Image: Óscar Chávez

APEX Insight: Back in Hollywood’s Golden Age, there was no better advertisement for an airline than a movie star stepping off an airplane to the flashes of cameras and mobs of adoring fans, so keeping high-profile flyers happy became a top priority.

Today, entertainment and aviation remain wedded in many ways, but flight has also become a prerogative of the masses. As such, much of the glamour once associated with it has gone. Airports are busier and security is tighter. A celebrity’s odds of being whisked by airline – champagne in hand – through a secret door or tunnel to the aircraft are slimmer than they once were.

Luckily for today’s celebs, there are services like Airport Assistance Worldwide, a long-established VIP meet-and-greet operation based in Los Angeles, and a go-to for celebrities who want help navigating throngs of fans, aggressive paparazzi, customs lines and security checks at more than 400 airports around the globe.

“It’s a really challenging, very interesting job with a new story every day,” says Michele Kohler, vice-president operations at Airport Assistance Worldwide. “There’s a lot of competition now, but we have been around for a very long time. A lot of our agents in Los Angeles are former airline employees, so they have tons of experience.”

“A lot of our agents in Los Angeles are former airline employees, so they have tons of experience.” – Michele Kohler, Airport Assistance Worldwide

According to Kohler, the vast majority of celebrities – even the most modest – use services like hers. Airport Assistance Worldwide works with airline agents and airport personnel to facilitate smooth transit for high-profile travelers. They will coordinate with drivers on curbside meets, help with check-in and accompany VIPs through security in an expedited fashion wherever possible.

“Once we get them past security, they might want to use a VIP lounge. Sometimes we can get them a private conference room or a suite,” Kohler says. “We once had a situation where a small airport simply had no lounge, but a supervisor had a spare room that was going to be empty. That’s where we placed the VIP until boarding to keep them out of the spotlight.”

Airport Assistance Worldwide does everything it can to make things easier for its clients, from small errands like grabbing a coffee or parking a vehicle to more complex services like creating diversions that allow VIPs to slip out of the terminal unnoticed. “We like to say that we do anything that they ask. As long as it’s within legal parameters and it’s something that can be done at the airport, then we will say yes,” says Kohler.

In 2007, American Airlines launched a similar VIP program, Five Star Service, at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, offering services like expedited check-in, escorted travel and lounge access for a fee. The program has since grown to include 14 destinations worldwide, and many other airlines, among them Delta, Air France and Emirates, have launched similar VIP options at select airports.

Not surprisingly, Kohler feels that LAX is easily the busiest hub for famous flyers and has the worst problem with paparazzi. London Heathrow is likely the second-most active airport for celebrities, she says, but according to Kohler, the British populous is simply not as enamored with stardom and generally doesn’t react as strongly to seeing them. “There must be something about the American culture. They’re just a little obsessed.”

“Flying While Famous” was originally published issue 5.4 of APEX Experience magazine.