how we got to the North Pole.”
Once at the North Pole, each child found his or her name on the “nice” list, visited with Santa, and received gifts from their wish list. They snacked on cookies, sandwiches, and other holiday treats, watched a magic show and played with elves. They left later that night with new blankets, pillows, school supplies, pajamas, t-shirts, and an experience that will stay with them for a lifetime.
For more information on Fantasy Flight visit Northwest North Pole Adventures’ website.