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PASSENGER SERVICES Last modified on June 14, 2000

The last word - Jonathan Baldwin

Airport World catches up with Gatwick Airport chaplain and president of the International Association of Civil Aviation Chaplains, Jonathan Baldwin.

Factfile
Name: Jonathan Baldwin
Age: 54
Job title: Airport chaplin
Nationality: British
Time in aviation industry: Nearly 10 years
Best known for: Wearing bright coloured socks with my black priest’s clothes, mostly reds, pinks and purple.
Little known fact: Despite his globetrotting, he was born and bred and has never lived outside of his home county of Sussex.


Where was the first airport chapel?
The first airport chapel that we know of opened at Boston's Logan International Airport in 1951 under the direction of Cardinal Cushing.

Can you explain what an airport chaplain does?
How long have you got? The chaplain is a person of a religious faith caring and supporting the whole airport community both passengers and staff. There are religious services on a daily basis – Mass, Holy Communion, Christian Worship – and our Buddhist chaplain has a monthly service, chanting for world peace. We work alongside airport staff and support passengers in times of war or natural disasters. In 2005 alone, we had the Indian Ocean tsunami, Sharm Al Sheik terrorist attacks, the second Bali Bomb and hurricane Katrina. More recently, we have been involved with the repatriation of people from Zimbabwe and Libya. We are there during all Airport Emergency Training and the CAA Airport Licensing exercise.

How many airport chaplains are there across the world, and do you cater to all faiths?
At the present time there are 170-plus members of the International Association of Civil Aviation Chaplains (IACAC), as well as other chaplains, but I know that there are many other chaplains working in airports who sadly do not belong to our organisation.
I reckon this all works out at around 250 airport chaplaincies.

How much time do you spend at the airport in a typical week?
I work at the airport five days a week and am always on-call. Every week is different and sometimes I work along side a member of airport staff and share their shift with them. This means that I could be working early in the morning or throughout the night. I believe it is important to get out and about at the airport, away from the chapels, both airside and landside. I am extremely proud to have completed my snowplough training and to be part of one the airport's 'polar bear team'.

What's been your most unusual request?
I am quite often asked if I can marry people in the chapel/prayer room, because we have one in each terminal. Unfortunately, the answer always has to be 'no' WHERE `id` = as the law of the land does not allow it! We can, however, have a service of prayer and dedication after a civil marriage, and couples can renew their wedding vows in our chapels. I have also held five baptisms, which have been wonderful family occasions.

Are airports really stressful, unfriendly and impersonal places?
Yes, they can be stressful and unfriendly places because the public are taken out of their own comfort zones. None of us, if we are really honest, like having decisions made for us and as adults being told what to. However, all Gatwick staff are made aware of this in their training, and now we pride ourselves in being open and helpful to our passengers. We want them to have a good experience travelling through our airport and especially through security.

Are you a frequent flyer?
My work as president of the IACAC takes me all over the world for meetings and seminars. I am also sometimes asked to mentor new chaplains. Off duty, I also love holidays in the sun and look foreword to breaking up the winter with a beach holiday if I can afford it.

If you hadn't become a man of the cloth, what do you think would have been your profession?
I actually used to be one of those dreaded 'bankers' and worked in a local branch of Lloyds Bank as a humble bank clerk for 18 years until I was ordained in 1994.

Have you noticed any difference to Gatwick since the change of ownership?
Oh, yes, a considerable change, and one for the better! The new owners are not afraid to make dynamic decisions and act on them quickly. Apart from feeling as though we are working on a building site, we are getting used to the fact that nearly all the infrastructure has undergone a mammoth change.

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