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A Christmas season reflection: From Dulles to the North Pole

A North Pole flight participant takes in her trip to the North Pole. Times-Mirror/Ed Felker
"For a couple of hours out of the whole year, we are the people that we always hoped we would be. You have to do something. You have to take a chance. You have to get involved. There are people that are having trouble making their miracle happen." -- Scrooged

Flying’s not my favorite thing. But when the opportunity came up to go on assignment for the Loudoun Times-Mirror on a Fantasy Flight to the North Pole – a special flight for disadvantaged and sick children to see Santa’s winter wonderland -- I couldn’t pass it up.
Snow was falling as I arrived at Dulles. I checked in and was given my boarding pass, which read “Washington To North Pole.” At the security checkpoint, a TSA employee played beautiful Christmas music on a saxophone while workers in Santa hats whisked me through.

There was no mistaking my gate, it was covered in Christmas decorations and upbeat Christmas music played as United employees danced with kids. Clowns made balloon animals, volunteers painted faces and helped kids write letters to Santa.

Families trickled in to the gate area. Kids arrived in festively decorated strollers and wheelchairs. Parents juggling the logistical challenge of traveling with special needs kids arrived early, in the snow, from all around the region. From homes, hospital beds and hospice rooms they came, wearing Christmas hats, sleigh bells and ear-to-ear smiles.

I chatted with some of the volunteers. One woman first started doing this 16 years ago, she told me as she painted a reindeer on my hand in golden glitter, as a way to teach her 7-year-old daughter what it meant to serve. That daughter, now 23, was at the next table painting holly leaves on a grinning child’s face. It’s a day they look forward to all year, and they wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Another volunteer told me the story of a child with leukemia who flew on one of the first Fantasy Flights many years ago and now volunteers his time helping make the day special for others.

On the plane, a wonderfully decorated Boeing 777, United Captain Fidel Perez and First Officer Jonathon Sawyer explained over the intercom a few logistical details. The North Pole, you see, would normally take many, many hours to reach by plane. But since this was a special flight, they would be coating the plane with SuperFast Fluid. The application of this special coating, combined with passengers shutting the window shades, raising their hands on takeoff and chanting, “Fast! Fast! Fast!” would enable Santa One to reach incredible speeds. Sure enough, it worked. In less than 20 minutes we were approaching the North Pole.

The scene at a Dulles Airport concourse following the Santa One flight. Times-Mirror/Ed Felker

Upon landing, the handful of photographers on the plane waited to exit first so we could be in position for photos as the kids came out. The door opened to a blast of frigid North Pole air and the sound of loud Christmas music from a live band. I hurried down the gangway as I pondered my photographic strategy.

I was utterly unprepared for what came next.

Imagine, if you can, hundreds of people, animals, princesses, superheroes, cartoon characters, soldiers, mascots and musicians. Imagine them in a grand hall filled with music and light, forming two lines so they can all greet every passenger as they walked between them. Imagine each of them with the same, singular goal: Make everyone who walks off that plane feel like the most special person on Earth. When I rounded the corner, just for a second, they were all looking at me.

Photographic strategy, if I had formed one at all, was out the window. This was uncharted territory.

I stepped out of the way and just watched as families entered the hall. Wide-eyed kids scanned the lines of characters as they walked past. I saw a girl drop everything from her hands, run full speed and launch herself from, I swear, six feet away into the awaiting arms of the princess from “Frozen” like they had waited a thousand years to meet. How often in one lifetime does one experience such unbridled joy?

Santa and Mrs. Claus arrived shortly after. They were kind and warm and jolly and generous with their time as they greeted every single child. In all my life I have never seen so much kindness gathered in one place. I was overwhelmed.

As I drove home I started to wonder, was it really colder when I got off the plane or was it just that I was carrying my coat and not wearing it? Could that SuperFast Fluid really have been just de-icer? And how on Earth did I get back to Dulles, anyway? Admittedly there are some unanswered questions surrounding my trip to the North Pole, but what I do know is this: The Spirit of Christmas is real. It lives in the hearts of the hundreds of people who chose to give of themselves to brighten the season for families with daily struggles I cannot imagine, and in the culture of a company that would expend considerable resources to make their miracle happen.

Times-Mirror/Ed Felker

Times-Mirror/Ed Felker

Times-Mirror/Ed Felker


Super cool! I didn’t know such an event existed. Amazing to see so many kind and loving people generously give their time and talents to create an unforgettable experience for some deserving children. This is awesome.

What a fantastic article resulting from the actions of some great people.


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