I knew enough about the GSA role to know that I’d have to be prepared; I got a good night’s sleep and wore a comfortable pair of shoes. I used the kiosk rather than the WestJet iPhone app to check in for my flight, so that I was familiar with the latest software. Most importantly, tucked into my jacket pocket was a list of questions about the various roles and responsibilities of a guest service ambassador. I was going to shadow Vancouver guest service ambassador Meaghan for her whole shift, while putting her through a tough interview about what she did; there’d be nowhere for her to hide.
By the time I arrived at the airport, Meaghan was already there and had checked out our task list for the day. GSA shifts have a lot of variety: meeting and greeting guests at check-in, activating bag tags, pushing wheelchairs, driving the Folks Wagon and escorting those who need assistance.
My first question centred around greeting guests on their arrival at the airport. I wanted to know what information she has to cover, what questions she asks and how does she encourage guests to use the kiosk to check in. Rather than answer my question, Meaghan gave me a long list of different demographics, and how she greets each group: business travellers are greeted with a smile and are left alone, families are greeted with enthusiasm, energy and stickers for the kids, a greeting and offer of assistance is extended to guests with limited mobility. A little disappointed that she avoided my first question, I pressed on. By now we’re in the international arrivals hall. Vancouver is the first Canadian destination for lots of code-share and interline guests arriving on long, intercontinental flights. “Tell me, step by step, how you get guests from here to their connecting flight.” Meaghan starts telling me about a recent guest encounter: “Another carrier brought an elderly couple to us after they cleared customs. I told the guests that the golf cart would be here soon. They waited in their wheelchairs, and before I left them to find other connecting guests, I asked if there was anything they needed after their long flight. Their response? They wanted their wheelchairs pushed closer so that they could hold hands while they waited! Of course I could do that! When we finally got on our way, we had a long chat about life and I got some great marriage advice. We parted with hugs quite some time later.” In fairness, it’s a good story, but I still had no idea about how GSAs get guests around such a big terminal.
When it came time for her to drive the Folks Wagon, I quizzed Meaghan about driver’s ed, and more importantly, how I could get a golf-cart licence of my own. I don’t think she even heard me. “Hello!” she said to a passing Servisair driver, before greeting countless other employees zipping around in YVR’s cart rush hour. “There’s a wonderful cart-driver community here. I help out passengers of other airlines if they flag me down, and the other drivers help WestJet guests, too.” An Air Canada employee appeared at one of our gates, dropping off a rather lost-looking guest. “I hope you don’t mind, I found her wandering in our part of the terminal.”
Later on, as we made our way to the lunch room, we kept getting stopped by guests looking for gates, washrooms, or good places to eat. “You can’t even get to the lunch room without being stopped and asked for assistance!” I exclaimed. “You never know who you’ll meet, or what will happen next,” she replied. The last time Meaghan was en route to the lunch room, she spotted a young mother travelling on her own, struggling to carry her son and all of her baggage. She came to Vancouver so that the boy could meet his grandparents for the first time. The new mom was too nervous to carry her child down the escalator and asked Meaghan to do that for her. On the way down, Meaghan spotted the eager grandparents at the very bottom of the escalator! “All of a sudden I had the responsibility for presenting this little boy to his family for the first time! The grandparents were crying, the mom was tearing up, and I was pretty emotional, too. It was all very beautiful.”
Meaghan was highly recommended to me as a great GSA to shadow to help me write this story, but she kept telling me about the people and not the tasks. She avoided every question this hard-hitting blog writer asked like it was a pylon in the way of her Folks Wagon. How was I going to write about her job if she wouldn’t tell me what she actually did?
On my flight home, while staring at my empty notebook, I realized exactly what our GSAs bring to WestJet and what they have to teach us all. I remembered the very first thing Meaghan said to me, when I quizzed her about our tasks for the day: “Our schedule tells us where we need to be and when, but once I’m there, it’s all about the people I’m assisting.”
Every WestJetter is in the business of caring for people. No matter what we’re doing at a given time, it’s all about providing a safe, friendly and affordable travel experience. It’s important to get our jobs done – and done well – but at the end of the day it’s always about our guests. Meaghan sums up the privilege of being a WestJetter: “I can’t believe they’re paying me to help people.”
This WestJetter post was written by Darren Hailes, WestJet Emerging Media Advisor.