Roatan’s Beauty, Truth & Wisdom
Paul Buillon, 75, an airport volunteer, assists travelers before they board their international flight home.

The Orange Vests Movement at Roatan Airport

Not many international airports get the goodwill of non-paid, self-motivated volunteers that put in thousands of hours a year to improve their travelling experience. Juan Manuel Galvez Roatan International Airport is relatively small, but it is growing quickly in flights, airlines and destinations. During high season, or when two or three flights arrive or depart simultaneously and it can get quite overwhelming, that where the volunteers in orange vests step in.

The volunteer program was an idea thought up by Janine Goben, Milesse Kennedy and Dainie Etches, retired island residents who saw a need to smooth the way passengers were being treated at the Manual Galvez International Airport. In 2014, Honduran immigration introduced biometric scanners, but airport officials were untrained and computers were jam-packed with glitches. Many passengers spent hours waiting in immigration lines and became frustrated and angry. “It took three hours for one flight to clear,” remembers Kennedy.

The volunteers took the bulk of the frustration from international passengers as the Honduran immigration staff learned how to efficiently use the biometric scanners and currently volunteers are present at almost every international flight landing and departing the island.

Six volunteers (…) are present at every international flight

Karen Ludlow, Executive director of the Bay Islands Tourism Bureau that runs the program, has been volunteering at the airport for four years and running the volunteer program as from August 2017. The staff of 16 volunteers, mostly retired expats and a couple Hondurans, are present at every international flight.

One of these volunteers is Paul Buillon, 75, a 31-year US Navy veteran, who has been coming to Roatan airport every Saturday for over a year. He helps with lost luggage, orientating people, keeping the immigration line moving and keeping travelers in an upbeat mood. The most commonly asked question is “How to work the ATM machine,” says Buillon.

“We are here to help them navigate, keep them happy,” says Kathy Shupe, 63, a retired American Airlines employee from Tucson, Arizona. But the volunteers do sometimes more then just that. Just in February a traveler collapsed and Buillon called airport emergency services that have an office at the airport. “I just like to volunteer. I want Roatan to have a good name,” said Shupe who also volunteers her time at the local dog shelter and Marine Park.

The volunteer’s effort is appreciated by airport managers. “The cooperation of (…) volunteers has been indispensable in the assistance provided to English speaking passengers. (…) the passengers have had a more pleasant experience,” wrote Juan Interiano, the Roatan airport manager, about the volunteers help. The volunteers have placed a smiling face on the Roatan airport experience.

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