By JOHN HOWELL Go figure, Anna Giuliani, who just celebrated her 75th birthday, says it's the best job she's had. She doesn't get paid; of late she has spent a lot of time telling people where to find the restroom, and just last week she and her working
Go figure, Anna Giuliani, who just celebrated her 75th birthday, says it’s the best job she’s had. She doesn’t get paid; of late she has spent a lot of time telling people where to find the restroom, and just last week she and her working partner, Gerry Paulhus, found answers for 91 people in less than three hours.
Sound stressful? No, says Anna, “it’s fun.”
It can also have its heart-stopping surprises, like last week, when a passenger failed to hold on to his carry-on and it came tumbling down the escalator. The passenger tried running down to catch it. Gerry and Anna sprinted, shut down the escalator and retrieved the carryon and returning it to its owner.
“You can be surprised how fast you can move at the age you’re at,” she said.
Anna and Gerry are two of the 25 who volunteer three hours a week – some take on more than a single shift – to staff the information centers at Rhode Island International T. F. Green Airport. Both were serving as volunteers at the terminal military lounge when recruited by Tim Pimental, the Rhode Island Airport Corporation’s vice president of customer service, to staff the information booth three years ago. Johnson & Wales University students had previously manned the booth, but when that program ceased, the counter filled with brochures on Rhode Island points of interest became a self-help operation.
“I can do this,” Anna remembers thinking when Pimental talked about reactivating the information desk and putting a friendly and welcome face on the airport.
Anna started work in the phone center with the Providence Gas Co. and stayed on after National Grid acquired it. The job involved talking with customers and eight hours in front of a computer screen. At the terminal, she’s out and about, meeting people face-to-face. Volunteers bounce from the first floor information desk in the shadow of the sailboat to two information kiosks at the departure level.
“People don’t realize what a gem it is,” she said of the airport.
Gerry said he enjoys the problem-solving aspect of the job. He has always been in customer service in banking administration, where he worked for 20 years before transitioning to health care administration and consulting.
“We serve as ambassadors. This is our opportunity to make the state shine,” says Gerry.
Recently, since RIAC is in the process of terminal renovations, the most frequently asked question is the location of the restrooms? People look for recommendations on restaurants, want to know the options for getting to Providence, Newport, Block Island or Boston, or where to go to get an Uber, Lyft or hotel van pickup for starters.
Indeed, the volunteers have the appearance of ambassadors in their maroon blazers, white shirts or blouses and tan slacks or skirts. Pimental explains that RIAC provides the blazers and that volunteers have lockers as well as a rest area in the terminal. Following training, they are given identity badges that give them access to the concourse. Their parking is covered and as an added perk, Pimental says once they have become regulars having been on the job for several months, their airport parking is covered should they fly out of Green.
Pimental said volunteers range in age from their teens to their mid-80s. They work in pairs and there are a few husband and wife teams. Some volunteers like Kevin Sawyer, a Providence College student and a high school student are looking to find their careers while the larger segment are older with experience in the military, commerce, industry, retail and having raised a family. A retired firefighter is on the volunteer team.
Sawyer was a student at Bishop Hendricken when he picked customer service at the airport from a list of possible senior experiences. He liked what he saw after talking with Pimental, however, with the COVID-19 shutdown he only got in one day at the terminal. Now as a sophomore at Providence College, Kevin is back. He’s volunteering because he loves helping people and he’s faced with solving different problems. Recently, he helped a couple that was taking a Thursday flight. He remembered them and was there Monday when they returned to assist with questions about paying for parking.
The finance and accounting major is unsure of a career path but he intends to keep on at the airport.
“It something I can do when I want and I enjoy doing it,” he said.
Pimental sees the volunteers as family.
“I have a whole new set of aunts and uncles,” he says.
Volunteers are scheduled to work shifts coinciding with the busiest periods at the terminal with passengers arriving at 5 a.m. for departing flights and arrivals up to 8 p.m. They keep a tally of inquiries so that the airport understands what people are looking for and how to make changes to enhance convenience.
John Goodman, RIAC vice president of marketing and information, believes the personal service has had a lot to do with the branding of Green as a convenient, friendly airport and its recognition as the best small airports in the country by various organizations and publications, the most recent being selected the 5th Best Airport in the United States based on traveler rankings and reviews in Condé Nast Traveler.Goodman attributes the vision to RIAC President and CEO Iftikhar Ahmad.
The military lounge run by the Rhode Island Military Organization and the information centers are two of four airport services dependent on volunteers. PVD Pups, where people bring in their dogs to ease the nerves of passengers fearful of flying if not to just give the airport a homier feel has been well received. And in the last couple of week, Pimental with the help of special projects coordinator Liberty Luciano, introduced volunteer musicians to the terminal.
“We have a baby grand,” Pimental said of the piano. So far, three pianists have volunteered to play. The airport welcomes more volunteers, whether to serenade passengers, answer their inquiries, or stop the escalator before an accident occurs. Pimental’s office can be reached at 691-2418.
Anna recalls one of the most unusual requests she received was from an arriving couple. The man asked if they would have a vomit bag, which seemed odd to Anna since they had just gotten off a plane. That was until he explained his wife was pregnant and he didn’t want to risk it. Anna and Gerry rummaged around and came up with a plastic bag.
Really, the job is making travelers feel welcome to Rhode Island.
“It’s fun,” reiterates Anna, “you laugh with people.”