Dozens of kids facing tough health battles and in hospice care took a special United ‘fantasy flight’ from Dulles International Airport on Saturday. Their final destination? The North Pole, to meet Santa.
Capt. Brian Gerrity held the brakes as he revved up the massive engines of the Boeing 777, the biggest plane in the fleet. The crew asked the roughly 100 families with Alexandria’s Children’s Hospice International to help count him down to blast off.
He told them they were tracking Santa on the radar and would be following him down to the North Pole.
They all broke into cheers as the plane jetted down the runway and took off. For many of the kids, it was their first flight.
Raymont Henderson was one of the kids who was on his first flight. He received a bone marrow transfusion in October from his mother, Jamie, who joined him on the flight.
“We were invited to do this fantasy flight through the Ronald McDonald House. He’s never been on an airplane never been able to get on an airplane. So this is really a you know, a blessing,” Henderson told WTOP. “I think it’s awesome that United does this.”
He was diagnosed with a rare genetic immunodeficiency called Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome. The almost 10-year-old told WTOP that he was excited to meet Santa and ask him for a go-kart.
Princess Yeboah also had a wish for Santa when she arrived at the North Pole: for her younger sister Avery to walk. Avery has Rett syndrome and is confined to a wheelchair.
“It means a whole lot because we’ve never been able to travel with her on a flight. So this is our first time,” said their mother, Naa Addo.
“It’s great to let them be around some other kids smiling, instead of being in hospital and emergency rooms and surgeries,” Gerrity said shortly before takeoff.
When the plane touched down, they were welcomed to the North Pole’s airport gate to meet Santa along with numerous other characters: Anna and Elsa from ‘Frozen,’ Woody from the ‘Toy Story’ movies, Buddy the Elf, Spiderman, Moana, Ariel and Mrs. Claus.
Children’s Hospice International and United Airlines have partnered on these ‘fantasy flights’ since 1989.
“For many of the kids, it’s the last Christmas with their families, it’s incredibly meaningful to the family to have these treasured memories to recall and the photographs to put on their mantle of the family with Santa Claus and Fantasy Flight,” Children’s Hospice International founding director Ann Armstrong Daley told WTOP.
Bridgette Abril’s young daughter Gabbriella is fighting leukemia for a second time.
“We were approached by her oncologist,” Abril said. “They thought that it’s a good idea for her to have something special. We are at quality of life, not quantity of life. So, whatever we can do for her to have fun, enjoy her childhood.”
Before the flight to see the big man in the red suit, Gabbriella got her face painted as a tiger and pranced around the terminal roaring — and promised that she was even going to scare Santa.