Twila Knight is busy fielding questions: "Where's the restaurant?" "Do you know where I can mail a letter?" "Is Flight 232 on time?"
During her four-hour shift, this volunteer will answer up to 50 different inquiries. Most of them aren't earth-shattering. But from her booth at the airport, she makes traveling a little simpler, and more pleasant, for the people who fly in and out of Salt Lake City.Travelers Aid Society staffs booths at both airport terminals and at the Greyhound Station. While it is best known as the organization that operates the Salt Lake Community Shelter and Resource Center for homeless people, the travel-assistance program comes in contact with more people. Last year, volunteers answered more than 110,000 questions at the airport and more than 2,000 at the bus depot.
Why Travelers Aid? "I used to be an old mailman," said Dan Lockhart, who for the past 81/2 years has volunteered four to 12 hours a week at the airport. "I liked people, and I figured there's be more people here than any other place I could volunteer."
Over the years, he has seen a little bit of everything, from the man who cashed in his ticket and then wanted the agency to buy him a new one to the woman who was livid that he couldn't watch her baggage for several hours.
"We've had some awful upset people come here. I've had people who had a son or a daughter who wasn't on a flight and they stood right here and cried. But most leave happier than when they came up," Lockhart said.
Travelers Aid volunteers are authorized to provide a $5 meal voucher to someone who is in dire straits. But if the situation's more complicated - if, for instance, a ticket has been lost or someone is stranded - the volunteercontacts Travelers Aid at the downtown office, located in the family shelter, and a trained caseworker takes over.
The problems volunteers handle at the airport are generally different from those handled at the bus depot. "Most people who are flying have some money, and they're not going to come up and ask us to find them a place to spend the night," Knight said.
"Here, we hand out a lot of brochures and bus schedules and tell people how to find things at the airport. I'm really surprised at how little people know about the airport. Like they don't know they can pick up the white phone and page someone."
Besides telling people where car rental booths are and how to find a hamburger, Lockhart has helped a number of travelers book new flights when they miss their connections. And he's even calmed down a couple of kids who were separated from their parents. One thing he won't do, he said, is lend you his credit card so you can rent a car. "Believe it or not, I was asked."
"Sometimes, I don't know the answer," Knight said. "I was asked if you had to have a birth certificate to get into Canada. I had no idea."
Travelers Aid also provides a telephone with a Telecommunication Device for the Deaf. In her four years, Knight said, no one has ever asked to use it on her shift.