Baggage handlers (or ramp operators) work in the airline industry loading and unloading baggage at airports. Baggage can include suitcases, duffel bags, trunks, packages, boxes, or animal crates, etc. If you are a baggage handler, you can be employed by specific airlines or private staffing companies. This job requires that you are able to complete heavy manual labor in a time-sensitive environment.
This job requires a high school diploma and/or a GED certificate and a valid state driver’s license.
In addition, employers will often request the following:
- A background check and a fingerprint-based criminal history check.
- A pre-placement physical abilities test, hearing and vision tests, and drug screen.
- Position-specific clearances that can include: Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Port Authority, U.S. Customs and U.S. Postal Service clearances.
Employers often include the requirement that you must not have lived outside of the United States in the past 5 years for any period longer than six months, with the exception of military duty or government-approved exceptions.
Previous outdoor work or jobs requiring heavy manual labor and safety awareness is preferred.
Although many employers prefer that you have previous experience in the same or similar area of employment, it is strongly encouraged that you apply if you have the required education and skills.
- Manually load and unload baggage to and from aircrafts, conveyor belts, loading areas, and luggage carts or other vehicles.
- Move luggage across terminals and airplane runways via the operation of baggage transfer vehicles, such as carts, tow tractors, trams, or 4-wheeled trailers.
- Crawl, climb, or bend to move or arrange baggage into aircraft containers.
- Operate other electronic airline-related equipment, such as two-way radios, and tracking devices.
- Work as a team and communicate with team members to ensure the efficient, timely, safe, and secure transfer of baggage.
- Your employer may also ask you to carry out additional duties than those listed here.
What’s Your Scene?
This job requires that you are able to work "Behind the Scene." If you are working as a baggage handler, you may not have to talk with airline passengers on a regular basis, but you will be working near passengers. You will be required to interact with co-workers (e.g., other airport staff) and take direction from supervisors.
Skills / Abilities
Equipment Operation – Ability and knowledge to properly operate airport equipment, such as trucks, tractors, trams, baggage carts, and determine if maintenance is needed on equipment.
Oral Comprehension - Demonstrated ability to follow written and verbal instructions and ideas.
Manual Dexterity - This job requires the repeated and coordinated use of your arms, hands, wrists, and fingers to lift luggage.
Physical Strength – This job requires that you are physically able to lift and carry heavy items (e.g., suitcases or packages) in a timely manner.
Location - Much of the work at an airport will be conducted outdoors. This means that you will be exposed to all types of weather (e.g., sun, rain, snow, heat and humidity).
Noise Level - The noise level will be loud. You will be working near airplanes and other vehicles (e.g., luggage carts, conveyor belts). Therefore you will be exposed to loud noises and will often be required to wear headphones for your hearing safety.
Lighting Level - You will usually be exposed to natural lighting (e.g., sunlight). If you work indoors, you will be exposed to florescent lighting.
Work Hours - This job will range from short to long working shifts. Most flights operate throughout the day and evening (e.g., early mornings or late nights). You will have to discuss with your employer the types of shifts you can work. In addition, the airline industry operates 365 days a year; therefore your employer may ask that you work on weekends or holidays.
Amount of Movement - This job typically requires that you stand for long periods of time and will involve heavy manual labor. You will need to be able to stand, sit, walk, bend, reach, lift, push, pull, and carry items for this job. For example, you may need to lift a heavy suitcase into a luggage tram or reach/bend frequently to pick up luggage from conveyor belts or airplanes.
Cleanliness and Odors - This job setting is typically located outdoors, and although you may not be working with messy materials, you will get dirty and/or sweaty. You will also be exposed to the smell of fuel and exhaust as you will be working near airplanes and other vehicles.
Work Attire - Work attire will typically be casual clothing as you may get dirt on your clothes. Some employers may also give you a uniform such as overalls to wear at work. They may require that you wear weighted belts, hats, headphones, gloves, airline vests, and steel-toed boots.
Structure and predictability - This job will typically have a higher degree of structure and predictability. This means that you will usually complete the same tasks each day and you may be able to complete these tasks in the same order each day (e.g., wait for airplane to come to a complete stop, unload luggage from aircraft to luggage cart, transfer luggage from cart to conveyor belt). You will probably know how long each task should take you to complete. You may not work in the same areas each day (gate numbers or terminals), and you may not interact with the same people each day.
What's the Pace?
- Steady: In most cases, the work pace will be steady, which means that there will always be baggage to load or unload to and from airplanes. There may be 1-2 airplanes waiting for you to complete your tasks and it is important that you complete your tasks in a timely manner.
- Peak: There might be other times when there are many airplanes arriving or departing and the airport is very busy. There may be 8 or more airplanes waiting in line to deplane or take off, and it will require that you load or unload luggage efficiently and quickly. This may be a more stressful period because airplanes will be waiting for you to complete your tasks.
- Slow: There may also be some "down time," when there are very few airplanes arriving or departing. This may be a more boring period, where you are required to just wait for airplanes to arrive.
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