For This Airport Manager, the Service is Nonstop

 By Krista Didzbalis, Media Relations Staff

Picture this: You’ve packed your luggage and prepared the travel documents, ready to make the trek to Newark Airport and begin the pre-flight process. Upon arrival, you print your boarding pass and check your luggage. Next, you pass through security to the gate in time to board the plane and enjoy your flight.

If you’ve traveled by air, the process may sound familiar. But a successful flight depends on adeptly managing many moving parts, often out of the view of the traveler. At Newark Liberty’s Terminal B, Port Authority staff are working behind the scenes 24/7 to make the process run like clockwork.

One of those key people is Karen Zweifel, the airport’s International Duty Facilities manager.

“Passengers don’t realize that there are always people watching—monitoring flight times and gates or handling baggage issues. We are always problem-solving to make sure that things in the airport are running smoothly,” said Zweifel.

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Karen Zweifel

With a longtime passion for air transportation, Zweifel originally pursued a degree in Commercial Aviation. She obtained her private pilot’s license and completed commercial and instrument flight training, then changed her degree to Communications, with a specialization in Public Relations. Terminal B is where these two worlds connect, a place where she has taken on a more project-oriented role that requires continual communication with airport staff.

“Aviation has always been my focus, and the work I’m able to do in the airport operations field allows me to combine my skills and knowledge with my passion for airports and travel,” she said.

On paper, Zweifel’s shift runs from about 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., but airport operators work around-the-clock, often facing unpredictable challenges, and a set schedule is more a concept than a reality.

With summer the peak flight season, operations staff must respond accordingly. “We’re so busy with a high volume of passengers, which means a high volume of baggage. Things get stuck, things break, and we need to handle these situations appropriately,” Zweifel explained.

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Zweifel (center) working with members of the Terminal B team

Not to mention the domino effect that occurs when a flight is early or delayed. If there is a conflict with an aircraft, it may be necessary to adjust the gates and make sure they fit while keeping a close eye on the flight schedule. Above all, Zweifel understands what it takes to give travelers the best possible experience at Newark Liberty. Her mantra? Traveling to your next destination, don’t forget there is a team of hardworking people always thinking three steps ahead.

“The most rewarding part of my day is being able to see issues and gather resources to improve the situation. When everything is flowing smoothly it makes this a better place to work and to travel through,” she said.

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PA Abilities Network: A Place for Unique Insights

By Ryan Stolz, Media Relations Staff

Senior Treasury analyst Mark Wellington commutes to work like many Port Authority employees. He takes the Metro North Railroad to Grand Central, hops on the downtown 4 or 5 to Fulton Street, walks through the Oculus and up to 4 World Trade Center for the day ahead.

While most commuters complain of overcrowded trains and delays, Wellington faces obstacles of his own from the second he steps onboard. He is visually impaired from a hereditary condition that has gotten progressively worse over time. It hasn’t limited his contributions as a professional during his nearly 10 years with the Port Authority, starting as an intern in 2009.

Wellington joined the agency through the Disability Mentoring Day Program sponsored by New York City. While the program typically involves shadowing employees for a day, Port Authority supporters saw potential in Wellington and the other mentees, and advocated for full-length internships. In the years since, he has given back to an agency that embraced his talents and enabled him to thrive.

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Mark Wellington

“Being a person with disability, having to use public transportation, working for a transportation agency, I was like ‘OK, this is a good marriage,’” said Wellington.

He uses a program called “Job Access with Speech” (JAWS) that allows him to work at the same pace as his colleagues and produce quality work. JAWS acts as a screen reader that provides text-to-speech technology that actually allows him to listen at two-to-three times the normal speed.

“Your business manager doesn’t know what your needs are all the time,” he said. “If you don’t talk with them and tell them, they aren’t going to know. You have to advocate on behalf of yourself and let your needs be known.”

While Wellington advocates well for himself, there are many Port Authority staffers with disabilities, apparent and otherwise, who have been less effective. That drove Wellington and some of his colleagues to start the Port Authority Abilities Network, which serves as one of the Port Authority’s Employee Resource Groups, has 70 members and allies, and is designed to build a more inclusive and accessible environment for employees and customers. He cited the unemployment rate of those with disabilities being at 79 percent as a significant factor in helping others.

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Wellington addresses recent forum on Accessibility & Inclusion

“I was thinking how can we be able to bring more people into the agency with disability, there are a lot of stereotypes that you aren’t able to do the job, what accommodations am I going to have to make, how much is it going to cost.”

In its infancy, the Abilities Network would be engaged just days before the opening of new projects, leaving little to no time to implement accessibility changes. Today, the group’s insight is solicited early in the planning process. Its members have been called upon to do a walkthrough of the new No. 1 subway entrance in the Oculus, to advise on the doors connecting Fulton Center to the Oculus that had been accommodating to those with disabilities, and review staircases at PATH stations.

For Wellington and the rest of the Abilities Network, the objective is to create awareness and to be treated fairly, and not be defined by their disabilities.

“Treat everyone like people first,” he said. “Don’t say the guy who is wheelchair-bound, say someone who uses a wheelchair, put the person first. When we start to see people in that light, as people first, the conversation becomes so much easier.”

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Newark Liberty’s Golden Moment

By Cheryl Albiez, Media Relations Staff

On Sunday, the United States women’s national soccer team captured a 2-0 victory in the 2019 World Cup in France.

A little more than 24 hours later, the Newark Liberty International Airport staff had transformed the tarmac into an impromptu welcome back party, complete with red carpet, water cannon salutes, congratulatory banners and plenty of VIPs and cheers. 

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While “We Are The Champions” blared in the background, team co-captain Megan Rapinoe joined Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton, NJ Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and PA Chairman Kevin O’Toole on the tarmac

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It was a triumphant event and showcase of American pride for the world champions. The celebration will continue in the coming days and weeks, and Newark Liberty was proud to have hosted the team’s first victory celebration on American soil. This morning, they were greeted by tens of thousands of fans during a ticker-tape parade up Broadway and celebration at City Hall.

But the challenge for Port Authority airport employees was pulling together an extraordinary event in extremely limited time. 

Various airport stakeholders had to be notified. Mass coordination between agencies needed to take place. Vast resources were deployed, with security plans drafted and set in motion. Banners had to be printed, ordered and hung in short order, and a press riser was delivered. Hundreds of bicycle racks had to be set up.  

And by 3 p.m. on July 8, everything was ready to welcome the team home.   

Media and guests arrived, and the team landed around 4:30 p.m. By 5 p.m. the plane doors had opened and the celebration began. After the team departed the airport grounds for New York, so did everyone else. Everyone, except the maintenance staff that was left to break down everything they had just spent hours setting up.

 

The pictures of the team’s arrival captured the joyous and proud moments.  Chanting, applause and lots of laughs and cheers were shared, and all was made possible by the airport staff who helped make it happen.    

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Thank you to all the airport staff, with a special shout out to Newark Liberty International Airport maintenance and operations teams, Port Authority Police, Newark Liberty Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Transportation Security Administration, aircraft charter company ACC Aviation Group, and UPS, which handled the flight.

Congratulations again to the United States women’s national soccer team for taking home another proud win for the country.

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