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Not all of the busy travelers rushing through LaGuardia Airport Saturday noticed Flight 9925 on the departure board. But about 50 antsy children were waiting to get through security and make the flight.
They were going to the North Pole.
Each year US Airways sponsors the Fantasy Flight to the North Pole at LaGuardia Airport, where kids from Cohen Children’s Medical Center in Glen Oaks board a real plane that taxis around the airport’s runways, eventually docking at another gate decorated like the North Pole and filled with food, games, Santa Claus and a bin full of presents.
The traveling children suffer from cancer or blood disorders, illnesses that can render them unable to live life outside the confines of a hospital.
Richard Galante, a social worker at the center, said that is why the day is designed not only for the kids, but for their families as well.
“When the child has cancer, the whole family has cancer,” he said. “But here they are seeing their children be children.”
Jean Tolentino, a mother from Astoria, was grateful her kids could have the experience.
“Their whole life is spent in a hospital, so when they get to get out and have a day without medicine, it’s really good,” she said. “I’m exhausted, but this is great.”
US Airways made the experience about as real as possible short of the plane actually taking off and heading due north.
Upon arrival at the airport, the children and their families were issued boarding passes by the airline staff and all of the roughly 200 people had to pass through security checkpoints.
At Gate 21, the kids gathered with their families, anxious to get into the air. Many already knew what they would say when the moment came to meet Santa.
Six-year-old Kahlea Hsu from Flushing did not want to leave the old man guessing and was very specific about her wish.
“I want to ask him for a soft, medium-small puppy,” she said. “White and black.”
And the holiday spirit was alive and well in 4-year-old Anais Rosado from Queens Village, who only wanted to give presents to her family.
“Johnny needs a new race car,” she said, before revealing, to the surprise of her mother, that she had made several trips to the North Pole in the past.
Once onboard, the kids were instructed to close their windows since the skippers, US Airways Capt. Don Iorio, was taking a secret route to the fabled toy mecca.
Elves and flight attendants led the cabin in Christmas carols as the plane taxied around the airport.
When it was time to take off, the engines roared into action as a brother and sister from Long Island gripped their armrests and looked at each other, eyes bulging in disbelief. The plane accelerated down a stretch of tarmac, but never actually left the ground.
“It was fun. I’ve never been on a plane before,” said 9-year-old Amanda Lakharam after the plane had safely reached the North Pole. “I’m going to ask Santa if he is coming for Christmas.”
Her brother was more to the point.
“I’m going to ask him, ‘Where are all the toys?’” Nicholas Lakharam, 11, said.
The families disembarked to find a Christmas party in full swing. A DJ blasted holiday tunes as families shuffled through a buffet that ended in a candy depot.
Of course, the children got some one-on-one time with Kris Kringle — and a present to take home.
“I want a Disney princess dress,” said 4-year-old Mya Lynn from South Jamaica, although she added that under no circumstances did she want a prince to go with it.
Lauro Marca is from Corona. He said his 7-year-old daughter was having a blast.
“She loved it,” he said. “She wants to come back tomorrow.”
But she will have to wait longer than that since Flight 9925 only comes to Queens once a year.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.
©2010 Community Newspaper Group
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