Avatars to offer assistance at NY-area airports

On Monday, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey introduced a wide variety of customer service improvements at JFK, Newark Liberty and LaGuardia airports, but it was AVA, the airport virtual assistant, that got all the attention.

In July, when the computerized avatars begin offering automated information at LaGuardia’s Central Terminal Building, at Newark’s Terminal B and at JFK’s Terminal 5, it will be the first time the hologram-like technology will be used at a North American airport.

Other improvements to be rolled out in the next 90 days include additional (live) customer care agents during peak travel times, an expanded effort to halt taxi hustling, the installation of additional power poles to charge electronic devices and cleaner restroom facilities.

Here are some more details from the plan:

At Newark Liberty, more than 100 chairs and more than 50 tables will be added to food courts in Terminals A and B, full-time restroom attendants will be on duty in Terminal A and additional quality control visits will be made to airport stores “to ensure customers are treated fairly.”

Newark, JFK, LaGuardia (and Stewart International Airport) are now included in the free FlySmart mobile app that offers real-time flight notifications for smart phones, terminal maps and basic listings for ground transportation and concessions.

The Port Authority is also starting a “We Listen” campaign to give travelers a chance to meet with airport management.

These short-term initiatives, the Port Authority points out, dovetail with the agency’s long-term efforts to improve the infrastructure at all three airports.

It all sounds promising. Except perhaps for those virtual assistants. In the promo “AVA” says she never takes a vacation, but when I arrived at Dubai International Airport recently, the representative meeting our group said the virtual assistants that were supposed to be on duty there hadn’t been working “for quite some time.”