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Planes, Trains & Boats

Meeting United Airlines Pilots

“ This experience has opened so many doors for his future. ”


- Kristin Bonny, Justin's Mom

Justin, 7, from Bolingbrook, is a happy little boy who loves trucks, trains and anything else pertaining to transportation. Justin was diagnosed with myotubular myopathy at a young age, a condition which severely affects the function of his muscles and has left him wheelchair-bound. Even so, Justin has a zest for life and an intense interest in public transportation.

Growing up in Chicago’s suburbs, he sees most modes of transportation in his neighborhood every day. But that was not enough for this transit buff; he wanted to learn more about how his favorite forms of transportation work behind the scenes. Make-A-Wish and transportation experts across the Chicago area came together to give Justin four days of amazing experiences across the city, culminating in a day full of train related activities on National Train Day. When all was said and done, dozens of people from United Airlines, the Chicago Fire Department, Metra, Amtrak and the Bolingbrook police and fire departments had contributed to making Justin’s wish an amazing experience.

Justin's wish started off with a police escort from his house to the highway as he traveled by limousine to O'Hare International Airport. Justin said that everyone in his neighborhood was coming out of their houses and he was pretty sure "they thought he was President Obama!" At what has been billed as one of the world’s busiest airports, Justin met United Airlines pilots and learned how to "fly" a plane. Justin was given a pilot's shirt, a tie, a hat and of course, his wings! He then met his crew for the day, who gave him his very own Captain's ID badge. They all went to the Air Traffic Control tower where Justin and his family got an amazing view of the city and the airport. Justin really enjoyed watching the planes land and take-off, and he was mesmerized by all the control equipment. He even got to talk to the people in the other control tower!
Next, it was off to the hangar where Justin got a behind the scenes tour of the terminals and visited with some United Airlines mechanics who were working on a 767. Justin's day concluded as he met back up with his crew and boarded the plane. He got to sit in the cockpit as they taxied back to the airport gate and he made all the in-flight announcements over the intercom. After about 20 minutes of riding, Justin arrived at the gate where more than 60 United Airlines staff and crew members were waiting to greet him.

The next day, Justin and his family had a front row seat for the christening of the Chicago Fire Department's first new fire boat in 60 years. Justin toured the newly christened Chicago Fire Department Boat, which was named after fallen Chicago firefighter Christopher Wheatley. Justin was greeted by Chicago Fire Commissioner, Robert Hoff, who directed him immediately to the Captain's seat and named Justin as Captain for the Day. As Justin learned about the boat's control center, Chicago's Mayor Richard M. Daley arrived to meet with him and his family. For the boat's maiden voyage, Justin was at the helm and helped to drive the boat out into Lake Michigan. They stopped in the middle of the lake and turned on the sirens and water hoses for the first time. Later in the evening, Justin and his family were taken to the firefighter recruiting center where he was named an honorary Chicago firefighter.

Day three of Justin's transportation adventure was filled with rides on Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) buses, as well as a double-decker bus through the city. They took Chicago’s famous elevated train to Midway airport and even took a trolley to Navy Pier, the perfect way to see all of the sights in Chicago.

Justin's wish culminated on National Train Day when staff from the regional commuter railway Metra and Amtrak planned some very special experiences just for him. Justin arrived at the Metra headquarters where he practiced driving a train on a simulator and received an honorary train engineer’s license. He received many wonderful gifts, including a special model train with Justin's name on it built by a Metra employee. He then headed to Union Station in Chicago where he participated in the opening ceremony for National Train Day and toured all of the train exhibits. After a K-9 demonstration, Justin boarded a train on the BNSF line to Lisle where he was announced as the Special Guest Conductor and was able to punch passengers' tickets. Justin and his family took a very special train home led by Engine #401, the Oliver "Ollie" Tibbles, which was named for a Make-A-Wish child in 2005.

Justin's four day transportation odyssey was filled with a lot of smiles not only from Justin and his family, but from everyone else who was involved in making his wish come true. His journey filled him with joy and hope for his future, which will surely be in transportation!

"Justin was really sad when his wish was over, but he hasn't stopped talking about it since. He was able to meet so many new people and learned so much, and it is like his wish is just beginning because this experience has opened many new doors for Justin's future," said Justin's mom Kristin after his wish. 

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