Airport aims to make good first impression for pope visitors

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The staff is getting new training and some cosmetic improvements are being made as well. (WPVI)

People from all over the world will be traveling to Philadelphia next month for the World Meeting of Families and the historic visit of Pope Francis, and the huge event has airport officials preparing for all possibilities.

The staff is getting new training and some cosmetic improvements are being made as well.

The thinking is, many of the travelers coming to town in late September will be newcomers to Philadelphia. And for those coming through the airport, the airport will be the first point of contact with the city.

From areas of new LED lighting to a virtual library to improved Wi-Fi, papal visit visitors will enter an airport that has been spiffed up.

Color has been added - from planters and club chairs, to the tile in some of the rest rooms.

Older signage has been largely replaced with international directionals punctuated with simple white on red arrows.

But unlike SEPTA, which is gearing up to move more than twice its normal numbers during the visit, there is so far no evidence extra flights are being scheduled.

PHL Executive Director Mark Gale explains, "Airline schedules are pretty well defined. So we kind of know how many airplanes are coming, and we know how many seats are on those airplanes. So we can plan for that. But we do think it's going to be busy. Maybe Thanksgiving style busy, and we can deal with that."

Unlike Thanksgiving when many travelers are returning home, it's expected that many pilgrims will be newcomers - some from other countries.

With that in mind 900 front line staffers are getting a refresher course on how to help potentially stressed out travelers. Pairs of workers used roleplaying to work on listening skills.

The goal is to solve a problem, like lost luggage, but also to connect.

Brian Shapiro of Shapiro Communications, who helped in the training, explains, "Even if they don't find that luggage at least the person knows that the folks here care about them."

James Backes has worked at an information counter for a decade. He is looking forward to the papal travelers. His style to quietly listen and look for a solution.

He says, "Sometimes if it's not me I can point them in the right direction or call someone and put them on the phone to help them."

Officials want to make sure that when people come into the airport for the first time, they're making a good first impression.

Mark Gale says he wants to make sure they get it right.

Related Topics:
religionpope francispope us visitworld meeting of families 2015philly newsSouthwest Philadelphia
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