There is no question that airports today need more friendly faces. But unfortunately, it’s not possible to make smiling mandatory for everyone working at airports. Yet, imagine approaching the TSA checkpoint and a smiling inspector greets you. Rather than a gruff directive to ‘remove your shoes’, you are kindly requested to comply with the regulations and once you do, a sincere thank you for your cooperation follows.
I admit this scenario may only happen in my dreams, but today’s stressed traveling population does need some tender loving care, a bit of unexpected kindness, sincere helpfulness to solve an unexpected problem, a little extra help getting to the gate, or a good will gesture for a traveler who may not read or speak English.
Enter the New Travel Interventionists. They are the current airport volunteers, guides and ambassadors who will gladly greet you with a genuine smile and offer a helping hand. This new breed of airport Interventionists are like old friends, listening to your woes and willing to help you out, not because they are getting paid the big buck, but because they can. Part crisis managers, they have the ability and expertise to help passengers navigate the new airport environment and provide a little extra help to get to where you are going, with a little less frustration.
They are definitely more versatile than the greeters at Walmart or Home Depot (although I usually get directions to which aisle has what I need) since the airport interventionists can be called upon to help in countless different ways.
- If you’re lost, they often escort you to where you need to be.
- Need a wheelchair or cart? They know who to call to get one quickly.
- Cancelled flight, they’ll stay with you and help you rebook on another carrier or arrange alternate transportation to get you to your destination.
- Not sure about parking? They have the answers.
- Have a question about airport history or a new terminal? They are full of information and anecdotes.
- Want something healthy to eat? They can direct you to the airport concessionaire that has healthy snacks.
Most often, they work diligently behind the scenes to make the flying experience just a little bit easier, more enjoyable and less frustrating. With an estimated 200 million U.S. travelers expected this summer, these airport interventionists have their work cut out for them.
Progressive airports already have volunteer programs in place – Los Angeles International Airport has the Volunteer Information Professionals (VIP) program, Denver International Airport has Hospitality Ambassadors, JFK Airport has just launched Edge4Vets N.I.C.E. program that has veterans who are airport employees receive special training in problem solving common traveler issues. And there are many more programs at smaller and mid-sized airports.
Travelers Aid is one of the oldest volunteer organizations whose mission is to assist individuals and families who are in crisis or transition and disconnected from their resources. They have been operating in Washington DC since 1913, and currently have a capable support staff of over 400 dedicated, trained volunteers serving Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport, and Union Station.
I commend the airports that have adopted volunteer programs to enhance travelers’ experiences when passing through their facilities, but the real heroes of these programs are the volunteers who work so hard to help passengers have a better experience, no matter what has gone awry. Providing competent and helpful services is not easy and requires having the right people skills and the best tools available to do the job.
My recommendations include improving and enhancing these essential Airport Interventionist programs by:
1) Investing in more comprehensive customer training to develop the right mix of skills and information for each airport. Whether this includes cultural sensitivity training, first aid or customer care, incorporating the volunteers into the larger airport system would be very useful.