Airport Volunteers Lend Frazzled Travelers a Helping Hand

PHOTO: DIAs Airport Ambassadors assist travelers every day.

It's gearing up to be a busy summer travel season: Airlines for America predicts there will be more than 206 million people flying this summer, and that's only on U.S carriers. That breaks down to about 2.24 million passengers per day.

With all those people passing through airports, many of them infrequent fliers, there's sure to be plenty of angst. Lost bags, lost children, parking questions, rental car inquires, flight delays and cancellations. Who can you turn to for help?

Your friendly airport greeters of course. You'll recognize them by the white hats at Denver International. Or the red vests at Calgary International in Canada. And, very soon, the pins on their clothing at New York's JFK.

JFK airport rolls out a new program on May 22, just in time for the busy summer travel season. Called Edge4Vets N.I.C.E. Corps, the program plans to use the skills of military veterans to help alleviate passenger frustrations at the airport. It takes airport employees who are also veterans and gives them N.I.C.E. (Neutralize Irritations Customers Experience) training.

The pilot program was designed by Tom Murphy, director of the Human Resiliency institute at Fordham University. He said the program would initially be in Terminal 4, and has 30 trained problem solvers ready to help. "What travelers want most," he said, "is for someone to care when things go wrong. They want someone who will step up and help."

Veterans employed at a variety of airport companies – even airlines like JetBlue, Delta and American Airlines, and agencies like TSA– have signed up for the training. The idea, Murphy said, is for veterans already involved in the pilot program to spot other airline employees going the extra mile and then report it. Those employees will then be recognized and rewarded for their helpfulness. Murphy said that in time he hopes the program will take on a life of its own, resulting in a more positive airport experience for employees and travelers alike.

Additionally, he said, "the image of veterans will be advanced."

Other airport greeter programs have been around for years, and the volunteers aren't getting rewarded. Dan Melfi, director of terminal operations and customer service at Denver International Airport, said the 350 Airport Ambassadors at his airport get a recognition dinner once a year, but that's about it.

"Airports get real mean," said Melfi. "It helps to have a smiling face greet your flight and answer your questions."

But the ambassadors at DIA are often called on to be much more than smiling faces. For that reason, they undergo training, complete with testing, on everything about the airport. Their expertise will be especially crucial, he said, when construction starts on the airport's south terminal.

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