Airline ground operations and the jobs that support it are varied in structure. Generally, such jobs fall into either customer contact or baggage handling positions. Within both those categories lie several different types of jobs. These include ticket agent or customer service agent and ramp operations or baggage handler jobs. Overseeing this workforce are supervisors and members of management. The pace of operations of many of these jobs can be quite hectic at times.
US passenger airlines began to crop up soon after Charles Lindbergh flew solo across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927. At first, airlines only carried mail and freight, and pilots and ground crew were usually responsible for loading such items. Seeing an opportunity for revenue, such airlines soon began offering to fly people along with the mail. This meant there was a need for more people to sell tickets and handle aircraft while on the ground.
Ground operations is the name given to many of the activities taking place around a passenger aircraft when on the ground. Many large airlines refer to customer contact activities on the part of their employees as above-the-wing work. Baggage handling, fueling, cleaning, catering and other jobs are often referred to as below-the-wing work. Many smaller commuter airlines often have employees do all such jobs in an effort to lower costs.
Airline ground operation jobs are well differentiated. Customer service agents working at a boarding gate almost never have anything to do with loading of baggage or fueling and the like. And ramp operations workers usually concentrate on loading baggage, cleaning the aircraft passenger cabin and fueling the aircraft. Other workers may sort and load checked baggage into baggage carts or, in the winter, spray deicing solutions onto planes prior to taxi out and takeoff.
Commercial airlines are large, complex organizations. This means that there are times when the pace of operations for workers can be quite fast. All airlines work hard to stay on schedule. This can mean that employees will work through severe weather events and extremely heavy holiday travel periods. Supervisors and managers often work side-by-side with their employees. Customer service agents may put passengers onto one plane after another throughout an eight-hour shift, for example.
Airlines rely on all employees to work together as a team. Customer service agents and ramp operations employees work hard to keep flights on time throughout the day. For those who can handle the operational pace, an airline ground operations career can be rewarding. Entry pay for rank and file workers is normally above minimum wage. Benefits can include the ability to fly for free or for very little money. This benefit alone attracts many to the industry.