Mondays are usually a quiet night of the week at Newark Liberty International Airport. But this week Tom Bock, Manager of Airport Operations, pointed to the roadways (no traffic) to the parking lots (mostly empty) to the runways behind the terminals, where only a few planes stood.
“This is the emptiest we’ve seen it,” Bock remarked, looking at a live feed from the Airport Operations Center (AOC).
Even with the roadways and runways looking emptier than usual, however, Newark’s AOC was operating full speed ahead – and with a cacophony of sound. The phones were ringing off the hook. Staff were chattering about the best ways to answer incoming customer inquiries on Twitter. Computers were dinging with new emails. And in the background, the dim voice of a news anchor was keeping the room updated on the latest coronavirus news.
“On a normal day, the phone rings about once every 15 minutes, and we’ll see about 60-80 tweets. Today, the phone is ringing non-stop, and we’ve seen about 230 tweets so far,” said AOC Assistant Manager Steve Swain. “But this staff knows what they’re doing. They’re the best of the best.”
Shatoya Felder, an airport customer experience specialist, counted her call logs to show the sheer volume she was managing. “The most common question we’re getting today is, ‘is the airport closed?’” Newark Airport, she informed many of the callers, was still operating.
Nearby, Antoinette Smith, a social media monitor, was reading through hundreds of tweets from customers who had tagged @EWRAirport with questions about screening procedures and reaching their destinations on time. “This job requires a lot of patience. Passengers have a lot of questions, and it’s my job to help them get the information they need,” she said.
The Newark Liberty AOC was set up in December 2019, joining JFK and LaGuardia in providing centralized coordination of day-to-day airport activities and customer service. While the coronavirus news continues to rapidly change, one thing remains the same at all Port Authority airports: there are thousands of employees continuing to do their jobs to help to keep the region moving.
With the advent of a national health emergency dramatically affecting airports and other transportation hubs, the Newark Liberty AOC is also working on the front lines with its federal partners to assure a smooth-as-possible experience for travelers impacted by the events. Bock and his team work closely with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel serving at Newark Liberty, as well the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) and other agencies.
“It’s our job to keep the airport operating and get passengers where they need to go. We’re actively working with partners at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), CBP, Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the local health departments, to make sure health screenings are safe and efficient,” Bock said.
“On top of that, we’re deploying extra customer service agents and operations staff to help passengers find their way and address any concerns,” he said. “I know that our efforts are making a difference because I’ve read the tweets from happy customers.”