Mike Crawmer, a volunteer airport ambassador in Pittsburgh, thought he’d heard it all—until two women, after talking to him, realized they were in the wrong city.
“They were supposed to be in Philadelphia. Their husbands bought the wrong tickets. There wasn’t much I could do, except to tell them when the next very expensive and last-minute flight to Philadelphia [was leaving],” said Crawmer.
One of 55 volunteer ambassadors at Pittsburgh International Airport, Crawmer does a bit of everything. Mostly, he answers questions about a wide range of topics: connecting flights, luggage, ground transportation, where to eat and parking.
“Some people forget where they park, which can be challenging,” he said.
People also can be confused at times.
“One passenger insisted there’s a train from the airport to downtown Pittsburgh. There isn’t. Maybe he was remembering Atlanta or Chicago,” Crawmer said.
Like most ambassadors, Crawmer is retired, though the airport welcomes volunteers of any age.
Pittsburgh’s ambassador program started in 2001. Nearly every major U.S. airport, from Dallas-Fort Worth to New York’s JFK, has a similar program.
In Dallas, one of the country’s largest airports, 255 ambassadors cover five terminals. Airport authorities there cite help with international travel as one of the program’s most important uses.
At JFK last year, volunteers assisted more than 440,000 passengers.
“With a warm welcome, volunteers help passengers navigate the airport by providing flight information, lodging, transportation options or guidance on making a connecting flight,” that airport’s website says. “Supported by our trained professional staff, volunteers are equipped with the necessary resources to give accurate and helpful information,”
International travel is trickier
Crawmer often works in the airport’s customs and immigration area, where he usually assists travelers returning from Cancun and Punta Cana with automated passport control kiosks and customs forms.
Those travelers are mostly from the U.S., Crawmer said.
“They still often need help. People from other countries may need even more help,” he said, because some travelers have never been to the U.S.
But domestic travelers often also need assistance, especially recently, he said.
“Many airfares were cheap during the pandemic, and we’ve had a number of people who have never flown before.”
Elise Gomez, Manager of Customer Experience for the Allegheny County Airport Authority, which oversees the program, says she hopes to diversify the program.
“We’d love to have more people who speak Spanish or French,” she said.
Gomez praised the ambassadors as gracious volunteers who “serve our travelers every day and always provide a warm smile and helping hand to anyone who needs assistance,” Gomez said.
New volunteers training now
After more than a year away due to the pandemic, ambassadors returned to the airport last summer. This month, National Volunteer Month, the airport is training 12 new ambassadors.
One, Faith Krause, recently retired after decades working in customer service for American Airlines and US Airways. She already knows the airport well and is a seasoned international traveler.
“It’s familiar ground,” said Krause, who expects to start working as an ambassador next month. “For years, I’d seen ambassadors in the airport and thought that I’d like to do that.”
Although Krause thinks she knows the airport well enough, she said she would like to get better versed on the Pittsburgh area’s hotels, restaurants and attractions.
Volunteers must commit to 12 hours of service a month. To apply for the ambassadors program, click here.