If you’re ever in the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and need directions to your gate – or even help finding a tasty snack – you’re likely to encounter Friendship Village of Bloomington resident Karen Benson, who’s been a part of the aviation industry for two-thirds of her life.
Karen, 72, retired in 2009 from Delta Airlines, which had purchased Northwest Airlines, Karen’s former employer, a short time before. She had worked more than four decades for Northwest, spending the last several years as an executive assistant.
After she retired, a friend suggested that if the airlines were still in her blood, she could enjoy them without having to work full-time.
Next thing she knew, she was volunteering at MSP.
“I decided it would be a good position for me and would keep me in an atmosphere similar to that of my working career,” said Karen, who volunteers at least two days a week. “It’s a fun and unique volunteer job, as no day or shift is the same.”
Karen works in an information booth at the airport, and spends most of her time answering questions from travelers.
“The most common ones are, ‘How do I get to the Mall of America?’ and ‘What restaurants are good?’” she said. “But once in a while, we’ll get a question that will make our lives pretty exciting for a little while.”
She said the most unusual question she’s ever answered came from a young Japanese college student who had somehow found her way onto the wrong plane.
“She kept walking back and forth in front of the booth, and I finally asked her if I could help her,” Karen said. “It turns out she thought she was in the Los Angeles airport. I couldn’t really help her much, but I did get the airline to come and make sure she was taken care of. She was panicked, so at least it felt good to get her into the right hands.”
Karen said she loves her volunteer work and can imagine staying with it for a long time.
“I go to the gym to help with my physical well-being, but this helps with that, too – I get a lot of steps! – as well as mental well-being,” she said. “Continuing to feel needed as we age is a very important thing. I like being able to be helpful, and I like the idea of giving back to an industry that was very good to me for so long.”