The security checkpoint at Spokane International Airport is usually a quiet, orderly place. But earlier this month “It was a mad house,” says TSA screener Julee McCully.
Carolers were crooning Christmas classics in the terminal lobby. Eighty of Santa’s elves were trying to get sixty kids from this year’s “nice” list through security for secret Alaska Airline’s Flight #1225 (get it?) to the North Pole. And alarms kept going off at the metal detector.
“It was all those jingle bells,” says McCully. “The elves had metal bells sewn onto their clothes and stuffed into these little purses that said ‘Elf Stuff.’ It was like a puzzle finding all the bells on each elf. My hands were covered in elf glitter after just the first pat-down.”
Elves? A secret flight to the North Pole? What is this, a Hallmark/Homeland Security Christmas special? Well, yes. Sort of.
Thanks to the efforts of airline and airport employees, the TSA, sponsors, donors, and an army of secret Santas, planeloads of seriously ill and/or disadvantaged children have been taking off for the North Pole not just from Spokane, but from Chicago, San Antonio, Phoenix, and a sleigh-load of other cities around the country as well.
What happens at the North Pole?
Embedded as an elf (that’s me on the left, Tammikins on the right), I was able to tag along this year on the North Pole flight organized by Spokane Fantasy Flight, a non-profit group that invites area shelters and community programs to pick a group of kids who could really use “an evening of wonderment and surprise” and a huge pile of presents.
60 kids and a troop of elves set off for a 40-minute flight to the North Pole, which is actually (spoiler alert!) a decorated hangar at the airport populated with Santa and Mrs. Claus, loads of extra elves and, of course, a few reindeer.
Some might call that cheating, but as one of the other elves explained, “If you’re a little kid on your first plane ride and your ticket says North Pole, and the shades are drawn, and everyone, including the flight attendants and all the elves are saying the magic words, then who’s to say you haven’t landed at the real North Pole?”
She has a point.
This is the 12th year a flight to the North Pole has taken off from Spokane International Airport. But it still two took months of planning meetings with the TSA, the airport and airline representatives to make sure everything went smoothly. Horizon/Alaska Airlines customer service manager Dave Burris explained: “This is only the second year our airline has been the official North Pole carrier. United Airlines used to host these flights, but in 2008, there was a mix-up and no plane was available. Alaska Airlines stepped in at the last minute and it was such a hit with the kids and our employees that now that we have our foot in the door, we’re not going to pull it out.”
More North Pole action
Don’t worry: Alaska Airlines hasn’t put United Airlines out of the North Pole business. Not by a long shot. To find out about the North Pole flights organized by employees from United and Continental Airlines, please see the full column Now Boarding Flight 1225 to the North Pole on MSNBC.com.