By Rebecca Henely
To passengers coming into New York or waiting for their relatives at LaGuardia Airport last week, she looked like something out of a sci-fi film.
“Marie,” LaGuardia’s virtual customer care representative or “avatar,” began her first day on the job Aug. 8. The hologram-like installation, in the airport’s Central Terminal Building, shows a recording of a smiling woman wearing the red vest worn by LaGuardia employees.
“Marie” recites a 90-second script with information like where the bathrooms and baggage claim are or where to get a taxi cab or bus.
“It’s awesome,” said Veronica Sing, 46, who was traveling to New York from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. “I mean, it’s like in the movies.”
The recording is played on a thick, double-sided screen shaped like a human that is mounted to a white base that reads “Assistant” in multiple languages.
The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey is installing the avatars at all three of its airports for a six-month trial. LaGuardia’s avatar is named after Marie LaGuardia, the wife of the late Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, for whom the airport is named.
“It really is a novel way to get people’s attention and to show that we care,” said Tom Bosco, general manager of LaGuardia.
John F. Kennedy International Airport’s avatar is named “Sarah” after Eero Saarinen, designer of the Trans World Airlines Flight Center. Newark Liberty International Airport’s avatar is “Libby” for Liberty.
Bosco said the avatars cost about $60,000 to install. Each one has their own script to read, which is tailored to the airport where they are installed and begins when someone walks by. When “Marie” is not reciting the script, she waits quietly.
“She kind of twiddles her thumbs and looks from right to left and smiles,” Bosco said.
When incoming passengers walked by “Marie,” some stopped and pointed. Others took out camera phones to record her.
“It’s the future among us,” said New Jersey resident Derek Allardice.
Oliver Lacayo, 38, who was traveling in from Miami, said he thought the hologram was “awesome” as well as friendly.
“She’s always happy and in a good mood,” he said.
Newark resident Rafael Garnica, 68, said as a non-native speaker he found “Marie” easy to understand. He said he thinks those who pass through the airport will find her helpful.
But he did find the script a bit repetitive.
“After 10 minutes, she makes me tired,” Garnica said.
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4564.