Airport Chaplains Group Gives Travelers a Little Faith Along the Way

Their chapels are often hidden away in small terminal nooks, and many travelers don't know airport chaplains are there—but the International Association of Civil Aviation Chaplains is working to change that.

The stresses of flying could have anyone looking to a higher power.

Fortunately for those travelers, there’s the airport chaplain, a member of the clergy (often nondenominational) who ministers to those in need of spiritual guidance. Problem is, not many people even know they’re there.

When the first responders leave, we’re the ones who show up.

That’s something the International Association of Civil Aviation Chaplains (IACAC) is working on.

A wide reach: The first airport chapel opened at Boston’s Logan Airport in 1951 under the leadership of Catholic Archbishop Richard Cushing (who later became a cardinal), according to the IACAC’s site. Since then, the idea has spread almost as fast as air travel itself. More than 170 airports worldwide have a chapel, and more than 350 chaplains of various religious stripes—Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, even Sikh—have full- or part-time roles staffing them. The IACAC, which has existed in some form since 1967 and took on its current name in 1984, has members in 43 countries.

The role they play: As a recent Associated Press article notes, airport chaplains often give support to people under duress—travelers and airport employees alike. They hold daily or weekly services and sometimes simply walk around offering friendly help. In wartime, they may see soldiers off. In times of crisis—be it a personal or public emergency—their duties may expand to grief counseling. “When the first responders leave, we’re the ones who show up,” the Rev. Gordon M. Smith, a Protestant chaplain at Calgary International Airport, told the wire service.

Shared issues: At the annual IACAC meeting in September, members addressed one of the biggest issues chaplains face: They’re often hard to find in large airports, with the chapel tucked away in a small corner of a massive terminal and little in the way of promotion. The chapel in Charlotte, North Carolina, is subject to the aromas wafting from the food court vendors who work below it, the AP reported. Others are in places you’d never think to look, such as near the baggage claim. And while the loudspeakers announce when services begin, such calls often get lost among the many flight boarding announcements. The annual meeting, held in Atlanta, focused on “The Business of Service,” with many presenters showing how airport chaplains might apply techniques from the business world. One presentation featured a visit to the Chick-fil-A headquarters, where customer service values were stressed.

Befitting a religious association, IACAC’s meeting had plenty of time set aside for worship—along with an opening ceremony that reflected Southern religious tradition while making room for others.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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