Shuttle helps travelers take in Mormon sights during layovers
David Carroll had about four hours to burn in Salt Lake City between flights.
He could have stayed at the airport, snacking on sugary cinnamon buns, trying to nap between chair armrests or examining souvenir shot glasses.
Instead, Carroll chose to hop a free shuttle to Temple Square, the most prominent religious site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Carroll, who was flying from Philadelphia to West Yellowstone, isn't Mormon, just curious.
"I always like to get a feel for wherever I am," he said, "especially if I have the time."
Mormon missionaries are well-known for bringing their faith to people around the world. But perhaps less well-known is the church's airport shuttle, which brings people from around the world to the center of the LDS faith. For 16 years, the free shuttle has transported inquisitive travelers to and from Salt Lake City International Airport and Temple Square once an hour, almost daily.
"It's one of the things that introduces them to the church and dispels some of the myths," said Jerry Jordan, a part-time service missionary who drives the colorful van with his wife, Margaret Jordan, a couple of times a week, alternating with other retirees.
The service recently transported its 100,000th passenger, Jordan said. Its popularity ranges from one or two travelers to as many as 60 visitors a day, depending on the weather and time of year.
Anyone with at least a two-hour layover is invited to take it. The church advertises the service on airport walls and with glossy pamphlets that declare, "Waiting for a flight? See the sights."
Drew Blake, visiting Utah on business, recently did just that.
"I had a little bit of time this morning," Blake said, "so I thought instead of sitting at the airport, I'd take the shuttle."
Blake, who lives in Orange County, Calif., said his parents are LDS, but the architect was mainly interested in the buildings of Temple Square. He was particularly intrigued by the cavernous Tabernacle and the soaring, spired temple, in which devout Mormons receive instruction about the purpose of life and their relationship to God, and take part in religious rites, such as weddings and vicarious baptisms for the dead.
Blake's education continued over the course of the short drive to the airport, with Jordan answering Blake's remaining questions, such as why it took 40 years to build the temple.
Jordan explained that it was all hand-done. "It was a herculean undertaking for the pioneers," Jordan said, as Blake listened closely.
Jordan and his wife are more than happy to answer passengers' questions on their way to the airport. And, like tour guides, they describe the history of the LDS Church and Salt Lake City as they drive newly arrived travelers from the airport to Temple Square.
The Bountiful couple, both in their 70s, have already driven the shuttle for more than five years as part of their church calling and hope to sign on for another two years.
Jerry Jordan said they enjoy meeting people while still having plenty of time to see their grandkids on their off days.
"As long as I can stay between the lines and not scare my wife," Jerry Jordan joked, "we'll keep doing it."
Margaret Jordan said most of their passengers are not LDS.
Not all passengers are curious travelers, either. Some are locals who use the shuttle for transportation, exiting the van at Temple Square only to walk to their homes downtown, rather than see the sights. Typically, when the shuttle arrives at Temple Square, young female missionaries meet the visitors, offering them tours.
But the drivers don't ask or require that passengers commit to touring their faith's holy sites in order to hop on board. They just drive and describe, glad for the chance to share.
Learn more about the Temple Square shuttle service
For more information about the shuttle, call 1-800-537-9703. The shuttle runs every day except holidays and departs from the airport and Temple Square every 30 minutes during the summer, once an hour in April, May, September and October and once an hour from November to March. The shuttle is offered by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in cooperation with the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Utah Travel Council, Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, Salt Lake Downtown Alliance and airlines serving Salt Lake City International Airport.