FATHER Christmas swapped his sleigh and reindeer for easyJet planes to raise £17,500 for Essex charities and good causes.

Southend Airport held its annual Santa flights on Saturday with two planes full of children taking to the skies.

Santa was at the controls for the two flights with his band of elves as the cabin crew to look after and entertain all 342 attendees with carol singing and games.

The festive fun started in the departure room with a range of exciting activities such as Robin Hood panto themed arts and crafts, face painting, a Christmas snow globe bouncer by Mega Inflatables.

There was also a retro photo booth to take pictures of families by OMG Entertainment and letters to Santa.

Christmas treats like mince pies, gingerbread men and candy canes were served, as well as a selection of hot and cold drinks.

An orchestra was also on hand, playing and singing carols to add to the exciting atmosphere.

Following the two 45-minute flights there was a surprise gift of goody bags, donated by PMS International Toys in Basildon.

As part of a festive partnership, Arriva buses also offered customers free travel to the airport so they could enjoy their Santa Flight without having to worry about how to get there.

A spokesman for the airport said: "Southend Airport would like to say a huge thank you all its sponsors who have made the 2019 Santa Flights possible – easyJet, PMS International, OMG Entertainment, The Cliffs Pavilion, Arriva and Mega Inflatables– plus the many airport staff who help organise the event."

Glyn Jones, Chief Executive Officer of Stobart Aviation, owners of the airport, said: "The festive Santa Flights are a truly magical day out for the children and their families.

""e were delighted to be able to provide them again, whilst also raising much-needed funds for fantastic local charities and good causes."

The event's fundraising total eclipsed that of last year's £14,000.