The Solgården holiday center caters to people with disabilities, and 28 times a year, a special SAS flight carries happy families to the sun.
Oslo airport. Outside, it’s 15C and overcast. Inside, expectation and excitement are in the air. The families clustered around Gate 38 are on their way to the Solgården resort in Spain, near Alicante.
Solgården is not your average holiday center. Since opening in 1972, it has specialized in catering to people with disabilities. In the winter, their customers are senior citizens. In the summer, they’re families, some with members with disabilities.
The Lærum-Andreassens are at Solgården for the second time. For the next two weeks, they will enjoy the sun and explore the town of Villajoyosa, says Karianne Lærum, a mother of two.
“It’s safe here,” she says. “The kids can’t just wander off. The resort area is big and there are loads of activities, like shopping trips and trips to the beach.”
Everybody joins in the activities, and there’s a lot of time to make new friends.
Family youngster Martin Andreassen, 12 years old – “almost 13” – has got his vacation priorities clear.
“I’m going to swim in the pool and play mini-golf and tennis,” he says proudly.
His older brother, Alexander, 18, is looking forward to checking out the resort’s youth club, as well as some fast-paced action in the form of paintball and go-carts.
For the past 40 years, SAS has collaborated with Solgården, flying there around 28 times a year.
Marina Tunstad is the assistant director at Solgården. Today she is standing by the check-in desk, welcoming the families and answering their questions.
“We stress safety, well-being, and joy here,” she says. “For many of the families, this is the big event of the year. SAS contributes to this with their dedicated crew, and has done so since the beginning in 1972.”
Earlier this year, the Solgården SAS crew was awarded the Team Achievement of the Year prize at an SAS internal event.
“The SAS crew does a formidable job, and they really care about Solgården,” Tunstad says. “We really depend on the good service they provide us.”
Captain Stein Gilhuus has been an SAS pilot for 27 years and part of the Solgården crew for seven. “On the family flights, we fly with one extra crew member,” he says. “On the other chartered Solgården flights, we have a doctor and two nurses on board as well. The safety of the passengers and the crew is paramount. We always keep extra oxygen tanks and a defibrillator on board. It’s a challenge and requires you to do that little bit extra. And the passengers are so grateful – many of them have been looking forward to this holiday for months.”
Copilot Lasse Fjærestad recently joined the crew, and he had a special reason to volunteer. He’s the father of a disabled daughter, so he knows how stressful traveling can be – both for the daughter and for her parents.
“This way, everyone gets to relax both on the flight and at the destination,” he says. “There’s less pressure on the parents because they know help is available. Also, they don’t have to worry about disturbing other people vacationing. I’m looking forward to vacationing at Solgården myself with my family.”
Published in Scandinavian Traveler no 9 2015: