Airports discover courtesy can help the bottom line.

Noticed some extra nice lately?

For airport employees around the country, courtesy and empathy are becoming part of the basic job description.  Not just because those are nice traits in workers, but because in these belt-tightening times, airports are hoping better customer service can help shore up the bottom line.   In my Well Mannered Traveler column this week on, I take a look at some of the ambitious customer service programs underway at airports around the country. Here’s a preview.

Polite in Portland

Oregon’s Portland International Airport (PDX) regularly wins awards for its services and maneuverability.  But customer relations manager Donna Prigmore says that’s just not enough anymore. “The economy being what it is, we can’t afford to lose passengers.”  So this month the airport rolled out a “roadway to runway” initiative that challenges everyone who works at the airport, including taxi drivers, TSA staff, and shop employees, to be nicer.  Those who do, can win prizes.

Mindful in Minneapolis

The Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) also regularly wins award for its services and amenities.  Volunteers staff eight information booths but, as you know, not everyone will stop to ask for directions.  So the airport is training a team of roving ambassadors whose job it will be to approach passengers who seem like they could use a bit of assistance.

Lessons at LAX, Plans in Pittsburgh

Around the country, many other airports have signed up for the Tom Murphy’s Resiliency Edge program, which is based at New York’s Fordham University. Scores of workers at the New York City-area airports (Newark Liberty, JFK, and LaGuardia) have already taken the course, which teaches employees strategies that can help them deal – calmly and effectively – with passengers who are apt to be stressed out, clueless, irate, confused or, often, all of the above.  I had the opportunity to sit in on one of the classes at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), and watched a role-playing exercise that pitted a gaggle of needy and insistent passengers against a customer service employee.  Murphy’s advice to the class: you can’t solve every problem but try to be empathetic, a good listener, adaptable, and a creative problem solver.  “If you can do that well,” says Murphy, “You’ll be more resilient, less stressed yourself, and better able to neutralize the irritations in a customer’s experience. We call that N.I.C.E.”

During the recent winter storms, nice-training benefited some arriving passengers at Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT). Late on a snowy Friday night, planes were still landing and passengers were still arriving, but taxis and hotel shuttle buses had stopped running.  Instead of allowing about 125 people to spend the night stuck at the terminal, several airport workers arranged for one of PIT’s employee buses to drive those travelers to area hotels. “It will cost the airport a couple of hundred bucks to cover that,” airport executive director Brad Penrod to me, “But they saw a problem, solved it, provided a needed customer service, and created a great deal of good will.”


Have you noticed airport employees going out of their way to be nice? Please share you story.