Airport Volunteers Lend Frazzled Travelers a Helping Hand

They're also there to lend a hand when a flight is canceled or delayed. In those situations, Melfi said, the ambassadors can get you to a manager or a supervisor quickly to help you rebook. He gave an example of a man whose flight was delayed, and was very frustrated and upset. "He was not in his right mind," Melfi said. An airport ambassador approached the man to see how he could help. It turned out a member of the man's family had just been killed. He needed to get home, but his flight to Washington, D.C., had been canceled. The ambassador got him booked on a flight connecting through Dallas that got him home quickly. The man was so out of it, Melfi said, he had not even considered connecting through another city. The ambassador was able to offer not only assistance but kindness.

They later found out, through a thank-you note from the man's office, that he was a U.S. congressman.

Volunteers at DIA are primarily retired airline employees, though that's not a requirement. CEOs, managers, supervisors are all now wearing the famous white hats. At Canada's Calgary Airport, the volunteers also wear white hats, paired with red vests. And at Winnipeg International Airport, they wear gold or silver vests.

"We have a little rivalry with Winnipeg about who started the program first," Melfi said. "They too have an excellent program." Melfi said the DIA airport ambassadors program, which has been in place since 1992, has saved the city of Denver well over $1million. They work four to six hour shifts and on each shift, help between 25 to 50 travelers.

DIA's airport ambassador program has been replicated in at least 15 airports across the country, Melfi estimates, including Los Angeles, Dallas, Orlando and Raleigh-Durham. Tampa recently put out a call for 100 volunteers at its airport in advance of the Republican National Convention.

Airport ambassadors are so critical to tourism, because they are "the first and last impression of Colorado," said Melfi. "I don't care how smart you are, how much money you make. Every time you go to the airport, you're at risk. Flight delays, cancellations, all of it. Bottom line, the volunteers keep them moving."

And after all, isn't that what we all want at the airport this summer? To just to keep moving.

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