FOR most of the 200 children wearing matching Santa hats and skipping through the terminal, it is the first time they have stepped foot inside an airport.
Struggling to contain their excitement, the youngsters burst into a rendition of Jingle Bells while waiting patiently to board.
It is not surprising they are excited. Not only is this the first time many have flown but they will be joined on this extra-special flight by an extra-special passenger – a bearded man who normally prefers reindeer-power to jet engines.
It is the annual Flight of Dreams, hosted by the Thomas Cook Children’s Charity, which offers children with special educational needs and their carers the chance to experience a festive flight over the UK.
Among the large group of schoolchildren – who have a variety of learning disabilities, additional support needs and conditions, ranging from Down’s syndrome to ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) – are 35 pupils from Woodlands School in Currie and six P5 children from the city’s Redhall School.
“The children have been counting down how many days it is to go until the Flight of Dreams,” says Woodlands principal teacher Cat Weir. “Lots of the kids haven’t been on a plane before so they’re very excited.”
S2 teacher at Woodlands Sean Fallon adds: “The kids have been totally hyper. They’re excited about the whole experience – sitting in the aeroplane together having a wee chat; coming into the airport, which some have never done before; and going through duty free and smelling the perfume. Around 50 per cent of my class have never been on a plane before.”
The children’s enthusiasm is shared by pupils from Redhall School in Longstone.
For nine-year-old Redhall pupil Leon Pryde, the Flight of Dreams experience will prepare him for his first holiday abroad next summer.
Waiting to board the flight, deputy head at Redhall, Laura Menzies, says: “His mum was delighted that he was going on the Flight of Dreams.
“It gives the children experiences but in a safe way so they feel secure.”
She adds: “Some people think nowadays it is not a big deal to go on a plane but for children with learning disabilities, it is. You can only do so much in the classroom talking about travel and going on planes.
“They [the pupils] will have seen films or pictures of aeroplanes but until they experience it for themselves, it’s not the same.”
As the children take their seats and count down to take-off from Glasgow Airport, pilot Chris Longley – who is also sporting a festive hat – cranks up the excitement in the cabin.
He announces: “I have just been told by air traffic control that Santa is doing some practice flights around Scotland today.
“He hasn’t flown his sleigh all year since last Christmas so look out the window and listen for magic sleigh bells.”
The news is greeted with applause, cheers and plenty of smiles.
The pilot adds: “An unidentified aircraft is approaching us from behind.
“With magic, Santa might even be able to board the aeroplane.”
And sure enough, after singing Christmas songs to encourage Santa to jump on board, the man in red soon makes an appearance – much to the delight of the children.
After walking through the cabin and high-fiving pupils along the way, Santa announces the winner of a competition in which the children were asked to name each of the twelve days of Christmas in the festive song. The winner, Redhall pupil Omar Hay, collects his prize of a Christmas bear from Santa, while grinning from ear to ear.
The nine-year-old says: “I won the bear.
“I’m going to play with him at home and call him Jack Frost.”
After flying to the north of Scotland, it is time for the plane to return to Glasgow Airport to complete the one-hour trip. Mr Fallon says: “It was great fun. It was amazing.
“The pupils thoroughly enjoyed it, especially the ones who had no idea what they were getting into. It was fantastic.”
Among the first-time flyers was Caitlin Adams.
The second-year pupil at Woodlands School, who will celebrate her 14th birthday next month, says that the flight is an “early birthday present”.
“I’d give it ten out of ten,” she says.
“I liked going up in the aeroplane really high the best and seeing Santa.”
Nine-year-old Melissa Wilkins, who is a pupil at Redhall School, adds: “I liked being on the aeroplane and seeing Santa on the aeroplane.”
Before the pupils return to the Capital, they tuck into some well-deserved lunch and receive a present from Father Christmas – a chocolate Santa lollipop.
It is fair to say that for this particular group of children, Christmas really has come a little early this year.
COOKING UP UNFORGETTABLE EXPERIENCE
THE Thomas Cook Children’s Charity was set up in 2009 and works to improve the lives of sick and disadvantaged children. It supports a variety of appeals and projects for children both in the UK and overseas. Money is raised by Thomas Cook employees through a range of activities, including customer donations placed at the time of booking and unwanted foreign currency collected on board flights and in retail stores. The charity is set to raise more than £1 million this year.
Pete Constanti, chairman of the Thomas Cook Children’s Charity, said: “We’re thrilled that we could offer this unforgettable experience to these children, some of whom have never flown before. I’m also very proud that so many employees volunteered their time to help make this year’s Flight of Dreams such a memorable day for these amazing children and their dedicated carers.”
The Glasgow flight was one of five Flight of Dreams taking place this month, with the others leaving from East Midlands, Manchester, Belfast and Gatwick airports.