This weekend, our annual Fantasy Flight arrived at the “North Pole” to bring smiles and Christmas cheer to 66 children, many of whom live in shelters or transitional housing.
For most of the kids, it was their first time on an airplane. But Flight 1225 (as in “Dec. 25”), which departed Spokane, Washington for Santa’s hometown at 4:45 p.m. this Saturday, was just the opening act; the kids finished their special day at an elaborately decorated party – a true winter wonderland.
For kids who don’t have much, the special treatment provides a momentary lift this time of year – and memories to last a lifetime.
While happy spirits fill the air, there are many poignant reminders of the difficulty each child faces. Last year, after visiting a booth to select pajamas, one girl put on her purple PJs as fast as she could, near tears, because she’d never owned pajamas before.
Since 2008, Alaska Airlines has sponsored the annual Fantasy Flight, with many Alaska and Horizon employees volunteering as “elves” ready to make magic happen.
Nonstop to the North Pole
The day starts en route to Spokane International Airport, where each child is given a “passport” to the North Pole and a personal “elf” that takes each child under their wing.
Volunteers are required to dress in their best elf-wear and develop their individual elf history to help the kids believe their North Pole adventure is real. The flight crew usually dons Santa hats or antlers. The annual event is organized by nonprofit Northwest North Pole Adventures, and numerous companies donate jet fuel, food, toys and other items.
After passing through airport security, the children are presented with backpacks. They’re greeted at the Alaska boarding area with festive music and food.
Just before it’s time to board the plane, the elves begin shouting, “We’re going home! We’re going home!” The children and elves board an Alaska jet given the call sign Santa 1, and the plane departs into the sky above Spokane.
Halfway through the 40-minute flight, the children are instructed to close their window shades and recite a magical chant that would allow them to enter Santa’s airspace. Minutes later, they arrive at the “North Pole” – in reality, a spruced-up hangar at the end of the Spokane airfield. It has been transformed into a glittering fantasyland of Christmas fun with decorations, games, jugglers, magicians, face painters, a Polar Express train set, and fancy sugar cookies and other sweets.
Santa and Mrs. Claus arrive, and each child gets to visit Santa and receive a gift they previously requested in a wish letter.
Memories for a lifetime
One year, a boy named Charlie had his head buried in his new backpack as he pulled out each item. He inspected every pen and pencil and carefully passed them to his elf. He pulled out a pair of socks, looked at them and said, “I’m going to give those to my mom.”
As the night winds down, the children gather around to hear Mrs. Claus read “The Polar Express,” the beloved story about a magical train that takes a group of children on a journey to the North Pole to meet Santa.
But first, each child gets a few more presents.
“I’ve never had my own blanket before,” one little girl told her elf at last year’s event.
After leaning her pillow against her elf, she snuggled up for story time.
Photos of past Fantasy Flights
Past Fantasy Flight photos by Ingrid Barrentine.