When Betty Savage retired from a 25-year career as an airline ticket agent at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) — starting at Western Airlines which later merged with Delta — she thought she was leaving the airport environment that had become a part of her daily routine. But soon after she retired, she was asked to volunteer at SEA as part of a brand-new airport volunteer program.
“I said, ‘I’ll come but if I don’t like it, I’m not staying,’” Savage said, known throughout the volunteer group for her feisty personality and passion for helping travelers.
Twenty years later, Savage, who recently turned 90, still commutes from her home in Puyallup for a four-hour volunteer shift each week at SEA.
Savage is stationed at several critical locations that can be confusing for travelers, including the exit of the B gates, baggage claim, ticketing area, Central Terminal, and South Satellite. She helps passengers with directions, wayfinding, and general information.
Savage likes to position herself in the South Satellite Terminal, helping direct people departing or arriving on international flights. With many different languages spoken in the terminal, it can be a challenge to communicate. Airport volunteers install the Language Link app on their phones to help them communicate with those who speak a variety of different languages.
Smile and connect
Savage often reminds her fellow volunteers that smiling is essential to connecting with passengers. Most volunteers are assigned to a specific area during their shift, but Savage prefers to wander and focuses on areas where she knows passengers need extra help. After spending decades working and volunteering at SEA, she knows every inch of the airport and can easily direct people.
As a two-time cancer survivor, Savage has learned to live the life she wants, doing what makes her the happiest.
“I do what I want, when I want, and where I want,” she said.
And her favorite part of volunteering is seeing people’s smiles.
“I can’t stand it when people don’t smile,” she said. “I’ve started winking at people to get them to smile.”
This year celebrates the 20th anniversary of the volunteer program, which started in 1999 with 30 volunteers. There are currently 75 volunteers in the program but Sue Hansen Smith, Manager of Airport Customer Service, said she plans to grow the program to at least 120 volunteers. SEA recently hired Volunteer Coordinator, Chelsea Rodriquez, to manage the program and recruit new volunteers. Those interested in volunteering can submit an application and participate in interview sessions held throughout the year. Successful applicants go through six weeks of training before beginning work as an airport volunteer.
As the program and number of volunteers grows, Hansen Smith said volunteers will expand their presence into areas like the sky bridges entering the parking garage.