As kids entered the Detroit Metropolitan Airport on Thursday they were greeted by music, a full band blaring Holiday classics from ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’ to ‘Frosty the Snowman.’
Aside from the music it was obvious the children walking through the door were not here for a typical flight. They were showing up for a fantasy flight to the North Pole. Each of the children set to enjoy the flight come from area hospitals, they suffer from a variety of illnesses some chronic, some even terminal.
This was a day meant to remind them of the Holiday cheer so often forgotten inside the hospital amid daily procedures and examinations.
“We’re going to make some kids happy,” said Wade Kellogg, a Delta pilot. “We’re going to make some parents happy too.”
Kellogg is just one of the people involved in the fantasy flight. It’s an even put on each year by the “Silver Liners Motown Chapter,” a group of retired Eastern Airline flight attendants. They’ve been putting on fantasy flights for 30 years — this one would bring a bit of cheer to 70 children.
Children go through a typical check-in procedure before being ushered through Westin into a room with local sports mascots decked out in Santa hats. The mascots along with clowns, elves and airline workers were ushered into the airport to Gate 38A which was unlike any other gate.
There was the ‘Mojo in the Morning’ crew handing out Santa hats, elves were handing out treats while service dogs came around to cheer up the kids. Clowns were quick to approach the kids and build any type of balloon animal you could imagine.
“Oh, as a mom it made me tear up,” said Kristy Roberts.
Roberts' son Lincoln was diagnosed with Chron’s disease at a very young age. It has led to constant injections, a variety of medicines, and frequent hospital stays. Lincoln can be found at the hospital once every two months or so, so this fantasy flight was a huge pick-me-up.
“Just to watch him and know he gets to experience this,” said Roberts. “I had to hold my tears back.”
Lincoln, along with the roughly 70 kids from metro Detroit hospitals, would eventually board a real Delta jet liner. Kids were prompted to keep their windows closed to avoid spoiling the magic that would be used to jettison them to the North Pole.
To make everything seem real the plane was taken down the runway at a fast speed to create the takeoff effect. The children began to cheer, and once in the “air” the elves began to do a lunch service while leading the children in Christmas carols.
“We’re currently cruising along at 37-thousand feet and we’re on our way to the North pole,” said Kellogg, as he introduced children into the cockpit of the airplane.
After more than an hour of caroling, food, and meet-and-greets in the cockpit the pilot asked all the kids to take their seats — when they landed they were swept into the Westin which had been decorated as Santa’s frozen palace complete with the big man himself, Mrs. Clause and real-life toy soldiers.
Before long the kids were taking turns sitting on Santa’s lap.
“We’re in the hospital right now,” said Frank Jungnitsch, as his 6-year-old daughter Brinley sat on Santa’s lap.
“They let us come today for this,” said Jungnitsch, “they gave us a one-day pass.”
Brinley has leukemia. Until a few days ago she was in remission, but her family recently learned that the illness has come back.
All day she was wearing a hospital mask, but during her picture with Santa she removed the mask to reveal a huge smile.
While the entire day is based on the magic that a kid sees with a fantasy flight to the North Pole, it was pretty obvious in that moment that the real magic is what this day does for these kids.
“To be here, to have all this going on,” said Jungnitsch, his voice trailing off before he laughed nervously. “Just to have her out of the bed basically, this is everything.”
A lot of the children will be returning to the hospital in the coming days, some went back that exact day. However, the excitement of this fantasy flight will not soon be forgotten.