Avatars to Assist Passengers at New York City Airports

Is this the beginning of the end of the beloved airport greeter?

Not exactly. But three New York City-area airports have introduced a new type of greeter. At Newark Liberty International, it's Libby. At LaGuardia, it's Marie. And at John K. Kennedy International Airport, it's Sarah. They're there to assist passengers by dispensing all sorts of helpful information about ground transportation and other concerns.

They're the best kind of worker. Sarah, Libby and Marie don't take time off. They don't get sick. They always smile at the passengers.

Just don't ask them any questions. They can't answer them. Because they're not humans -- they're virtual Customer Care Representatives, or, as they're more commonly known, avatars.

The avatars were introduced Wednesday at LaGuardia and last month at Newark. JFK's avatar starts work on Thursday. The avatars recite from a script and start talking whenever anyone comes within 30 feet.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is renting them for six months for $180,000. After that time, they'll evaluate the success of the program and determine if they'll be in place permanently.

The avatars are part of an initiative announced in May. Other improvements include 100 additional power poles to supply electronic devices throughout the terminals at all three airports. There's also additional food court seating. Full-time restroom attendants have been hired at Newark's Terminal A, where facilities have not been modernized lately to meet increased demand. There also will be new digital "Next Bus" arrival time signs at Newark Liberty and more quality control visits to airport stores to ensure customers are treated well.

Another customer enhancement initiative being launched at Newark, JFK, and LaGuardia is a new smartphone app -- a free FlySmart mobile application that sends real-time flight notifications to iPhone, Android and Blackberry smartphones. The app will include listings for ground transportation and concessions, as well as maps of the terminals.

The avatars are located in the arrivals area in the Central Terminal Building at LaGuardia and at the Welcome Center in JetBlue's Terminal 5 at JFK. Libby, Newark's avatar, can be found in Terminal B.

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