SAN ANTONIO, Texas – With their cowboy hats and medal-draped vests, a group of volunteers known as Airport Ambassadors stands out from the crowd at San Antonio International on any given day.
The holiday season, though, may be when travelers actually look for them the most.
They’re experts in all things airport and even most things throughout the city.
“They’re Jacks and Janes of a million trades,” said Rich Stinson, strategic communications manager for the city’s aviation department. “They’re the first people that our travelers often interact with when they arrive.”
Stinson’s department oversees the operation of San Antonio’s airport, including the more than 380 volunteers who are part of the ambassadors program.
For Anthony Woods, dedicating his time to help travelers as an ambassador was a natural fit.
He spent two decades navigating airports as a U. S. diplomat.
“I always put myself in the passengers’ position. What would I like if I were coming to an airport?” he said.
Woods decided to put his expertise to work after he retired.
At least twice a week, he arrives at the airport before the sun rises, wearing a smile even at 4 a.m.
“People are very thankful. They’re very pleased,” Woods said. “When they come in, especially early in the morning, I think they don’t really want to be thinking too much.”
He said his experience helps him anticipate the needs of the people he’s helping.
Woods also speaks more than a dozen languages, six or seven of them fluently.
Jackie George also brings a lifetime of experience to the volunteer job.
She became an Airport Ambassador 17 years ago after moving to San Antonio from Indiana.
“We enjoy it. We like to be friendly with (passengers), help them, tell them where the restrooms are,” George said.
According to Stinson, nearly one out of every three of the volunteers is a certified tourism ambassador.
He said that means they’ve undergone thorough training and have a vast knowledge of everything having to do with, and happening in, the city.
Ambassadors also go on field trips, visiting different attractions and key points in the city, at least once each quarter, Stinson said.
While the volunteers help San Antonio shine in the eyes of visitors, their contributions don’t end there, he said.
“Last year they contributed over 36,000 volunteer hours, which equates to just under a million dollars saved by the city of San Antonio,” Stinson said.
The way Woods sees it, though, the main goal is more about saving travelers from headaches.
“The key thing is to let people have a calm and easy transition toward the gates,” he said.