I love airplanes and sometimes I think airplanes love me. It is hard to fathom that these beautiful, curiosity-instilling works-of-art can fly. Throughout my life, I have always had a strong interest in aviation. My parents tell me that I would always ask a family friend, a pilot for a major carrier, questions about airplanes. I never caught the aviation bug – I was just born with it.
It was a summer day in May of 2013 when I came to the realization that I needed to find something to do during the summer besides sitting on the computer or watching TV. I talked to some people and found an organization called Travelers Aid International. Initially, I didn’t know Travelers Aid even existed, but I knew this would be a perfect place for me. I contacted the organization at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) and they sent me a very kind response telling me where to meet for the interview. There, during the interview, was where I would start something that I would never be able to end.
Before Travelers Aid, I began Airline Geeks and started to take a deep interest in airplanes. Even before Airline Geeks, I was plane spotting and flying my flight simulator. Those things never got old.
Imagine this: I am finishing 8th grade now (14 years old), I started Airline Geeks in 7th grade (13 years old), and I started volunteering at DCA the same year. Yes, as you can imagine, I did (and I still do) get a ton of looks and questions to the extent of “Woah! How old are you?” or “Why would you want to do this at such a young age?” My simple answer was “Because I can help people and enjoy airplanes, all at once.” The looks on people’s faces is so priceless.
Travelers Aid is a global traveler assistance organization and is a huge asset to MWAA (Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority). We cover the information booths and desks at Washington National Airport and Washington Dulles Airport.
Just to put the organization’s demographics into perspective, the youngest volunteer (me) is 14 and the oldest volunteer is older than 90. Ralph, my Saturday colleague, may be in his 90s, but he is still going strong. I see him out in the terminal walking with a bright smile on his face. When he isn’t walking around the terminals, he will be at a desk helping airport guests with great cheer and joy. Ralph has some great travel stories, too. I could sit and listen to his stories all day and not get bored, but I have duties to fulfill.
In a nutshell, a Travelers Aid volunteer can do anything from telling you where the restroom is to doing social work (reconnecting lost families, etc.) In your job, you know that there are things you love doing and things you really do not care much for. I don’t have any of those “I don’t care much for” things at Travelers Aid: I cherish every aspect. And yes, I have reconnected separated or lost families. To see the smile on someone’s face when they find their fellow family member is another priceless aspect of the position.
I started working at Travelers Aid in June of 2013. Last summer, I would only work once a week for three hours; this summer, I will be working three times a week with fluctuating hours. Since I am the youngest volunteer, I mainly walk around the terminals and assist customers.
Besides putting smiles on people’s faces and helping people in one of my favorite places, the airport, I take great pleasure in the many people I meet while volunteering. I have gotten airfield tours, numerous tower visits, and I have even met fellow AvGeeks.
While meeting fellow aviation geeks is always great, meeting new people that become close friends is even better. In one case, I was volunteering on a Saturday when a mother and daughter came to my desk. The daughter, who looked my age, seemed rather fearful of her upcoming flight. I showed her around and she later told me that she loved her first flight aboard an Airbus A319 from DCA-CLT. Long story short, we still talk and hang out. See, it is instances like that where all the time I love putting into this position pays off. I will remember moments like this one forever.
In conclusion, ageism is a load of burnt jet fuel. It is a means of holding someone back from doing what they love. I came to that realization when I started working as a Travelers Aid volunteer last year. I am not encouraging my fellow peers and kids my age to go out and find a job they do not like, but rather I am encouraging them to go out and do what they have a passion for. In my case, this passion would be helping people in one of my favorite settings, the airport.
This article was written by Ryan Ewing for AirlineReporter.