An elderly Greek woman landed at Dulles International Airport recently after more than 15 hours of travel. In a physical fog known as jet lag, she found that she was in the wrong city and the relative who was to meet her was 4,000 miles away in another Washington -- Seattle, Wash.

Although she had no money for a ticket to Seattle, the situation ended happily for the woman when the International Visitors Information Service (IVIS) found a translator and called the woman's Seattle relatives, who paid for a ticket to the West Coast.

The woman is not the only foreign traveler to arrive in the United States in need of aid, according to travel officials. A common problem occurs when foreign travel agents mistake Washington, D.C., for Washington state, or confuse Dulles with Dallas.

"Sometimes {travelers} arrive and just go bonkers when they realize they're thousands of miles from where they want to be with no money for the additional $400 ticket," said Charlotte Mercer, a staff coordinator for IVIS.

The IVIS booth, where Mercer, other coordinators and volunteers work, is just outside the Customs area at Dulles. There, more than 22,000 requests for help and information were handled in July alone and more than 120,000 problems occurred in the first seven months of the year.

Foreign visitors to the United States accounted for $15.9 billion in revenue last year, or $1,357 for each of the 22 million travelers. This year, with foreign currencies stronger against the dollar than last year, more foreigners than ever are arriving, according to the U.S. Travel and Tourism Administration.

Local governments are trying to tap into the revenues that foreign visitors bring. The Virginia Division of Tourism, for example, is promoting the state's tourist attractions in a package being offered by Pan American World Airways.

International airports such as Dulles and Baltimore-Washington International are facing more questions and problems than ever from foreign tourists. In the last 12 months, nearly 800,000 of the 11 million visitors who arrived at Dulles were from foreign countries, according to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. At BWI, 380,072 of 8.7 million travelers last year were foreigners.

Even though National Airport has no direct international arrivals, language problems frequently occur there with passengers who have flown first into New York and then into National. Like Dulles and BWI, National has a Traveler's Aid booth to help those people.

Unlike international airports in most foreign countries that offer internationally understood signs and foreign language help for visitors, only a few U.S. airports have the facilities or personnel to provide such assistance. The U.S. Travel and Tourism Administration, part of the Commerce Department, provides interpreters and welcoming programs at 15 U.S. ports of entry, including airports in New York, Seattle, Philadelphia and Miami.

"There's a huge need," said Donna Tuttle, undersecretary of commerce for travel and tourism. "Right now every airport is jammed . . . and that first impression is so important . . . . Some U.S. airports are really scary."

"What I find very interesting in comparing our services to other airports worldwide is that we do not offer as much as other international airports," said Diana Sullivan, director of travel industry relations for the Washington Dulles Task Force, a local business-oriented group that has promoted the use of Dulles. "It falls in line with the smaller, low-key airport we were a short time ago . . . . If we're going to be the showplace we want to be, we need to provide the best services."

Some travel specialists said that U.S. airports simply have not been as conscious of the needs of foreign travelers, partly because of the attitude on the part of many that most foreign tourists who come here speak some English and can help themselves.

Various U.S. organizations and agencies make recommendations for standards at international airports, but nothing is mandatory, according to Deborah Lunn of the Airport Operators Council International.

IVIS, a private, nonprofit community organization, has a contract at Dulles with the airport authority to provide services to international and American visitors. In addition, the organization has other information and home hospitality programs for foreigners. Traveler's Aid, a nonprofit organization that is financed through membership dues and the United Way, helps travelers at all three Washington area airports.

The number of international passengers arriving at Dulles alone has grown by more than 130 percent in the last four years. The IVIS staff of three paid coordinators and 13 volunteers, all of whom speak at least two foreign languages fluently, handles everything from answering simple questions about where to get a bus to the "desperate situations" of deplaning passengers who are tired, lost and often speak no English, said one volunteer.

"It's so needed," said Sylviane Morelli, a former member of IVIS's executive committee and an IVIS volunteer. "In 1969, when I came to the U.S. from Germany, I walked into this beautiful building, but it was absolutely stark and empty. There was no one to greet or help visitors. No one knew where to change their money, where to get a bus or taxi."

The group has a language bank of people who speak more than 40 languages and the volunteers on duty frequently are fluent in a combination of six or seven languages. But IVIS, like many organizations that use volunteers, is having difficulty finding people with the time and language skills to help. Women who once stayed home and volunteered are now in the work force, limiting their involvement, and IVIS is trying to get the airlines to recognize their contributions by helping them with money for more paid staff members.

At airports such as Dulles, where new flights by foreign carriers such as All Nippon Airways and Lufthansa are being added regularly, the problems never stop and the volunteers and staff members are surprised by very little, including the number of foreigners who arrive without hotel reservations or any idea of where they're going.

"In an airport, nothing is ever static," said Morelli. "The problems run the gamut."

There are rewards. After taking several hours to help a Czech woman who spoke no English to straighten out her travel problem, IVIS coordinator Monika Youngblade received a hug and a kiss from the grateful woman. "We do help people," she said.