Today we are going to look closely at a day in the life of an Airline Ramp Agent. Ramp work can be, for lack of better terms, arduous. Early morning shifts can start with sub-zero external temperatures in the winter and summer afternoon shifts on the hot tarmac rise well into the triple digits. One airline mechanic told me that they measured the tarmac to be 160+ degrees F mid-summer in Las Vegas.
This job requires great strength and endurance: lifting bags, cleaning planes, dealing with sometimes delicate cargo, all while sticking to strict schedules and safety guidelines. Breaks often don’t happen because of the daily rush. Lunch is a maybe. A good schedule depends on seniority. Employee turnover is high.
I wanted to learn more about what a typical day looks like for a ramp agent and what challenges exist. I had the opportunity to chat with Jason T. last week, former Delta Global Services Ramp Supervisor/trainer. During Jason’s five year tenure with Delta Global Services, he led a team of ramp agents at Austin International Airport.
Follow along my conversation with Jason.
KY: What time did your day typically start?
JT: There are three general shifts that people would work. The earliest morning shift starts around 4:30 AM with a safety briefing. The morning crew is focused on getting the first planes prepped for departure. Responsibilities include: filling the potable water, checking/dumping lavatories, inspecting planes, getting the power and air turned on, and getting the towbar and pushback tractor hooked up. Then we have to get all the baggage scanned and loaded on the plane.
There are a lot of part-timers who just work the morning shift and head out between 8:30 and 9 AM. By 9:30 AM, we have another set of guys coming in for the turns. Their shift typically runs until 7 PM. Our last shift is the evening crew that comes in around 3 PM to midnight for the RON (Remains Over Night) aircraft arrivals and cleaning.
KY: Are there any other jobs that rampers are responsible for?
JT: Airlines make a lot of their money by carrying freight (typically mail) between cities. As rampers we have to get the freight loaded up. We also sometimes deal with human remains (HR) cargo. People who pass need to be moved to a different city. There are special procedures to follow with HR cargo, especially in the case of fallen military personnel.
KY: How are shift schedules assigned?
JT: When flight schedules change, rampers put a bid in for their desired schedule. Seniority typically trumps everything. As you rise in the ranks, you get more say in the process.
KY: How important is speed in this job?
JT: We have to work fast. Each plane has a minimum ground time that we are always working against. As soon as the plane lands, we have to chock the aircraft wheels, place safety cones at four points of the plane, do a walk around visual inspection of the aircraft, hook up ground power and air, unload bags, reload bags, dump lavatories, get ice for flight attendants, clean the plane/lavatories after people deboard the plane and then get people going out boarded back on. Larger 757s might have 50 minutes. For Airbus 319s and 320s as well as CRJs we only have 35 minutes to turn everything over.
KY: Is there a high employee turnover rate in this industry?
JT: The job is physically demanding and there is lots of turnover for companies that don't pay well. Some companies pay well and still have a high turnover. Union airlines like United, American, and Southwest have a higher retention rate.
KY: Walk me through how your team would manage those brutally hot summer days in Texas?
JT: As a team lead or supervisor, you have to keep a close eye on your crew, especially when the weather is extreme. Our team would always have gatorade or electrolyte popsicles available. You can carry a water bottle with you, but it’s discouraged because people tend to leave them all over the tarmac. We also provided headbands that you can soak in water or you could purchase those Frog Togg chilly pads. One of my personal strategies was to carry a CamelBak and stuff it with ice. I would then refill it with water until the ice was gone. That is why I was so excited when I discovered the HiVis StayFrosty® Vest. Wearing ice close to your body and staying hydrated make a huge difference in your temperature and productivity. There are freezers in our break rooms so it would be easy to keep cold IcePlates® available. We also had mister stations and fans, but wearing something cool on your body is so much better.
KY: How many serious heat injuries did you see during your time with DSG?
JT: We had about five serious heat illnesses during my time at DSG. Minor illness - dehydration and fatigue though - were a daily battle we were all working against.
KY: Does it help to take more frequent breaks on those extreme temperature days?
JT: Because of delays and a packed flight schedule, it’s not always possible to take scheduled breaks or lunch hours. Taking care of your body while you are working is extremely important.
KY: How did you discover Qore Performance®?
JT: I first reached out to Justin on Instagram to learn more about your products and share my experiences on the ramp. I also loved your Industrial Hand Warmer. Keeping working hands warm in the winter is extremely important in our line of work.
We learn so much from our customers! Here at Qore Performance®, we have the opportunity to interact with so many hard-working and dedicated people whose lives revolve around keeping people safe. These conversations allow us to find new ways of sharing our technologies with others - improving safety and productivity across industries. We are so proud of the impact we are having. Last summer, our industrial customers worked over 200,000 man hours without a single heat incident; the IceVest HiVis Safety Vest is doing its job.