Job Profiles

Inside the life of a baggage handler, insofar as I can understand it

I wrote down about 50 possible professions to interview when I came up with the idea for this site/podcast, and No. 2 — i.e. the second thing I wrote down — was “baggage carousel.” Is it really that interesting? I’m not sure. I spent a year being long-distance with my girlfriend, so I logged a few more hours in airports during that year than I normally would have, and maybe I gleaned some excitement or interest from that period. I honestly have always felt like a baggage handler would be a cool person to get a drink with (I’m not actually drinking at the moment, but that’s for another post). There have to be good stories that come out of checking and sorting bags, right?

I contacted a couple of people to do interviews with me, but so far I’ve gotten nothing back. I do live kinda near LGA, though, so maybe I should just run up there and attempt to set something up. Not entirely sure how that works, but I could see it taking place on a future Saturday/Sunday.

I was bored at work recently and decided to do a little research on the world of a baggage employee, insofar as I understand it; hopefully this information is somewhat relevant.

I actually saw this article this morning on the way to work — essentially, an American Airlines baggage handler recruited co-workers to help her smuggle content in the luggage of passenger jets. The coolest thing about that story might be the witch doctor element in the final paragraph, but go ahead and attempt to Google the phrase “cocaine baggage handler.” Back in 2004, a dude at Heathrow got nabbed; it happened in Philadelphia recently too, and Newark Airport has seen corruption from the baggage crew. Overall, there are 63,900 results for just that specific phrase.

Baggage Handler

Let’s not pile it on these people, though — clearly there’s an element where a seamy underbelly can develop, but they can also be heroes – this guy tackled a terrorist.

I found this post, simply titled “The Life Of A Baggage Handler,” by a student in England who was working as a baggage handler part-time. This is probably just me being stupid, but here’s something I didn’t completely realize: it’s completely an “umpire job,” meaning that no one notices you when everything is going right, but when one thing goes wrong, it’s a huge deal. (These are jobs that are miserable to be in, in some respects.) In 2007, this airport in question (unnamed) had 68,068,304 passengers through it. If everyone is checking 1-2 bags, that’s potentially over 100 million pieces of luggage. Do you know any other spot where a group can do something 100 million times and not make a mistake?

I was interested in how baggage handlers get hired, so I checked into that as well. Here’s a position listing from SkyWest (here’s one from Delta, featuring the tag line “Handle more cases than Sherlock Holmes”), and here’s a sample resume via a baggage handler in India. (I kind of think it’s weird that almost all the U.S.-based links on this topic are about scandals involving baggage handlers, and all the Asian-European links are more functional. Probably goes back to that “umpire theory” I discussed briefly above.)

Here’s a fairly detailed list of questions you might get asked in an interview; admittedly I have no idea why clear ice is so dangerous, or how to read a PIREP. I may be utterly under-qualified here.

I took to YouTube to learn a little more, and needed to start here:

That’s a Bud Light ad, so don’t get too excited — although admittedly, a bunch of the comments seem to be people saying they want that job now.

Here, a KMBC anchor worked as a baggage handler for a day. (Embedding was disabled by request.)

World’s worst baggage handler? Some of this is kinda funny — sadly:

Not sure how legitimately real this is, but also kind of funny:

As an example of how seriously I wanted to learn about the world of baggage handlers, I found this from 1989: an article in the Sun-Sentinel about the culture of baggage handlers, including the loading on and loading off of Prince Charles’ aardvark.

I also found a bunch of videos entitled “Life On The Ramp,” which speaks to why I wanted to talk to one (and hopefully still will talk to one) — I wanted to know if all the different aspects of an airport work force are kinda bonded together. Is there a culture/family vibe there? Does anyone who may stumble across this post know what it’s like?

Thanks for checking this out, guys — and keep it here for some more thoughts and (actual) interviews with people in these professions.



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What’s This All About?

This is a blog and podcast series about the work we all do: the highs, the lows, the effectiveness, the intrigue, the models, the double speak, and the passion. The point is to have discussions with people in those fields about their life and experiences. And hey, sometimes the stories might be funny, too. In the spring of 2013, the new posts started to fade, but you can find them all on iTunes.

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