PHOENIX -- For many of the 120 lucky kids invited to the "North Pole" this was their first time on a plane.
Since 1996, United Airlines has brought thousands of underprivileged Valley children joy and happiness as they boarded large airplanes headed for the Winter Wonderland of Terminal 2 at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.
"This is the culmination of a yearlong effort to support these kids and these schools," said Capt. Bob Miller, who piloted one of the first flights all those ago. "Today is the fun part, we get to go the North Pole and see Santa Claus."
The kids had to wait in the security line like everyone else for the exciting trip. Once in the air, the kids sang Christmas songs. Then they screamed with glee as the plane swayed left and right like a roller coaster. Over 100 of the airline's current and retired employees volunteer numerous hours to make all of this happen.
"I think it's just something to give back to the community, and these kids are extremely needy with everything that they don't get in life," said retired Phoenix City Manager Rich Vehring, who helped start the program.
"This gives them an opportunity to see some really good role models with pilots and flight attendants. And an opportunity to experience an airport which a lot of them have never been to."
After the kids landed, more volunteers, along with 60 elves (Arizona State University students), escorted them through gates C and D of the terminal, which had been magically transformed into a spectacular version of the North Pole, complete with falling "snow."
Santa and Ronald McDonald greeted the kids, who then enjoyed an arts-and-crafts session, lunch and, most important, gift bags filled with toys.
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