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In the airline industry, a baggage handler is a person who loads and unloads baggage (suitcases or luggage), and other cargo (airfreight, mail, counter-to-counter packages) for transport via aircraft. With most airlines, the formal job title is "Fleet Service Agent or Clerk", though the position is commonly known as a "Ramp Agent", due to the job's location on the airport ramp (tarmac), amongst airline employees.
Within the airline industry, baggage handler is often referred to as a "Rampie" or "Ramper": one who handles cargo on the "ramp" (outside the airline industry, the ramp is popularly referred to as the "tarmac", a term popularized by the media) Although the technical term is AOA (Aircraft Operation Area). Offensive terms for Rampie/Ramper are "Ramp Rat," "Bag Smasher", "Bag Jockey", "Luggage Monkey", and "Thrower."
A baggage handler also work jobs which are out of view of the flying public. Some of those places are the bag room, operations (or load control), and the air freight warehouse. Some of these jobs have union representation and due to this baggage handlers can be very well compensated with an above average pay scale and good medical, retirement and benefits packages.
When baggage is checked in at the ticket counter or with a sky cap (where it receives a bag tag indicating the passenger's itinerary), it is often placed onto a moving bag belt which carries the baggage to the bag room. This is where numerous checked bags are sorted so that they will be loaded onto the proper flight. The bag tag which was previously affixed to the baggage during check-in is then read by a baggage handler and placed into the proper bag cart (usually a 4-wheeled trailer) or Unit Load Device (ULD; a machine-loadable container). The bag cart or ULD is then eventually pulled from the bag room by a bag tug and out to the aircraft for loading by baggage handlers.
In addition to "pushing" an aircraft from the terminal gate (with a "push back" or "tow motor") to position it for engine start and eventual taxi, baggage handlers also may tow aircraft to and from another gate or to a "remote" or RON ("remain over night") parking area . There will be a mechanic in the flight deck 'riding the brakes', who communicates with ATC ground control (for movement clearance), and operates of the APU ("auxiliary power unit"), brakes, lights, while the agent will operate the tow-tractor. In some union negotiated airlines or stations this job could also be done by the baggage handler.
Various jobs of baggage handlers
Operations (load control) agent: An aircraft has weight and balance limitations in order to ensure safe operation. There is a limit to how much a loaded aircraft can weigh; therefore the cargo, passenger and fuel load must be distributed so that the aircraft is "in balance" -- in other words, not too nose-heavy or tail-heavy. One of the jobs of the Operations agent is to ensure that the aircraft—as finally loaded—is "legal" (within safe limits) before the aircraft departs the gate. Upon satisfaction of this mandated requirement, that data is used to generate information which the pilot requires in order to ensure the safe operation of the aircraft.
Warehouse agent: The air freight warehouse is where inbound and outbound air freight is processed. It is usually located on or adjacent to airport property and is usually separate from the passenger terminal. This is a secure (sterile) area where only authorized persons are allowed access. If inbound international shipments are involved and have not been cleared by customs, those shipments (and the warehouse) may be "in bond" which requires additional security clearance/authorization of employees.
Crew Chief: Responsible for many different job functions usually consisting of a team of rampers who report directly to him or her. Crew Chiefs are responsible for safely seeing that an aircraft has been loaded to the specifications of the load agent and reporting any discrepancies to management. Usually this job has a premium rate of pay for the extra responsibilities.
Ramp Agent: The people working on the ramp that are typically seen loading bags are referred to as "Ramp Agents". They are responsible for various things such as ensuring the inbound flights are unloaded in a timely fashion. On outbound flights, the ramp agents will load the flight and in some instances be responsible for accounting for what baggage may have been loaded in which compartments to ensure proper weight and balance, although this job is often the responsibility of Flight Operations employees.
Transfer Agent: This term is loosely used to refer to any agent who operates a vehicle that is used to transfer bags either from one flight to another or to refer to the agent carrying bags from the "bag room" to the proper flight. Another common term for this position is "runner". At locations where an airline operates a hub the agent responsible for meeting flights and transferring baggage directly from an inbound flight to the proper outbound flight(s) is termed a "connections runner", often shortened to "connects" and abbreviated as "conx".
Inbound Runner: The inbound runner is the agent in charge of delivering bags from an inbound aircraft to the baggage claim carousel.
Lavatory Agent: Each aircraft equipped with a lavatory needs to expend its waste somehow. This is where the lavatory or "lav" agent comes in. After an inbound aircraft arrives, it is the lav agent's job to flush the lavatory system. Despite what one may expect, the lesser physical demands of this position put it in equal or higher demand with other positions. In stations with higher volumes of passenger traffic, lavatory agents will usually utilize trucks adapted with large tanks on board that do not need to be emptied as often. These are also configured to facilitate access to the waste ports of the aircraft, which can be out of reach by other means. In places where fewer or smaller aircraft are being serviced a "lav cart" (essentially a small lav truck pulled behind a tug) is used to service the lavatories.
Mail/Freight Agent: As mail and freight arrives at a destination to either terminate at that location or continue on to another destination, certified agents handle and deliver it. They are responsible for scanning each package and delivering it to its proper aircraft.
Bag Room Agent: As baggage is delivered into the bag room via conveyor belt it is the Bag Room agent's job to sort bags into carts according to routing.
- Bill Boyer Jr. - a baggage handler for Alaska Airlines who invented the digEplayer in-flight entertainment device and now owns Mokulele Airlines.
- John Smeaton - a Scottish baggage handler at Glasgow International Airport who became involved in thwarting the 2007 Glasgow International Airport Attack.