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Fantasy Flights

Airline volunteers lift kids’ spirits with unique holiday journeys

THE FIRST FANTASY FLIGHT took off from Washington Dulles International Airport in 1990. The next year, United Airlines donated a 727 to fly 100 children from a London home­less shelter to Lapland, Finland, for reindeer sleigh rides and a visit to “Father Christmas Village.” Now a tradition that’s two decades strong, Fantasy Flights continue this year as United co-­workers deliver extra cheer to the kids who need it most.

Each December, deserving children board holiday­-decorated planes for a simulated journey to the North Pole. Organized by co­-workers at 11 airports this year, the event is a little different from location to location: Some flights take to the sky, while others reach their destination via high­-speed taxi. Either way, once the flights arrive, the children and their families tour Santa’s workshop, usually housed in a hangar or at a gate that’s been transformed by airline “elves.”

United volunteers start checking off their lists early, coordinating months in advance with local hospitals, shelters and schools to connect with kids for their Fantasy Flights. “Our partners at the local hospice center say Fantasy Flights are an absolute holiday high­light for their children,” says Bill Watts, airport operations terminal director and coordinator of the Fantasy Flight at Washington Dulles.

Once they select a group of children, volun­teers begin their preparations. From cookies to decorations, co-workers pull together to create a truly magical experience for the kids.

“It really is a labor of love — it’s a lot of work, but all worth it,” Watts says. “These events are so inspiring and really highlight the giving spirit of our co­workers.”

ASK THE PILOT

With Captain Mike Bowers

Q: I’ll sometimes hear a pilot say we’re going to climb to a higher altitude to get above the weather. Does that climb through the clouds cause any additional turbulence?

A: When pilots refer to weather, we’re generally talking about the clouds that produce precipitation. While certain clouds tend to contain more turbulence than others, there’s also the possibility of turbulence even when flying in completely clear air. So climbing above a layer of clouds doesn’t necessarily mean the flight will become smoother, nor does descending into a cloud necessarily mean it will become more turbulent.

Please keep your questions coming. I also want to hear your ideas for what our pilots can do, in addition to flying safely and on-­time, to enhance your flying experience. You can send me suggestions at the email address below.

Do you have a question for Captain Bowers? Write to him at askthepilot@united.com

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