From calming the nerves of first-time flyers, to escorting television crews - it’s all in a day’s work for the Friends of Doncaster Sheffield Airport.
FODSA is one of Doncaster Sheffield Airport’s many secret weapons - a team of dedicated men and women who have been on the ground working at the airport since it launched back in 2005, helping Yorkshire’s local airport to grow and succeed.
They’re the airport’s ambassadors - liaising with the local community to communicate developments and gather feedback, and welcoming and assisting passengers as they arrive at the terminal.
“Many of us have been here since the start and we’ve seen the airport flourish,” said Paul Maddison, vice chairman of FODSA.
“There’s been a lot of changes – new routes, significant growth in passenger numbers – but one thing has remained; the airport still has that friendly feel to it that makes many people travel from DSA time and time again.”
Last month, DSA announced its best year ever, with more than 1.2million passengers travelling through to destinations including Paris, Dublin, Jersey, Sofia and Cluj. For Paul, the airport’s growth is a sign of things to come.
“We’ve had the new Great Yorkshire Way road open and the second phase of that will no doubt make the airport even more accessible to our passengers,” he said.
“Combined with the AeroCentre and other opportunities for logistics businesses on site - and more corporate passengers realising the benefits of flying from here to European and long-haul destinations - the growth is likely to keep continuing.
“As a group, we’re committed to supporting that growth and to ensuring all passengers have a stress-free journey.
“Our Airport Ambassadors – all of whom are dementia friendly trained - love meeting and greeting passengers in the terminal. From nervous or first-time flyers who are perhaps a little daunted, to passengers with mobility problems, we’re here to help wherever we can. It’s a great group to be a part of and fantastic to see the changes at DSA that we’re a part of.”
And FODSA is just one element of a DSA’s ‘local’ strategy. The airport is made up of a network of people whose job it is to deliver a personal and local service passengers won’t get anywhere else.
“We offer true Yorkshire Hospitality,” said Diane Lawton, manager of DSA’a Premium Lounge, which opened last April and has been described as the aiport’s hidden jewel.
“That’s what makes DSA special. Its staff is local people who really care about the service that people get at our local airport.”
And Diane is right at the forefront of airport customer service.
“From the moment they walk in the door, my guests don’t lift a finger,” she said.
“We have a full table service, which is unusual for an airport lounge, so people sit, put their feet up and we wait on them. Our hot food is cooked fresh and to order - there’s no buffet.
“I also talk to my guests - that’s a big part of our Yorkshire welcome. I chat to them about their plans, where they’re heading, and what they’re looking forward to. If I find out they’re celebrating something, I have stacks of cards in the back and I pick the appropriate one and whip out the Prosecco. You only find these things out by talking to people, and I don’t like to miss anything.
“If I know in advance people are coming to the airport for a celebration, it gives me chance to plan something really special.
“Last year a gentleman got in touch asking for our help with his proposal to his then-girlfriend. We arranged to play their song in the lounge, printed a poem he’d requested out for the table, I bought him a single red rose and videoed the whole thing for them.”
And Diane’s all-round service extends to going above and beyond at every opportunity.
“I had a man in here with a baby recently trying to eat his breakfast and he was struggling, so I took the baby for a walk around the lounge - showed him the planes out the window and looked at the papers with him - just to give this man ten minutes to eat his breakfast in peace.
“We love making a fuss of kids too. I had a seven-year-old flying out on his birthday this week, so I got him some balloons, nipped to Asda and got him a little cake and some candles. It’s these little touches that make us special; we really do care.
“Another couple were heading out to Amsterdam and they told me it was their first weekend away without the kids, so I told them ‘that deserves a celebration’ and pulled the Prosecco out.”
And Diane’s warmth really hits home with DSA passengers, many of whom send her thank you cards and notes and even ask to keep in touch.
“I’ve had so many people give me their mobile numbers and say they’d love to keep in touch, or tell me to pop in for a cuppa if ever I’m out near them,” she smiled.
“They tell me it’s like they’ve made a friend and that’s lovely to hear. Chatting to people, making them feel special, at home, is what we do best in this part of the country so I love that that extends to my customer service.
Human resources manager Diane Bunting has worked at DSA since day one.
“There was no airport when I began, just an airfield and a runway,” she said.
“Quite a lot of our staff have been here since the beginning and seen the airport grow to what it is today, which is a really special position to be in.
“We have staff, many of them local people, who started out in junior positions and are now working their way up - including a temp who started as a receptionist and is now a fully-fledged controller.
“There’s been a lot of change and a lot of growth here, it’s a great place to work and a real credit to our region.”
Ian Smith, head of commercial and passenger experience, added: “There are so many things that we do well at DSA. People love the fact that they can park straight across from the terminal and not have to wait for transfer busses or haul their luggage a long way to get to check in.
“Thanks to investments in the terminal, check-in is quick and easy and we can now get people through security even quicker meaning that they can get to the stage that everyone likes best, sitting in departures relaxing with a drink.
“The fact that we are just a 30 minute drive for many people in South Yorkshire is a real pull and the friendly Yorkshire welcome they receive is the icing on the cake.”