For the past 12 years I have worked as an airport baggage handler. This job allows me to travel the world at a fraction of the cost, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world! There are often questions as to what a baggage handler actually does and how that relates to your checked baggage, so this post will hopefully answer any questions you have. This is by no means a complete list of all of the responsibilities possible for an airport baggage handler, but this will give you an idea of what is possible.
Working as an Airport Baggage Handler
What are the duties of a airline baggage handler? There are several different roles an airline baggage handler can have, depending on the department they are assigned to.
- Loading and unloading bags
- Marshaling planes
- Push back operator
- Delivering connecting bags
- Delivering local bags
- Rerouting missed bags
This is by no means an exhaustive list of what is possible as an airline baggage handler. Many people think that working as a ramp agent means that the only thing you do is deal with bags. However, that is not true. There are many jobs that do not require that you load and unload planes. However, most ramp agent jobs do require that you handle checked baggage.
Loading and unloading planes
When a plane arrives or is about to depart, the cargo bin is either filled with or emptied of baggage. Most ramp agents are assigned to one gate, and they are responsible for every plane that arrives or departs from that gate.
There are a plethora of planes so there is no way to say how many bags can be unloaded or loaded. A plane can have 10 bags or can have several hundred.
You must be physically fit to be able to stack, pull, and maneuver bags of up to at least 50 pounds. However, there are “Heavy bags” that can be upwards of 100 pounds. You are not expected to lift those on your own. A colleague nearby can always be asked to help with bags that are too heavy for one person to lift.
Marshaling a plane
A plane cannot get into or out of a gate by itself. When a plane arrives at a gate, it must be marshalled in. What is marshaling a plane? Have you seen the person waving the wands up and down in front of the plane? That person is marshaling in the plane and is another handler job available to a ramp agent.
When the agent is signaling by raising the wands in his arms up and down, the pilot knows he can keep going. When the wands are crossed above the agent’s head, the pilot knows he must stop.
Push back operator
This is the person who is driving the vehicle that pushes the plane back. Planes do not have a reverse gear, so they need to be pushed back in order to take off. The push back operator wears headphones and is in constant contact with the pilot.
Delivering connecting bags
When planes arrive, many of the bags have to go to other planes. For instance, when you have a connecting flight, this means you land in one city and have to hop on another flight. You bag also has to get to that flight.
When a flight has several connecting bags, there is a ramp agent that is assigned to take those bags to their corresponding flights. Once the agent has their cart loaded, they deliver the bags that have the shortest connecting time.
Sometimes, there are agents assigned to deliver “hot bags” which are bags that have less than 30 minutes to get to their departing gate.
Delivering local bags
When you arrive in your final destination, there can be an agent that is assigned to getting all of the local bags off of your flight. This “local runner” is usually assigned to more than 1 plane.
They are supposed to deliver your bags in a certain time frame that varies with each airline, but that doesn’t always happen. Read my post that explains why your checked bags can take so long to get to you.
Airplane bathrooms must be (well, are supposed to be) cleaned after every flight. Many ramp agents work in lavs. There are inside lavs and outside lavs. Outside laves means they are responsible for emptying the toilets, and inside lavs is responsible for tidying up the bathrooms on the plane.
NOTE: There is rarely anyone assigned to thoroughly clean each plane. Read here about how often planes are cleaned.
After each flight, the plane is re-stocked with food and beverages. At some airlines, this is done by an outside company. At others, this is done by ramp staff.
A handler job that usually doesn’t require being out in the elements is working in the bagroom. However, by working in the bagroom, this means having to load and stack bags in carts based on their destination. Depending on how many carts you have, you may have to stack and arrange hundreds of bags.
Rerouting missed bags
When bags do not make their final destination, they are re-routed to the next available flight. As a result, each bag needs to be re-tagged with an updated destination tag.
Why? Because most airlines scan their bags, and the airline and passenger needs to know which flight their bag will be loaded on. In fact, it is crucial that each bag is scanned so both passengers and the airline can get real-time information on checked bags.
And of course, one of the BEST perks of working for an airline is being able to fly for FREE! Working as an airport baggage handler also allows employees to allow a buddy to travel with them. Buddy travel is a wonderful perk, but it is not for someone who doesn’t know how to follow the rules. Read here on what is expected from buddy travel
Many airlines allow their employees to fly for free domestically, and for an extremely reduced price internationally. They also get buddy passes which they can give to their loved ones. Read here how to make sure you can keep your buddy travel perks.