United Airlines, NJ Transit provide special holiday trips for ailing children (PHOTOS)

The annual flight, headed for the North Pole, took off from Newark Liberty International Airport early Saturday.  After 30 minutes in the air, it landed at a fully decorated gate area where Santa Claus and his helpers gave away gifts to approximately 60 youth ages 2-18, some of whom are very sick, even terminally ill.

It’s a United Airlines tradition, 30 years running, that brings joy in a unique way.

This year, youth from Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, University Hospital and YWCA participated.

Upon arrival, an orchestra from New Jersey Performing Arts Center was serenading the concourse while the kids were led on a mini parade throughout the terminal. Former New York Giants player Jonathan Casillas was on hand signing autographs, taking pictures and distributing team merchandise to the attendees.

Yolanda Hughes was the lead flight attendant for United. Her normal schedule sends her to locations such as London, Johannesburg and Paris. This was her first time going to the “North Pole.” She was thrilled.

This is the first time I’ve worked on a Fantasy Flight, and I was energized the whole time by the children’s excitement,” she said. “My gift is service; I have a passion for it I want to share it with others. I also love being around kids and making them smile, so this was one of my favorite flights I’ve been a part of.”

The scene was one of many taking place across the state this past weekend as businesses and organizations helped to bring holiday cheer to the communities they serve.

New Jersey Transit’s special Polar Express train. (New Jersey Transit)

New Jersey Transit created a Polar Express line in southern New Jersey on Saturday, a two-hour ride that departed the Waterfront Entertainment Complex for a journey between Camden and Burlington South.

Now in its fifth year, the ride — for children battling childhood illnesses and their families at the Ronald McDonald House Southern New Jersey — features specially decorated holiday cars with caroling volunteer elves and gifts. New Jersey Transit Police and the Camden Fire Department accompanied the families.

“This event is a highlight for NJ Transit because it offers children and their families a moment of joy during the holiday season,” Department of Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti said. “NJ Transit is proud to partner with Ronald McDonald House during this festive time of year.”