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40 Special Students Find Fantasy Flight Really Exciting

May 26, 2004 – For 40 challenged young people from Lockhart and Peace Corps Elementary Schools, a "fantasy flight" on Wednesday night at Cyril E. King Airport was a dream come true.
The virtual trip was the idea of Ricky Deane, St. Thomas station manager for American Airlines and American Eagle.
As the yellow school bus pulled up at the airport terminal shortly after 6 p.m., excitement filled the air as the children got off and were escorted by airline staff to the ticket counter. There they were checked in for their fantasy flight to Aruba and given boarding passes and customs declaration forms.
Then they were taken through the Customs and Immigration clearance process. Two inspectors explained the purpose of the Customs Service and the pre-clearance procedure done on St. Thomas. After that, it was on to the Transportation Security Administration screening.
TSA screening manager Venus Green told the group about the mission of the agency and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security under which it falls.
TSA personnel showed how checked luggage is X-rayed and inspected before being loaded onto a plane. The children's bags and packages were inspected and they got the experience of passing through metal detectors.
"It's important that the children are told at an early age what security is all about," Green said, stating that the TSA's job is "to ensure to the best of our ability that the incidents of Sept. 11, 2001, do not happen again."
With clearance out of the way, excitement built again as the time drew near for the children to board the ATR aircraft parked on the northwest portion of the airport tarmac. At Gate 5, American Eagle agents processed the boarding passes and gathered the group for its fantasy flight down island.
The San Juan-based flight crew welcomed the youngsters aboard and Deane announced that the captain "has agreed to give each student a tour of the flight deck." One by one, they got an up-close look at the cockpit.
Then, buckled into their seats and ready for takeoff, the students were served snacks and beverages. "On this fantasy trip, we are going to take you over the islands of the B.V.I., Sint Maarten, St. Kitts, Antigua and Aruba, which will be your final destination," Deane said, sprinkling his narration with tidbits of information about the various islands.
The fantasy flight ended with the students exiting the plane and returning to the terminal, where they received certificates commemorating their experience.
"We all enjoyed it," one student said while walking from the aircraft to the terminal entrance. "I go on a plane a lot with my parents, but tonight was special."
Trecia Berry-Schmitt provided signing for five hearing-impaired students. At the end of the three-hour experience, she said that for many of the students it was "a wonderful opportunity … They enjoyed – let's say we enjoyed ourselves."
Shortly before 9 p.m. the happy travelers boarded the school bus outside the terminal for the trip back to their waiting parents.
Deane promised to arrange outreach programs such as Wednesday's fantasy trip when he took over as American's station manager a couple of months ago.
Many of the children at the airport Wednesday night have never taken an actual airplane ride. "We wanted to give these special children the full airport experience … from being dropped off at the curb to boarding the plane," Deane said. He said he had arranged such experiences at the stations he served on Tortola and St. Vincent, with the same results – a happy and excited group of youngsters.
"Give me some more time," he said Wednesday night. "There will be many projects involving the community on behalf of this great airline."

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