united paws
Credit: Courtesy of United

In most cases, it feels like airlines are out to make the worst of your vacation—flight delays! Tiny seats! Fees for everything! But this holiday season, a few carriers have been taking their cues from Santa rather than the Grinch. 'Tis the season to (actually) be merry about flying … if you’re lucky enough to get in on these airline-sponsored festivities, anyway.


For more than two decades, United has been taking children in need, and their families, on Fantasy Flights plucked straight out of Santa’s GPS. Throughout the holiday season, this domestic carrier takes kids on the trip of a lifetime—to the North Pole—for a festive celebration. From the party at check-in, where kids are greeted with music and food, to the decorated gate, where Christmas characters and volunteers check boarding passes (ORD to NTP, anyone?) every leg of the journey is pure magic. Pilots go out of their way to pass snow-capped mountains, when possible, and upon arrival at the jet bridge, every minute is pure winter madness. You can bet Santa will be there, though Superman, Spiderman, and a host of other favorite icons are likely to be on hand, passing out items selected from each child’s personal wish list. This year, flights to the North Pole left from Denver, San Francisco, and Chicago O’Hare, among others. United is also spreading holiday cheer to grown-ups this year. On days leading up to Christmas—some of the busiest of the year—United will be bringing Comfort Dogs (yes, actual dogs—golden retrievers to be exact) to hubs such as Los Angeles and Newark, spreading a little puppy love.

united paws
Credit: Courtesy of United


Even if you’ve never heard of this Canadian airline, which flies primarily throughout North America and the Caribbean, you may have heard about its wacky Christmas-time stunts: in the past, it’s delivered personalized wish-list items for travelers at baggage claim and created flash mobs of dancing elves (all documented on popular YouTube clips). This year, WestJet and its 12,000 employees decided they would create at least 12,000 “mini miracles,” ranging from free trips to Hawaii or Disney World for deserving families, warm meals for the homeless, and life-sized stuffed animal donations for children in need. This year’s big stunt may be over, but keep those fingers crossed: you never know when the company’s signature Blue Santa will show up next.

Virgin Atlantic

Always one for holiday cheer, Virgin Atlantic has made a habit of serving turkey feasts or celebrating Boxing Day in the skies. This year, it took a different approach: the airline created an in-flight game in partnership with Microsoft, so that passengers aboard two designated flights could help “track down Santa’s reindeer

Virgin Atlantic passengers have also been getting in on the fun elsewhere. At check in, travelers have been receiving complimentary sets of paper deer antlers, which they can wear while creating a 15-second video about someone they’d like to bestow cheer upon. Those who post the video to any social channel and tag the airline with the hashtag #ThankYouDeer have a chance to win their loved one a free flight.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines

Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy Airport got a merry makeover on December 16, when St. Nick (donning a KLM-stye blue suit, of course, rather than his traditional red-and-white crushed velvet digs) visited travelers and left special gourmet treats waiting for travelers on two Amsterdam-bound flights. More than 600 passengers arrived at their seat to find global snacks from around the world, curated by Try The World: think Moroccan orientines cookies, Swedish ginger snaps, Italian pannetone and Japanese soba noodles.

By Melanie LiebermanNikki Ekstein and Nikki Ekstein and Melanie Lieberman