As the Secretary of Transportation, I spend a lot of time at airports. But every once in a while, those ordinary trips can be quite extraordinary. And that was the case this week as I helped American Airlines and United Airlines honor some special kids this holiday season.
On Thursday morning, I attended a Snowball Express send-off event at Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Virginia. Snowball Express, now in its fifth year, is an annual gathering that helps the children of fallen military heroes create new holiday memories.
As the official airline for the Snowball Express, American Airlines donated dozens of charter flights to help over 1,300 people get to and from Dallas, Texas for this year's event. And over the weekend, these families were able to enjoy a trip to the Mesquite Championship Rodeo, a performance of "The Nutcracker" ballet, and a special show by ventriloquist Terry Fator.
But the Snowball Express is about much more than just entertainment. For Jon Marie Pearson and her four children, it's a chance to connect with other people who understand the loss they've experienced. Her husband, Army Captain Andrew R. Pearson, was killed in Iraq on April 30, 2008.
"We get to see we're not alone in this," Jon Marie said. "There's other families that are going through the same thing, and it helps us get through the holidays."
I found a similar sense of community on Saturday morning at the United Airlines' Fantasy Flight to the North Pole. The Fantasy Flight began 20 years ago at Washington Dulles International Airport and helps bring a little holiday magic to seriously ill kids from Children's Hospice International.
With the help of United Airlines and its employees, the children and their families boarded a Boeing 777, took off for a brief flight, and landed at the "North Pole"--a special gate at the airport decked out in holiday decorations and featuring carolers, costumed characters, holiday treats, gifts, and more.
And while I was there, I had a chance to talk with the people who help make the Fantasy Flight possible each year--United Airlines' dedicated employees, who selflessly donated their time and money to create a memorable experience for the children.
The holiday season is a time to spend with family and friends. But, it's also a time to give back. I was so pleased to be able to take part in these unique events, and I applaud everyone at American Airlines and United Airlines who helped make the Snowball Express and the Fantasy Flight such rousing successes.