By Jeni Ann Flores
Turbulence was a concern, according to United Airlines pilot-in-command Amy Eardley. It is expected when the warm air of the Pacific mixes with the cold arctic air of the North Pole, she said.
However it has been unseasonably warm in the North Pole recently, which is a good sign, said co-pilot Brian Robinson. Avoiding penguins during the landing, however, will be tricky, he said.
The passengers -- 69 children and 69 chaperones -- were getting restless 15 minutes into the annual, United Fantasy flight. They calmed down when attendants passed out United Airlines goodie bags and star-shaped origami necklaces
“I stayed up two nights making them,” said flight attendant Yukiko Aricayos during the Dec. 14 flight.
After a comprehensive safety demonstration about seat belts, carry-on luggage, water landing and inflating safety vests by flight crew, the pilots finally asked passengers to close their window shades - Santa had cleared the flight to go to hypersonic speed to the North Pole.
A big cheer roared from the back when it was announced we had finally arrived at Santa’s workshop in the North Pole.
Sincerely Airam of Toto came with her son Vicente Miurha, 8. He had written Santa for a bike. Juanita Saremea came with her daughter Sinai, 11, and son Simson 7. Sinai had asked Santa for a phone and shoes, while Simson asked for Nike shoes and a hoverboard. The children, who attend JQ San Miguel Elementary School, were provided the opportunity to be in Fantasy Flight by Mane’lu, an after-school program for children facing adversity.
Wyne Salas came with her three-year-old daughter Robyn. Robyn has Alagille Syndrome, a genetic disorder of the liver and other organs. Robyn had open heart surgery and a liver transplant last year.
She asked Santa for a playground set and Shopkins toys. Matthew Topasna came with his son Kingsley, 6. Kingsley has epidermolysis bullosa, a rare skin disease that makes the skin blister easily.
Robyn and Matthew came courtesy of Make A Wish Foundation Guam & CNMI, which grants wishes to children with critical illnesses.
Santa’s workshop was made to look like a hangar in Tiyan. Disembarking from the plane, we were all warmly greeted by workshop helpers.
After the entertainment, a very tall and lean Santa arrived. It never ceases to amaze me how people are transformed by Santa. Suddenly we were all children again. Children’s names were called and their gifts were distributed in an orderly fashion.
Anticipation had built up in the children’s hearts and finally, the time came for them to open their gifts. A frenzy of joy burst into the atmosphere. Fireworks of wrappers were being ripped open. For many of the children, this was the first of many: first time to ride a plane, first time to watch the circus, first time to receive a gift (especially a big box gift) and first time to be treated like a rock star.
“This has been a 33-year tradition at United. It is more special every year. We do this for the kids. But for the employees, the experience is priceless. We prepare months in advance," said Justin Marion, United general manager. "The preparation, the gifts, and the clean up afterward, all came from the whole United family on Guam. We want to thank our partners who came alongside United to make this a magical experience."
There was a happy murmur among the families as we rode the shuttle back to the airport. Everyone was tired yet happy. Including myself. The adults did not get boxed gifts but our mirror neurons were firing. Fantastic fantasy experience. To the North Pole and back.