NEWARK — Libby is young, friendly, and eager to help travelers at Newark Liberty International Airport find their way toward baggage claims or connecting flights.
Just don’t ask her any questions.
Despite gestures and a pearly white smile, Libby isn’t a real person but a life-size avatar — the first of three the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey plans to have in place at its busiest airports by mid-August.
The avatars, which together cost $180,000, are part of a program the Port Authority launched in May to improve customer service. The program also includes docking stations for phones and laptops, and 70 new customer service employees at the Newark airport and at John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports in New York.
The airports will try out the avatars for six months, then reassess their helpfulness.
Dulles International Airport in Virginia and Logan International Airport in Boston also use avatars.
As travelers arriving Friday on a flight from Toronto walked past her, Libby said: “Hello, and welcome to Newark International Airport in Newark, New Jersey.” She is dressed as a customer service agent and has shoulder-length hair.
“I just want to stare at that thing,” said flight passenger Melissa Chow, 30.
“Can you put your hand through it?” asked another passenger, Aditya Mahadeo, 35.
Passenger Sam Reitman, 25, found Libby both interesting and disconcerting.
“It’s not the detached, cold voice in the air,” Reitman said. “At the same time, it’s kind of creepy.”
Libby, which is short for Liberty, will greet travelers coming off international flights in Newark’s Terminal B, where about 8,000 passengers arrive each day, said Huntley Lawrence, the airport’s general manager.
“I think it provides more of a real-life experience,” he said. “It’s either an avatar or a sign, and we thought an avatar provides a more realistic and better experience for our customers.”
Libby will recite a 90-second script that is triggered any time a person walks within 30 feet of the machine. It can be programmed to speak different languages, but the script will be in English for the time being.
Lawrence said Libby will not cost any airport employees their jobs.
“She’s not at the expense of a job,” he stressed.