July 15, 2015

Departing Adventists Impress San Antonio Airport Staff

, news editor, Adventist Review

Seventh-day Adventists impressed San Antonio’s mayor by providing $20 million in free healthcare to local residents in April, three months before the opening of the 2015 General Conference session.

The 65,000 Adventists who attended the July 2-11 session delighted local businesses by spending more than $40 million.

Now Adventists are surprising the staff at San Antonio’s airport, which is grappling with record waiting lines as session attendees fly home this week.

Brent Hardinge, a communication officer at the General Conference, said he was pulled aside by a United Airlines agent at the San Antonio International Airport on Sunday, the day after the session ended.

“Excuse me, sir, are you part of the large group here this week?” the agent asked, according to a post on Hardinge’s Facebook page.

When Hardinge confirmed that he was, the agent continued: “Can I share something with you? In the 16 years that I have worked at this airport, I have seen many groups come through here. We’ve had doctors groups, lawyer groups, all sorts of large groups coming through this airport. But I have never seen a group this calm and positive. I've been listening to my radio today, and the other agents are calm, and not stressed. The lines are long out front, and no one is complaining.

“Please share this with your people,” the agent said. “I want them to know how much we appreciate working with you.”

Hardinge said he was moved by the agent’s words.

“Thank you fellow Adventists for helping to improve the reputation of your church in San Antonio,” he said. “And thank you San Antonio for caring for 65,000 Adventists with grace and courtesy.”

The airport, which has 25 gates, is experiencing unprecedented lines and has advised travelers to arrive at least two hours before their scheduled flights until Thursday, local media reported.

The airlines themselves are overbooked and offering $500 or more in credit toward future travel for passengers willing to give up their seats and take a later flight.

Passengers arriving at the airport are being asked by airline agents to make sure that all Bibles and religious tracts were packed in carry-on bags. The request, also highlighted on posters plastered on airport walls, was issued by the Transportation Security Administration in response to a flood of heavy checked-in luggage, a Delta Air Lines agent said. TSA officers reserve the right to open and inspect all checked-in luggage.

Adventists first created a buzz in San Antonio in April when 1,700 healthcare volunteers treated nearly 6,200 people over three days in the Alamodome stadium. Mayor Ivy R. Taylor expressed gratitude for the healthcare initiative in remarks made at the General Conference session on its closing day, Sabbath, July 11.

San Antonio rolled out the red carpet for Adventists, with 200 specially trained “ambassadors” assisting arrivals at the airport; a special footbridge being built between the Alamodome, where the meetings were held, and a nearby convention center; and restaurants adding vegetarian dishes to their menus.

Green, a local vegetarian restaurant, saw business triple during the General Conference session, according to KSAT television, the local affiliate of the ABC network.

“The last 10 days have been crazy," its executive chef, Mike Behrend, said Friday. “Normally, we're a very busy restaurant already, but with the Adventists, there's been an influx of vegetarians and fellow Adventists coming in to support this restaurant.”

The San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates that the Adventist visitors pumped $40.5 million into the local economy.

The General Conference session — the longest and biggest conference in San Antonio’s history — received widespread coverage in the local media, and the news reports continued as the Adventists headed home this week.

“Lovely event. It was just such a blessing from God,” Barbara Shaw, of Orlando, Florida, told a KSAT reporter at the airport on Sunday. “We had people from all over the world. The lectures were great. I had an opportunity to share with folks. Just a real blessing.”