As we count down to the last days of 2011, residents of Christchurch in New Zealand's South Island are looking forward to a more settled 2012. They have endured more than 4,000 earthquake tremors this year including a massive 6.3 magnitude shake in February that devastated parts of the city and pushed more than 400,000 tons of silt liquefaction through people's private properties, schools and businesses.
So it's been great to see a number of international and New Zealand companies support a whole range of community events to bring some normalcy and fun back into people's lives. And, to top it all off, this week Air New Zealand turned a Boeing 777-200ER into Santa's sleigh and put on two special scenic flights for some of the children and parents of Christchurch.
It's not every day that more than 300 kids get to follow the pilot around on his pre-flight checks, but that was just the start of what was in store for the "Christchurch Cheer in the Air" flights last Tuesday, Dec. 20.
Air New Zealand's Chief Pilot Captain David Morgan was at the controls of the two one-hour scenic flights, which flew south of Christchurch to take in the majestic Aoraki Mt Cook area, the tallest mountain in New Zealand.
Kids were chosen via ballot system run through Air New Zealand's social media channels as well as local radio and newspaper partners. The Twitter ballot had more than 100 tweet entries in a matter of minutes, with thousands received through all channels during the week-long entry process.
For many it was their first experience of flying, and there's nothing like the promise of getting to see inside the cockpit to coax a few of the more nervous ones onboard! Face-painted children mingled with elves and fairies before making their way up the tinsel-decorated stairs to the aircraft where a 31-strong Christchurch City Choir sang carols throughout the flight.
The biggest surprise was when Santa asked to hitch a ride, with Captain David Morgan making the following announcement at 32,000ft:
"Hello everyone, this is your Captain speaking from the flight deck.
We've just received a special request from Snow Traffic Control at the North Pole.
Santa is doing a test run with his sleigh as part of his final Christmas preparations and one of his reindeer -- I believe it's Prancer -- is feeling a bit tired. So Santa is seeking permission to board our aircraft while Prancer and his friends take a break. He also tells me he is very thirsty as Mrs. Claus forgot to pack his thermos of tea today.
Santa is standing by above us while I check with the team -- my co-pilot has confirmed it's OK and so has the Flight Services Manager.
Assuming that everyone's happy to have an extra person on the flight, I'll give Santa permission to come onboard and let the reindeer take a rest on the top of the plane.
Please make Santa welcome...!"
At the end of both flights it was hard to tell who was happier -- the kids or their parents, but for everyone it was a welcome break from a tough year, and hopefully marked the start of better days ahead.