Volunteers help travelers at Syracuse Hancock International Airport
By Laura McLoughlin
Debbie Trepanier has traveled the globe. Diana Wolpert won’t get on a plane.
Both serve as fly guide ambassadors to assist travelers at Syracuse Hancock International Airport.
The Fly Guide Ambassador program is relatively new, beginning in October 2018. The ambassadors — all volunteers — help guide travelers toward the appropriate TSA line based on their boarding pass as well as direct people to any other amenities the airport offers.
Jennifer Sweetland, director of marketing, communications and air service development, said this could include helping travelers find the nursing mother’s room, services for the deaf or hard of hearing, or services for pets.
So, as people step off the escalators on the second floor from the main terminal, Trepanier, of Syracuse, and Wolpert, of Liverpool, wearing large “Ask Me” buttons, are there waiting at the entrance of the security check point to answer questions.
“Everyone is really nice,” Trepanier said. “People tell us where they’re going, and I love to see the little ones with their cute carry-ons. When it’s their first time on a plane, they’re so excited.”
But as anyone who has traveled knows, just as it’s not always easy to get where you want to go, it can be just as hard to leave from where you’re at.
Since starting in this position in November, Trepanier said, it’s actually the more heartbreaking things that stand out. “People saying goodbye, families saying goodbye, then standing and watching as their loved ones go through [the line],” she said.
So, the fly guide ambassadors not only offer a little extra travel support, but also a friendly face.
Both Trepanier and Wolpert said they saw an advertisement in the newspaper for the position and thought the opportunity would provide another way to get more involved with the community.
“The airport is such a unique place and we believe that this program provides folks that are looking to give back with an opportunity to volunteer in an environment that is unlike any other,” Sweetland said.
A different experience
For Wolpert, she said that is part of the reason she volunteered: It is different than any of the other work she does.
She also volunteers as an usher at all the local theaters; at Beaver Lake, she’s worked at the front desk, its pancake breakfast and wherever needed; and at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo, where she has volunteered for special events. She also works part time at the Pitcher Hill Community Church doing office work.
“Volunteering takes up a lot of time,” Wolpert said, “but this gets you up and moving around.”
Similarly, Trepanier wasn’t necessarily in need of anything else to do. A retired first-grade teacher in the Syracuse City School District, she stays busy Monday through Saturday mornings with different aerobic, weights, zumba, and wellness programs around the Syracuse area.
“I can’t volunteer in the mornings,” she said laughing. “I do things in the mornings now that I never did in the past.”
Trepanier also volunteers at Francis House in Syracuse a few times a month. Along with her husband, she participates in activities for older adults — anything from touring Wegmans to a Pan Am exhibit to the Matilda Joslyn Gage House. “I’m never bored,” she said.
She also loves to travel with her husband. Trapenier has been to Italy four times, England and France and Amsterdam. For their 45th wedding anniversary last year, she and her husband went with their two sons and daughters-in-law on an African safari. She also travels the United States to see family.
So when she saw the opportunity to be a fly guide, she thought the airport would be a fun place to be.
“It doesn’t hurt if they have a love for aviation,” Sweetland said about the qualities they look for in volunteers.
On the flip side, Wolpert won’t get on a plane.
“I don’t fly. Some people say, ‘well then why are you at the airport?’” she said. “But, I’ve learned a lot [about the airport] since starting.”
The application process is easy and the airport has added the application to the website for convenience, Sweetland said. Currently, there are eight ambassadors, and the airport is actively recruiting more. Volunteers must be at least 18 years old and must complete a four-session training process.
Outside of her job at the church, Wolpert said volunteering is her favorite thing to do.
“It keeps you young, and I want to give back to the community,” she said. “I would be entirely bored at home if I didn’t work part-time or volunteer.”