Longtime PHL volunteers Ken Uller and Karen Kenney are shown above at the airport pre-COVID-19.
Navigating an airport can be overwhelming as airports are dynamic and always evolving, but a friendly face can put travelers at ease. For the past 20 years, members of Philadelphia International Airport’s (PHL) volunteer program have welcomed and assisted millions of guests that have passed through the airport’s terminals. The airport is hoping to attract new volunteers as it builds its program this year, and longtime volunteers are the backbone of that effort.
“I just love being at the airport with its workers who are proud to be part of the travel and flying experience,” said Ken Uller, who has been a member of the PHL volunteer team from its beginning. “The best part of being a volunteer at PHL for me is meeting and helping people from all over the world and welcoming them with a smile to the city of Philadelphia.”
PHL is currently expanding its volunteer program and is seeking dedicated, friendly individuals like Ken to answer guests’ questions and help guide them through the airport. “Great volunteers are invaluable assets for the airport,” said Leah Douglas, PHL Director of Guest Experience. “Our volunteers can make guests’ time at PHL more enjoyable by helping them find their way and answering questions.”
As residents of the Greater Philadelphia region, PHL volunteers can offer expert tips and guidance for the city’s visitors. Additionally, several PHL volunteers have had experience in the travel and aviation industries, which comes in handy when guests need assistance.
Karen Kenney, a volunteer since 2006, worked as a corporate travel administrator and helped her business travelers navigate many airports. Karen has tapped into this knowledge during her volunteer shifts. “I once assisted an elderly international traveler who only spoke Russian. She missed her connection on the last flight to Tampa and only had an email address for her son,” recalled Karen.
“Through an interpreter, I got the airline to get her a room at the Marriott and a flight the next morning. I took her to her gate and walked her to the hotel so she would know where to go.” Another time, Karen helped a passenger from England find a connection that would get him to his daughter’s wedding in Kansas City on time.
“It’s a great feeling to know you have made a difference,” she said.
PHL’s volunteers can be so good that they make others want to join the team, like Benjamin Footes. “I started volunteering because of a volunteer,” he said. “I was working for an airline and saw how happy and engaging this person was and we had a conversation in which he talked about how fulfilling the experience is. I’m a person who enjoys talking and what better way to talk and be helpful at the same time.”
In addition to being helpful and friendly, volunteer candidates should be able to work in a dynamic environment and want to learn new skills. Volunteers are also required to commit to at least one four-hour shift a week for a year (shifts are 8 a.m.-12 p.m., 12-4 p.m. and 4-8 p.m. every day).
“This is a great opportunity for college students, retirees, those with flexible schedules and anyone that loves travel,” said Douglas. “Before you know it, that one year commitment will have turned into a five-year involvement or more as exemplified by both Ken and Karen.”
PHL’s volunteer program resumes July 1. Those interested in joining the PHL volunteer team should visit phl.org/volunteers.