Every year, millions of people travel to or from BNE. Their reasons are varied, spanning the entire spectrum of human emotion. From once-in-a-lifetime holiday to travelling interstate to attend a funeral, passengers won't always be joyous and carefree as their reason for being at the airport may be due to a stressful or tragic circumstance. It is these people in these moments that most need assistance and the power of human connection.
In a world full of 7.6 billion people, 6,500 spoken languages, 195 countries, and limitless experiences and emotions, these is one simple thing that has the power to connect us all despite these differences: a smile. Here at BNE, we have a group of 163 volunteers who understand the power of a smile.
They are the Brisbane Airport Ambassadors, identifiable through their bright blue shirts featuring a big yellow 'i' and yellow lanyards. They are the heart and soul of BNE, roaming the halls of the Domestic and International Terminals for 12 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year providing invaluable assistance and customers service to thousands of travellers and visitors.
Who are they?
Our passionate Ambassadors vary in age from 20 to 91. Most of them are retired and have a history or connection with the airport that draws them back. They are travellers themselves, with a deep-seeded knowledge and ability that allows them to connect with passengers despite the cultural barriers that language presents.
Jeff Lurie, who has been an Ambassador since 2005, worked in executive positions with Pan Am, Hilton, and three convention bureaux (San Diego, Hawaii and founding Executive Director of the Brisbane Visitors and Convention Bureau). His father was also a senior executive in the airline, cruise and hotel industry, and a life member of the Pacific Asia Travel Association.
Marie Lee, who has been an Ambassador since 2006, used to sit beside the old runway most Sundays as a child, having a picnic with her family and watching the planes come and go. Her father was the Fire Chief at the airport during the 1950's and was always talking about the aircraft that came and went from Eagle Farm.
They can speak over 20 different languages between them, including 10 Chinese speaking Ambassadors who wear a distinct red shirt and place themselves specifically to meet inbound or outbound flights to China.
What do they do?
In the 2017/18 financial year alone, the Ambassadors volunteered 30,967 hours and assisted more than 388,441 domestic and international passengers. They are the 'day makers', dealing with the entire spectrum of human emotion that the airport environment brings, ensuring all visitors have a seamless and stress-free experience.
The many different ways that they help passengers and visitors cannot be measured because the numbers above do not do them justice. From reuniting passengers with their lost luggage, organising Ubers for lost visitors, and personally escorting elderly passengers who haven't flown in over three decades through the security process to their departure gate, there are millions of stories they could tell about the happenings within BNE's walls.
Marie Lee remembers a time a QF Dallas flight bound for Sydney terminated at Brisbane:
"I noticed this lady standing near the phones adjacent to Spoon. I asked if she needed help and with tears in her eyes she said that her brother was supposed to meet her. She was of Spanish extraction and her English was not great. I finally got her brothers phone number and called him. I said your sister is waiting for you on Level 2, and he replied he was on Level 2 and could not find her. I said she is near Spoon and he replied what is Spoon. I said, 'Spoon on Level 2 Brisbane International Airport.'
He replied, 'Brisbane, what the hell is she doing in Brisbane, she is supposed to be in Sydney!'
"Oh dear. At this stage the lady wanted to buy a ticket back to America. I then realised that she did not understand the announcement made on her flight so I took her to the Qantas counter and explained the situation. They were very good and gave her a Business Class seat of the next flight to Sydney.
"While another Ambassador rang her brother telling him of the flight details, I took her to the terminal bus. Once she understood what was happening she was all smiles and gave me a big hug before boarding the bus. That is what makes being an Ambassador so rewarding."
Why do they do it?
The Brisbane Airport Ambassador Program is so highly sought-after that is has a wait list, and the reason for its popularity and appeal seems to be consistent across the board. All of the BNE Ambassadors have a love for helping people, staying engaged with the community, travel, and the airport environment. They all feel a great sense of satisfaction and self-worth in being able to share their knowledge and help others.
Ambassador Carol Dowling said the mateship and community that comes with working with like-minded people is one of many reasons she chose to be an Ambassador: "My total love of being involved in the community and being able to welcome people on a one-to-one basis in an industry that I adore is a privilege."
Ambassador John Proudfoot said the opportunity to interact with and assist travellers and visitors to BNE is incredibly unique and eye-opening: "It is the chance to learn and communicate with different nationalities, demographics, ages and cultures."
So next time you are at Brisbane Airport, look out for our Airport Ambassadors and ask them a question or just say g'day.