Ambassadors know their bathrooms, and other airport services

May. 25, 2013 @ 06:14 PM

"Where’s the bathroom?”
That question may seem inglorious, but think about it. When you’re in an unfamiliar place, isn’t one of the most important people the one who can answer that question, and answer it fast?
At Piedmont Triad International Airport, those people are Airport Ambassadors. In fact, it’s their most frequently asked question and one they don’t mind answering, over and over. Next on their list by frequency are: directions to ticket counters, departure gates, baggage claim, restaurants and car rental kiosks and lots.
After that, the sky’s the limit on questions Ambassadors field.
The Airport Ambassadors program at PTIA is approaching its 25th anniversary, making it one of the oldest in the airline industry, according to Linda McKenzie, program administrator.
Ambassadors — easily identified by their dark blue blazers — work a minimum of three hours a week, and they staff four booths on both levels of the airport, one at both ends of each floor. Some Ambassadors rove throughout the airport, even in the restricted gate areas. Ambassadors are on-station from 5:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. daily.
Ambassadors receive individual training, and they work with an experienced Ambassador before they work solo.
Each information booth is stocked with brochures about the area and services, an iPad and a thick, indexed ring binder the Ambassadors refer to as “the bible” because it contains information that helps them answer nearly any question they may be asked.
Because two information booths recently were added on the first floor, McKenzie would like to increase the current 41 volunteers by seven or eight.
In 2012, Ambassadors assisted 68,288 people and logged a total of 6,400 hours at the airport, for the equivalent cost of nearly $142,000. But cost savings aren’t the only value of Airport Ambassadors.
“We hear (from airport users) all the time how hospitable they are and how they go the extra mile,” McKenzie said. “Since they’re all volunteers, it’s a labor of love, and you can’t put a dollar amount on that. They really put themselves in the travelers’ shoes.
“Many airports now are doing Airport Ambassadors because they find that they get that attitude more from volunteers than employees.”
In the phone book, only one number is listed for PTIA information, and during the hours Ambassadors are on duty, that number rings at the upstairs, south Ambassadors station.
“We want a real person helping people. We’re one of the few places with a real person at the end of the phone,” McKenzie said. / 888-3601  


Damn Yankee knows his way around this Southern airport

TRIAD — Bob Zeliff never met an airport he didn’t like.
At age 91, he has the enthusiasm and memories of his youth spend near the airport in Teterboro, N.J., where he watched zeppelins and Fokker military aircraft come and go.
So when he retired and was deciding where to move in 1987, he chose Greensboro for its nearby airport — and maybe just a little because his children lived there. Now, he and his wife, Marjorie, live at River Landing at Sandy Ridge, ever nearer to Piedmont Triad International Airport.
Also a history buff, Zeliff began learning about his new home, especially the airport. Soon he joined the Airport Ambassadors.
On Sept. 9, he will mark his 25th year as an Ambassador, which makes him the longest-serving Ambassador, but only a few days longer than fellow Ambassadors Bob and Nickie Davis. Zeliff already sports a shiny 20-year service pin on his blue Ambassadors blazer, and he also wears a Flight of Honor badge, given to him and other veterans who flew from PTIA to Washington, D.C., in October 2011.
Zeliff’s station is near the U.S. Air counters on the south end of the second floor. In addition to helping walk-up customers, he also answers the main information line phone to the airport.
“Airport information. What do you need to know? Maybe I can help,” he said recently.
Maybe? Certainly.
A retired engineer, Zeliff said he can’t help but think logically, and he takes prides ­— and credits his 24½ years of experience — in being able to answer every question thrown at him.
“I think I have been asked every conceivable question you could think of,” he said. “A couple of weeks ago, I got one I couldn’t answer. I was staggered; it took me a while to calm down, then I realized I did know the answer.”
Often, he gets calls from people who sound like first-time flyers and don’t understand that they need to call specific airlines for reservation information. He helps them as much as he can, anyway, then gives them airlines’ numbers. Once, a customer wanted to go to Buffalo, and Zeliff assumed the person wanted to go to New York, before he found out the young man wanted to go to Wyoming. With the help of an atlas, he found the nearest airport, partly by reasoning that Gillette, Wyo., had a huge open-pit coal mine, so it must be near an airport.
An open-pit coal mine?
“Well, I just happened to know that,” he said.
Throughout the years, he‘s seen several celebrities (James Earl Jones and Hulk Hogan), and even if he didn’t know the dates of High Point Market and the Wyndham Championship golf tournament, he can spot those visitors, he said.
“Now, the market is truly international, so people speak lots of different languages, which is a challenge for me, but the biggest challenge is understanding the good ol’ boys from up in the hills for this damn Yankee,” he said. “You know the difference between a Yankee and a damn Yankee? A damn Yankee is one who comes South and stays.” / 888-3601