The Liberty Gazette
December 23, 2014Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: Consider the extraordinary, sometimes the ultimate, sacrifices made by our military protecting our freedom. Too often families are left behind to pick up the pieces after laying their beloved soldiers to rest. Children lose a mom or a dad, and some will never know their brave, hero parent.
Snowball Express is a five-day event where children make new memories and honor their parent’s sacrifice. This is how American Airlines honors to the kids who have sacrificed so much. This Christmas story comes from one of the pilots, my friend, Juliet Lindrooth.
Juliet: We fly the families to Dallas from around the world. Their flights and all expenses are paid for and everyone with Snowball Express is a volunteer.
Each year brings an opportunity to fly these missions, ten airplanes to bring families here and ten airplanes to take them home. With two pilots per plane only 40 pilots are needed, but more than 350 volunteer every year. I have been blessed twice to fly for Snowball Express. We call it being "chosen", and of all the flying I do, this is the most rewarding.
Mike: Juliet is an American Airlines Boeing 767/757 International pilot. She also flies small planes, races in the annual Air Race Classic, is active in the Ninety-Nines (women pilots), flies children in EAA’s Young Eagles program, and flies toys to children of our active military heroes through "Toy Airlift".
Juliet: While my blood is really AvGas and my heart beats like a well-tuned airplane engine, my flying is all about children. Preparing for Snowball Express this year I could hardly contain myself. My uniform decorated in Christmas garb, donning reindeer antlers, I took the train from Philadelphia to JFK airport to pick up the airplane and ferry it to Indianapolis.
Along with my co-pilot and myself were five wonderful flight attendants and a mechanic. Our call sign would be "SnoBall9". I would fly the first leg to Indy in a 757 with two overpowered Rolls Royce engines and only eight on board. We shot into the air, climbing 6000’ per minute. I have to admit, it was really fun to fly a jet like that. We can’t do that with passengers on board because they might get a little scared.
The flight attendants decorated the airplane en route and it looked fantastic. The kids were going to love it. We arrived in Indy for the overnight so we could be well rested for the kids the next day.
At 5:30 a.m. the hotel came alive with squealing, excited children. Normally, I’d be cranky this early, but I woke with a smile on my face and a song in my heart. I missed the van to the airport but one family offered to take me in their car – a great chance to meet before our flight. The kids were excited to have "their pilot" in the car with them.
An honor guard escorted us into the terminal. At the gate a huge party was happening, but I had a job to do. I got the plane ready and greeted each family as they boarded, and flew to Washington, D.C. to pick up more families, filling our plane with happy passengers and our hearts with gratitude.
Finally in Dallas we taxied to the gate where greeters awaited our precious cargo. We said our goodbyes as they deplaned and wished them fun for the next five days. With a tear in my eye, I boarded my flight back to Philadelphia, wishing I could stay, honored to be able to serve these families as one of the chosen few.