Most airports that had them before the pandemic have now brought back their teams of stress-busting therapy animals to the terminals.
A great example is SFO’s Wag Brigade, which is made up of about a dozen cute pups, a pig named LiLou, and the newest member of the team, a 28-pound Flemish Giant rabbit named Alex the Great. Look for them all next time you’re in SFO.
Finnair handing out Nort Pole Diplomas
Yes, even adults love getting a set of plastic wings when onboard some airplanes. But Finnair has brought back a cool amenity for travelers: a certificate for passengers who have flown over the North Pole.
Back in 1983, when Finnair became the first airline to fly non-stop from Europe to Japan, passengers on the carrier’s Tokyo flights were given a certificate for flying over the North Pole.
Now, Finnair is using that polar route again in order to avoid flying in Russian airspace. And the carrier has brought back the certificate – plus some Moomin stickers.
On March 9, flight AY073 from Helsinki to Tokyo Narita headed towards the North Pole, instead of heading East. With this flight, Finnair resumed its service to Tokyo Narita, skirting around Russian airspace that closed on February 28.
Where We’d Go: Indiana State Museum
Now that the Stuck at the Airport museum team is back in the field, we’re adding a stop to the Indiana State Museum to our list so we can see the exhibit about Major Taylor: Fastest Cyclist in the World.
The event, now in its 12th or 13th year, scoops up 60 disadvantaged children from the Spokane, WA area and brings them to the airport for a very real flight to a very realistic-looking “North Pole.” There, they find reindeer, an all-you-can-eat buffet of candy, gifts galore, oodles of elves and, of course, Santa and Mrs. Claus.
For me, the real magic took place at the security checkpoint at the Spokane International Airport.
While ‘regular’ Saturday afternoon passengers were trying to catch their flights, the TSOs (Transportation Security Officers) on duty cheerily processed dozens of kids taking their first airplane trip and 100 or so chaperone-elves decked out in outlandish, heavily jingled-belled costumes.
Even the enhanced pat-downs seems downright jolly .
Today, about 60 kids from the Spokane, Wa. area will be going on a flight to the North Pole.
Each year, with the help of more than 100 elves and incredible amount of local and regional support, the Spokane Fantasy Flight takes about 60 kids from shelters and community programs in the Spokane area to the airport, onto an airplane and, after about a 30-minute flight, to the North Pole for a full day of magic, complete with reindeer, all the candy you can eat, a visit with Santa and, of course, piles and piles of presents.
I went along as an embedded elf last year and it was so much fun that I’ve signed up to join the elves again.
Before we can get on that flight to the North Pole, of course, we’ll have to get through the security checkpoint at the airport.
And then, of course, we’ll have to make sure to find the right gate for our flight.
I’ll report back tomorrow on whether or not jingle-belled elves are subject to enhanced TSA pat-downs and, of course, I’ll let Santa know that you’ve been very, very good.
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.