United Fantasy Flight takes off!

An army of elves make 120 kids’ dreams come true at PHX Fantasy Flight — and all year round

Five-year-old girls Evelyn and Maritza could barely contain their excitement at 6:05 a.m. on Friday as they boarded Santa One to the North Pole (looking, coincidentally, very much like a Boeing 737) from Gate C at PHX (Phoenix) for United’s first Fantasy Flight of the holiday season.

They were two of 120 deserving children whose ordinary lives involve living in poverty in Phoenix’s Valley of the Sun — but Friday was no ordinary day. The group of children, from Mesa Arts Academy, Step-Up and the La Mesita Family Shelter, arrived at the airport before dawn to be greeted by the holiday handiwork of a team of hundreds of United retirees and active employees who volunteer year-round to ensure the Phoenix Fantasy Flight makes their holiday dreams come true.

Customer Service Representative Gerry Dunphy, for one, dresses up in costume every year to help make the kids feel welcome. It takes a little ice-breaking at first.

“Some of them are totally shy when they board the airplane,” Gerry said, sporting an Olaf the Snowman costume two or three times the height of the tallest kids in line to board. “But by the end of the day, I’ve had three of them come up to me at once and knock me over with hugs in this costume.”

SFO Boeing 737 Captain Rick Cauich and LAX 737 First Officer Rusty Mitchell paused for a picture with Olaf and shared the enthusiasm of every grown up within sight. “This is a joy,” Rick said, describing why he loves to pilot Fantasy Flights. “For these kids, kindergartners and first graders who have had no exposure to airplanes or airports, this is off the scale of understandable for them, even before they get to the ‘North Pole’ when we land. In the cockpit, as we’re flying, we can hear their enthusiasm.”

On board the 737, the Inflight Services crew painstakingly decorated the airplane with tinsel and holiday window cling decorations to make the cabin festive. Flight Attendants Marilyn Fairley and Julie Shay put the final touches on the onboard decorations but paused long enough to gather the group and share why Fantasy Flights mean so much to them. The crew swapped stories like that of SFO Flight Attendant Patti Wilemon. “About two or three years ago while I was working a Fantasy Flight, I asked a little child what he wanted for Christmas,” Patti said. “He looked up at me and said he wanted his own cardboard box, so he wouldn’t have to share a place to sleep anymore.” Eyes filled with tears, as everyone agreed Patti’s story pretty much summed up their reasons for wanting to participate. For at least a couple of the flight attendants on Santa One (the crew also included Karen Roller-Penn, Dee Edwards, Patti Killian, Tamea Rauscher and Kathy McLane as well), it was their first Fantasy Flight.

Captain Bob Miller, who serves on the board of Phoenix Fantasy Flight along with Customer Service Representative Debbie Schulte, has been a part of the 21 Fantasy Flights PHX has hosted to date. Bob works with Debbie and hundreds of retiree and active employee volunteers to ensure that the volunteers’ and donors’ efforts extend well beyond the magical wonderland of a gate on the west end of Terminal 2 when Santa One arrived. Not only did St. Nick, Mrs. Claus, Rudolph and merry elves greet every child – when the plane taxied in, each of 60 Arizona State University student athletes took two children by the hand and spent the next several hours talking with them about college and what it takes to be an athlete.

“In the space of just a few hours, I’ve seen one little girl go from saying, ‘Oh, no – I can never go to college,’ to, ‘I am going to college!’” Bob said. “It’s so inspiring. Most of the kids are from Title I low-income schools and have next to nothing. Long after the holidays are over, Phoenix Fantasy Flight continues to help our valley’s underprivileged children by providing badly needed school supplies and state of the art electronic tablets.”

In addition to necessities such as socks, hats, blankets, toiletries and school supplies, each child received a new pair of athletic shoes, a T-shirt and a medal for running a short race after receiving their shoes. The Phoenix Fire Department and Police Department also participated, allowing kids to visit with the K-9 team and climb aboard a parked police helicopter and fire truck.

“I love planning this whole thing and watching it come together,” Debbie said, “and I’m thrilled when really incredible networking happens.” She described a moment last year when she was able to connect a teacher at one of the schools whose daughter has cerebral palsy with a Phoenix Fantasy Flight volunteer and donor who was able to help provide an accessible vehicle that could accommodate the girl’s walker, wheelchair and stroller.

Visit the Phoenix Fantasy Flight page to learn more on the group’s year-round work.

AZ Family Coverage of 2014 United Fantasy Flight

Fox 10 Coverage of 2014 United Fantasy Flight

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Click  here to read the recent article in the Ahwatukee Foothills news! Click “continue reading” first then click on the link…..Thanks

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  Click here to listen to part 1 of the KDKB, KSLX or KUPD interview done on Sunday October 21st Click here to listen to part 2 Click here to donate!

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About 120 kindergartners and first graders from the Children First Academy and Concordia Charter school will be transported to the North Pole via airplane Friday morning. The elementary children will board a special flight that only departs from Sky Harbor International Airport once a year. This flight is called “SANTA 1.” It will only be a […]

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE On Friday, December 2, 2011 at 7:00 AM, 120 children, age’s five to six, most of who attend a school for the underprivileged, will depart from Sky Harbor International Airport for a “Fantasy Flight” to the North Pole. After checking in for their “Fantasy Flight“, they will board a United A-320 aircraft designated […]

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