Santa Claus

Santa’s helpers at Spokane Int’l Airport? The TSA.

This weekend I was an embedded elf for the Spokane Fantasy Flight to the North Pole.

North Pole

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.

Nort Pole - candy

For me, the real magic took place at the security checkpoint at the Spokane International Airport.

TSA checkpoint - Spokane 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.

TSA checkpoint - Spokane Airport

Even the enhanced pat-downs seems downright jolly .

Spokane Airport TSA

Spokane elf pat-down

Free Santa photos at the airport

This year, when he’s not in malls and department stores listening to children tell him what they want for Christmas, Santa will posing for photos with passengers at airports.

Windows and Southwest Airlines are sponsoring a “Holiday Photos on the Fly” service at more than two dozen airports on Dec 2-5, Dec 9-12 and Dec 17-20.

You and your family can get your picture taken with Santa for free and the Windows elves will walk you through the process of retrieving and printing your picture.

Check here to see if your airport is on the list.

And check here to enter a holiday sweepstakes for cash and airplane tickets.

Inside Santa’s Flight Center at the North Pole

On Saturday, while everyone else was plotting how to get a first view of the 787 Dreamliner during its (probable) Tuesday test flight, I joined a group of children from Spokane for a flight to the North Pole.

North Pole - Passengers Only

One of the perks of being welcomed into the elf brigade for the night was a visit to Santa’s flight center, where I was able to snap photos of these very important internal memos.

North Pole TSA - Present Loading Instructions


And, my favorite:

North Pole - TSA - Santa chimney tips

Will Santa get stuck at the airport?

It’s been a bad week for air travel and I’m sure everyone who’s been very, very good this year is worried that Santa will get stuck at the airport along with all those other folks who’s flights have been canceled.

Your friends and family may not be able to get a flight in time for Christmas, but Santa should be OK.  At least that’s the message the folks at NORAD and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport are putting out there.

NORAD says today is your last chance to send an email to Santa because Santa and the elves will be too busy tomorrow packing for their big Christmas eve trip.  The DFW Santa Tracker is offering some entertaining fun ‘n games and links to seasonal sites offering recipes, more games, music and other activities.


Head to an airport for sales, Santas and songs

(Yummy stuff from Phoenix Sky Harbor Int’l Airport)

It may seem unnatural to blend a holiday shopping excursion with a trip to the airport, but this season many airports are working overtime to court you and your gift-buying dollars with prizes, promotions, festive décor, and lots of top-notch entertainment.

(A TSA choir -really- will perform at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport)

There are plenty of other reasons to shop for holiday gifts at an airport. Over the past few years, airports have been steadily upgrading the quality and variety of their concessions. Stores generally open early and close late to accommodate travelers’ wacky schedules. And many airports impose a “street pricing” policy, which means that the prices charged inside the airport must closely match the prices at local malls. Besides, if you travel by air, you’re already spending a lot of time hanging out in airports. So you may as well be merry while you multi-task.

Where are the best deals? At the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and the Sacramento International Airport you can pick up discount coupon books. Oregon’s Portland International Airport has a holiday festival with food sampling, demonstrations and a drawing for tickets on JetBlue. (You can enter on-line.) And check out the Frankfurt Airport’s Web site for a chance to win a big diamond.

There’s lots more information about airports offering holiday shopping specials and entertainment in my “At the Airport” column posted today on