UA Flight 2764: Guam to North Pole
By C.J. Urquico
The kids start screaming their lungs out as the jet engines roar. The yelling gets louder when the wheels leave the tarmac. Most of the children are flying for the first time. It's a very important trip to see Santa Claus.
Welcome to flight UA2764 from Guam to the North Pole.
Earlier in the day, the departure area was transformed into a Christmas wonderland, complete with two violinists playing carols. Sixty aspiring elves and grownups with Rainbows for All Children-Guam checked in at the Guam International Airport.
The nonprofit is a research-based peer support group for kids and grownups going through life-altering crises or going through the loss of a loved one.
"I flew in today to join the fun. United has been doing this for about 32 years. We did it in Japan before Covid and in U.S. mainland hub airports. It's become a tradition to give something back to the communities we serve." said Koji Nagata, director of Asia/Pacific Corporate Communications.
United employees teamed up with The Super American Circus crew for the annual Fantasy Flight tradition, welcoming the North Pole-bound passengers aboard Boeing 737-800 aircraft.
The pilots and other United staff were hanging out and having a great time with the kids in the check-in line. Yes, flights are hard to come by to visit the North Pole this time of year.
"It's been really a blessing because one of the flights that I flew on as a kid, I'm now operating the flight, landing and taking off the plane," said First Officer Miyukiko Chargaulaf Kostelny from Santa Rita.
Growing up, Kostelny's father flew in the military and they flew to and from Japan on United.
"Also, working with flight attendants that had known me when I was a little kid--words cannot express how awesome it is," said Kostelny.
Kostelny participated in the last event before Covid.
"I'm really glad that we at United are able to bring this back. It's one of my favorite events," Kostelny said. "You can see the joy on the kids' faces, not just when they meet Santa but walking onto the airplane, seeing our pilots and flight attendants looking sharp in uniform. Being able to put a smile on the faces of our island's youth is really touching,"
Over the PA system, the flight attendant announces we are now flying over clouds at 10,000 feet. Little eyes up and down the fuselage are glued to windows. They're looking down at Guam, surrounded by the ocean, from thousands of feet above.
A few minutes later, the captain announces we are 20 minutes away from landing.
I asked one of the kids if this is her first flight. "To the North Pole, yeah!" she replied.
The festive flight attendants ask for the window shades to be lowered as the plane speeds closer to its destination. The cabin goes dark.
The kids turn on their Christmas light necklaces in the dark, and the place feels a little like the chill room at the Ultra Music Festival. But with Mariah Carey singing "All I Want for Christmas."
The snow is hitting the plane. The pilot turns a little to avoid reindeer passing by. We land—a solo scream of terror. The flight attendant asks if anyone is excited. "Who wants to see Santa?" she asks. "Meeee!"
The 737 taxis and comes to a stop. "We are waiting to be pulled in by reindeer." It now makes sense why they were in a rush earlier, passing the aircraft.
"Who's ready to meet Santa?" a flight attendant announces over the PA. It gets loud.
We disembark into the United hangar and are greeted by hundreds of people, including the Saint Anthony School Honor Choir, SKIP dancers, the superfriends from Steel Athletics led by Super J.J. Ambrose, the Great American Circus, and host Kyle Mandapat.
The weather is perfect, though surprisingly warm and there is no snow. Everyone is scanning the faces for Santa. Mrs. Claus is with more pilots waving at the arriving kids. But where's the big man?
Happy Meals are served, and the performances delight the crowd. The sun is coming down, and the show's star is still nowhere to be seen. It's 6:07 p.m., and finally, Kyle announces that Santa is in the hangar. Santa's voice comes out of the PA. He sounds like he's had a few eggnogs already, ho ho ho.
Not on time, though definitely on brand, Santa finally comes out. His grand entrance is made riding a baggage tractor towing presents. The kids resume yelling "Merry Christmas!" at the top of their lungs, generating more yuletide cheer. The kids had previously written their wishes to Santa. Then, a photo booth magically appears and presents are distributed to the children.
All throughout the hangar, T-shirts worn by staff and volunteers announce that United is "Guam's hometown airline." This slogan is accurate.
This year, the spirit of Christmas on Guam arrived on schedule.
“Fantasy Flight is an important 32-year company tradition for United. It allows us to do what we do best to bring holiday cheer to those who need it most. This year marks our eighth Fantasy Flight event in Guam, and our team continues to find ways to surprise the children. They are the reason we host this event each year,” said Sam Shinohara, United Managing Director for Airport Operations - Asia/Pacific.
“We are excited to say that we are the first Fantasy Flight event to join forces with a circus. Seeing the children’s eyes light up in amazement is something we won’t forget," he added.