July 3, 2011; Source: Los Angeles Times | Fliers to LAX, one of the busiest airports in the world will see fewer friendly, red-jacketed volunteers to help them navigate one of the largest airports. The city of Los Angeles terminated its 61-year relationship with Travelers Aid Society and lost many of its 260 unpaid guides in the process.
The city, who will be managing the program, has started to recruit volunteers who handle up to 400 inquiries a shift. In addition to helping with directions, minor health issues and runaways, volunteer social workers assisted with serious medical emergencies. Now, leaders say, travelers don’t have a safety net and the police will be called to handle these issues.
Los Angeles officials say the group’s $400,000 stipend was part of overall citywide budget reductions. Expenses for this restructuring effort are estimated at $80,000. Current volunteers are being asked to reapply, go through new training, and have reduced responsibilities. Many of them opted out.
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The Ambassador program, which is staffed by paid employees, was not affected. It was started after 9/11 to help travelers deal with new security issues. They roam throughout the airport while volunteers staff the booths. This program remains in place while the volunteer program was axed.
The new manager in charge believes the changes will be “seamless” and all booths will be staffed by either volunteers or ambassadors. As with many programs though, it’s difficult to replace people with institutional knowledge and job expertise. Travelers to LAX may find this out.—Nancy Knoche