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American Flies Gold Star Families to Orlando in Massive Airlift

The Fort Worth-based airline donated 11 aircraft and 700 tickets as part of its annual Snowball Express event in partnership with the Gary Sinise Foundation.

American once again partnered with the Gary Sinise Foundation for abother Snowball Express airlift. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Ryan Ewing)

American Airlines has partnered with the Gary Sinise Foundation to once again transport Gold Star families as part of Snowball Express, an annual event that brings together the surviving spouses and children of fallen military service members for a five-day experience at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

The Snowball Express program is more than just a vacation to the happiest place on earth. It’s an opportunity for families to connect with others who understand their loss and to create new memories during the holiday season.

American donated 11 charter aircraft to the Snowball Express airlift in 2023. (Photo: Flightradar24)

This year, the Fort Worth-based airline donated 11 aircraft and over 700 tickets to ensure that family members from regions across the world would have the opportunity to participate in the event. Over 1,800 family members from 80 different locations participated in the airlift from as far away as Australia, Guam, and Europe.

“With the families of our fallen heroes for our Gary Sinise Foundation Snowball Express Annual event as they depart to the most magical place on Earth, Disney World. We’re taking over 1,800 family members, the children and surviving spouses,” actor Gary Sinise said on his Facebook page.

American includes aircraft as large as a Boeing 787-9 in the airlift. (Photo: AirlineGeels | Ryan Ewing)

“It’s always an honor to wrap my arms around them and remind them we do not forget their hero. Thank you to our presenting sponsor American Airlines for taking extra care of these special families, providing 11 chartered planes,” he added.

An Annual Airlift

Since 2006, American has partnered with the Gary Sinise Foundation to transport Gold Star families around the holidays. The airline provides both donated charter aircraft and tickets as part of the annual charity effort.

Gold Star family members receive a special send-off before each Snowball Express flight. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Ryan Ewing)

Also donating their time are the crew members on each of the 11 charter aircraft along with teams on the ground supporting them. Both pilots and flight attendants have the opportunity to volunteer on Snowball Express flights every year.

During the send-off event at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), American Airlines COO David Seymour shared that the demand is so high for volunteers that not everyone is chosen. Being the airline’s largest hub, DFW typically has the biggest Snowball Express event.

Aircraft cabins are decorated in a holiday theme. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Ryan Ewing)

From DFW, 284 people boarded a holiday-decorated Boeing 787-9 aircraft – the largest aircraft in the Snowball Express airlift. Before departure, the airline’s employees decorate each of the charter aircraft’s cabins with a holiday theme.

The DFW Snowball Express flight receives a water canon salute. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Ryan Ewing)

American and the Gary Sinise Foundation operate the charter flights from some of the carrier’s hubs and also select military towns. Several cities from Seattle to Fayetteville, N.C. saw a Snowball Express flight pass through on Saturday, with some making stops to pick up more families en route to Orlando.

Ryan Ewing
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  • Ryan Ewing

    Ryan founded AirlineGeeks.com back in February 2013 and has amassed considerable experience in the aviation sector. His work has been featured in several publications and news outlets, including CNN, WJLA, CNET, and Business Insider. During his time in the industry, he's worked in roles pertaining to airport/airline operations while holding a B.S. in Air Transportation Management from Arizona State University along with an MBA. Ryan has experience in several facets of the industry from behind the yoke of a Cessna 172 to interviewing airline industry executives. Ryan works for AirlineGeeks' owner FLYING Media, spearheading coverage in the commercial aviation space.

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