Dedication with a Smile – Navigator Program Marks 10 Years
This year marks the 10th anniversary of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport’s Navigator volunteer program. The Navigators are easily distinguished throughout Sky Harbor by their purple jackets, “Ask Me” buttons, friendly attitudes and smiles. Their goal is to make guests at America’s Friendliest Airport® have an easier, faster, and more enjoyable experience by providing directions, information, and assistance.
There are currently more than 330 Navigator volunteers at Sky Harbor. They are a group of selfless individuals who go above and beyond in welcoming travelers to Arizona as well as welcoming residents home. What they give to the Airport and to guests is truly extraordinary.
“In 2009, our volunteer Navigators helped millions of passengers here at the Airport and donated over 59,000 hours of their time,” said Phoenix Sky Harbor Customer Service Manager Alisa Smith. “They have such passion for helping people and truly are a dedicated group.”
Karla Ocampo, Bob Tyler, and Pat Willett are long-time volunteers who became Navigators during the first year of the program. They became interested after seeing an ad in the newspaper. Ten years later they are still enjoying helping people and making a difference in travelers’ experiences.
“At the time I was recently a widow and wanted to get involved in something,” Ocampo said. “I saw the ad and discussed it with my daughter. She thought it would be a good idea and encouraged me to enroll in the training class.”
Both Tyler and Willett were interested due to their experience with traveling. Bob had recently retired, traveled a lot in his job and thought that volunteering at the Airport would be a good fit. Pat worked for 20 years in the hotel industry, always enjoyed traveling and had a passion for helping people.
Looking back at the beginning of the program compared to what it is today, all agree that things have changed a lot.
“Ten years ago there were many things that were different about the program,” Ocampo said. “Back then, we only had a two-day training program, compared to the eight weeks of training Navigators now receive.”
Another difference between the program then and now was that at first the Navigators were only in Terminal 3.
“Until we were familiar and knew enough, we were only serving in Terminal 3,” said Willett. “By the next year though, we were in the other terminals.”
What do Navigators most enjoy about volunteering? Ocampo, Tyler, and Willett all agree that it is being able to help people.
“It is the greatest joy seeing all the people that come through the Airport,” Ocampo said. “I give them a smile. Everyone travels for different reasons, and we try to cheer them up and ease their nerves with conversation. I tell them to have a good trip, and to see people smile and say thank you, it makes me feel good that I am giving something back to the community.”
Willett agrees. “Being able to really help someone is so gratifying,” she said. “Also, there is a lot of camaraderie among us Navigators. We are friends.”
Tyler also enjoys the people he has gotten to know at the Airport, but he says there is a certain good feeling one gets when helping people. “A lot of times, I encounter someone who doesn’t speak English,” he said. “To be able to help them out by finding ways to communicate is a good feeling.”
Ocampo says that in addition to being friends with each other, those that they work with - at the Information Counters, the Airport staff, and the Navigator volunteer coordinators - are excellent. “Everyone is very helpful to the Navigators.”
The Navigators have also been instrumental in providing feedback to Sky Harbor.
“I remember when the doors outside of Baggage Claim didn’t have numbers on them,” Willett said. “This made it difficult for travelers to find friends and family picking them up. We provided feedback to Airport staff about getting the numbers on the doors.”
Ocampo also said that Navigators have helped the Airport address signage issues and feedback. “We want to make it clearer and easier for travelers and are out in the Airport terminals hearing their feedback which we provide to Airport staff.”
So what kind of tips do Navigators have for travelers? Navigators echo how important it is to be prepared.
“Be early and prepared,” Ocampo said. “It is important to have a minimum of two hours before your flight if you are flying domestically.”
Willett agrees. “People get so frustrated when they don’t have enough time,” she said. “Give yourself plenty of time so that you can handle the unexpected. Also, it is important that you leave enough time to make your connecting flights if you have them, especially if you are traveling internationally.”
Tyler says though that whatever question travelers have, they should feel free to ask a Navigator in purple. “We get a lot of questions about where things are – restaurants, certain shops, restrooms, etc. It is our job to know the answers and to be able to quickly answer them. We’re glad to help.”
The Navigator volunteers at Phoenix Sky Harbor truly are a dedicated and helpful group. Their enthusiasm and commitment to helping travelers at Phoenix Sky Harbor is a great benefit both to the Airport and to the state of Arizona. In fact, earlier this year, the Navigator program was honored with an award from the Governor’s Tourism Awards for the outstanding customer service that they provide.
“For the past ten years, the Navigators have been a vital asset in promoting tourism and relieving the stress of travel,” Smith said. “They are the only Airport volunteer group of this size in the state and have done a tremendous job at welcoming millions of our state’s visitors and residents. We applaud their efforts.”
Interested in becoming a Navigator or know someone who might be? Click here to visit the Customer Service section of our website. In order to become a Navigator, individuals complete eight weeks of training where they learn all about the Airport so that they can answer questions from travelers with ease and accuracy. They also must be able to commit to serving four hours a week and be able to pass an FBI background check. The next training will take place in January.
First posted: 11/2/10