You have to admit there's something cheery about being greeted with a cookie and a smile.
As a Hospitality Host at Fort Wayne International airport (FWA), Jacque Gay is happy to do both as she greets visitors arriving by plane to the airport.
Wearing the standard Hospitality Host blue vest, she stands a few feet from the security post in the terminal when planes land. As deplaning passengers enter the terminal, she greets each with a grin and a freshly-baked, complimentary cookie from the large basket she carries on her arm (Ellison Bakery is located across the street from the airport and supplies the cookies).
“Allegiant Airline flights are usually full, so we may hand out 300 cookies in a few minutes,” said Gay.
According to Hospitality Host coordinator Judy Lake, Gay and other FWA volunteers (there are approximately 60) have distributed 1.4 million cookies since 2008.
“Our volunteers are like goodwill ambassadors giving away cookies and smiles,” said Lake. “According to our research, 70 percent of passengers that arrive in FWA are business travelers. Another 30 percent may not have flown recently or flown at all. They are unsure what to do. Our Hospitality Hosts can offer great service to all of these groups.”
Operating from the airport's Welcome Center, they offer assistance to passengers with information about community events, directions to hotels and restaurants, flight information, and distribute free luggage tags and written material to adults. Kids are awarded balloons.
The Welcome Center Information Desk is staffed by Hospitality Hosts from 8:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m. daily.
“People stop by our Welcome Center to charge their electronic devices or just to sit in a comfy seat while waiting for their flight,” said Gay.
“During each encounter, we try to present Fort Wayne in a positive way.”
Hospitality Hosts may also answer phones, clean seating areas of trash and notify airport police if they spot unattended luggage. When a tour of the airport is scheduled, Gay and other Hospitality Hosts often assist. In 12 years since Lake has been the program's director, Hospitality Hosts have volunteered approximately 150,000 hours of service.
Still, Gay believes greeting visitors is one of the most important facets of working as a Hospitality Host.
“Many visitors tell us Fort Wayne International is the only airport in which people do this,” she said. “We are the first thing they see as they enter the terminal, and it's like a positive message from us to them about our city.”
Hospitality Hosts may have had a large part in FWA being recognized in a 2004 USA Today newspaper article as “the Friendliest Airport in the Nation.”
Although staffed with several dozen volunteers, Lake said she is always looking for more people to help.
“We need people who like working with the public and are at least 18 years of age,” said Lake. “They also must be willing to commit to one four-hour shift in a two-week period.”
Gay has been a Hospitality Host since 1999 when a friend recommended she apply for a position. After completing a series of training classes taught by Lake and other experienced volunteers, Gay began volunteering regularly. Today, she conducts tours and often substitutes for fellow Hospitality Hosts during emergencies.
Gay said she has been rewarded by working as a Hospitality Host volunteer.
“I've seen so many heartwarming scenarios,” she added.
When a wounded military warrior arrived at the airport a few years ago, dozens of members of the community showed up to thank him for his service.
“It gave me goose bumps to watch,” she said.