By Scott Ladd, Media Relations Staff
Two years ago, Newark Liberty International Airport’s General Manager Richard Heslin was running the nation’s 14th busiest airport, serving more than 40 million passengers a year and dealing with the daily demands that invariably come with the job.
Heslin is still a presence at EWR, but in a new setting. Every Tuesday at Terminal B between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., Heslin serves a volunteer offering customer assistance just outside baggage carousel #3 in the Arrivals section.
Having retired from the Port Authority in 2016 after a nearly 45-year career with the agency, Heslin found he couldn’t leave airport life completely behind. Since October 2016, Heslin has been working with Travelers Aid, the non-profit organization that provides a range of travel assistance to EWR passengers. The agency also serves fliers at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
“It’s a natural fit, really,” said Heslin.
The idea came to him at a volunteer recognition breakfast shortly before his retirement, after comments he had made to attendees about their value to EWR. “They all really liked the airport, seemed very happy in their volunteer work and thought it important,” he recalled. “I was looking for ways to give back in retirement, and the light bulb went off.”
Some of the questions people ask are predictable: how do I get to my hotel, the quickest and best way to New York City, missed airline connections and how to locate their next flight. Sometimes, he noted, “it’s just giving them a couple of bucks to help them get where they are going.” About 99.9 percent of the passengers he assists are rational, reasonable and usually appreciative of his help.
Diane Papaianni, who succeeded Heslin as general manager, described him as “another set of eyes and ears in the terminal, at times calling me personally to make me aware of a situation or condition that requires action or attention.”
“Volunteers have benefitted from his extensive airport knowledge and history,” Papaianni said. “The end result makes the Travelers Aid Program a perfect fit for Rich, and vice versa.”
Heslin, 68, spent nearly 17 years in the Port Authority’s Aviation Department, serving as general manager of three airports: Teterboro, Stewart and the last two at Newark Liberty. Prior to that, he held different engineering and supervisory jobs over the course of 27 years at PATH.
Terminal B isn’t the only thing keeping him busy in retirement. A resident of Teaneck, N.J., Heslin also volunteers through the Bergen County Chore Corps, helping elderly home owners and tenants with routine house repairs and maintenance that enables them to stay in their homes.
Former colleagues who pass by during his weekly shift are often surprised to see him. Some ask for advice on airport-related issues. “Why not? I’ve got a lot of experience, I hope I can put it to good use,” he said.
On a recent Tuesday, Heslin was sharing the Traveler Aid desk with Christian Havens, the Program Manager, and Volunteers Coordinator Euleta LaRoach when a woman with an Eastern European accent and clear case of airport anxiety approached, lost and searching for direction.
“See that escalator? Up one flight, all the way to your left, and have a seat,” he said with a reassuring smile. “Someone will be there to help you.”