I wanted to share with you “A day as a Passenger Service Agent”, as it may give you some inspiration and impressions about the ground handling world.
I will try to show you some sides you might not know about aviation. Indeed, there are plenty of jobs in the aviation industry next to the classic Pilot or ATC job, and believe me, they are very interesting as well! From Passenger Services to Flight dispatcher, via Ramp Agent and Red Cap (the loadsheet guy); all these jobs have something in common: the “fascination for aviation”.
First of all, you need to know what are the roles of a Passenger Service Agent (or Gate Agent). The passenger handling for an airline requires a lot of different skills, and thus they are divided into “teams” or “departments”. For each airport you will find the Airline Ticket Office team, the Transfer Service team (irregularities handling & rebooking of misconnection passengers), Lounges and VIP services, the care team for Passengers with Reduced Mobility (PRM), and of course the Check-in/Gate Agents. All these teams work together in order to help the passenger find their way through the airport or assist if needed.
Back to me: I am myself working as Check-in/Gate Agent and in addition to that I am part of the irregularity pick-up team, which is responsible for handling irregularities (heavy delays, a lot of misconnections, cancellations).
Our shifts at Zurich Airport are in between 4 am to 11.15pm. My day starts with taking my work mobile phone and signing in. The mobile phone is indicating me my assigned tasks (which are managed by the Employee Dispatch Team). I have to “confirm”, “start” and “end” these tasks at the right moment. For example, I may start with 30 minutes of First Class check-in counter, and then have 10 minutes to go to gate E42 for flight LX38 to San Francisco, and so on… These tasks are dispatched according to the flight timetable and/or the need at the check-in counters and may be adapted if delays are occurring. So, in fact, I never know what I will be doing in +3 hours, which is what I like as every day is completely different than the previous one. The only thing I know is my main task for the shift (Check-in or Gate).
Throughout the shift, I am planned for different tasks: check-in, departure or arrival flight. As for many airports, there are departure and arrival waves, which means that we are planned accordingly. For example, for an early shift (5 am to 13.15pm), you will most of the time start with a few minutes at the check-in, then go to the gate to open the doors for an inbound long-haul flight (as the morning arrival wave starts at 6 am), and finally go to another gate for a departure flight as the outbound wave is starting at 7.30am. After that, you might have the first break before starting again the same logical cycle: check-in > arrival/departure > and so on. Of course, if your main task for the day is “check-in”, you will most likely spend the whole shift at the counters.
I won’t go more into the details, as there are so many things to tell or explain that I cannot cover everything. What you for sure need to know, is that it is interesting to meet plenty of passengers, all having other stories, different cultures, different destinations, and so on. Of course, not every passenger is friendly: like for every service providing business, there are always people complaining or unhappy, which in some cases is understandable. What I definitely like the most regarding this job, is that you learn how to deal with people, have a chat with them, or make them happy if possible. And all this into an aviation environment.
Now, I think it is more interesting to show you some examples of irregularities and special cases I had.
As you may know from flight simulation or from private experiences, not everything is going according to plan. Every day there are special cases such as technical issues, delays, medical cases, and so on. Of course major cases luckily don’t happen that often, but still.
I remember the Christmas period of December 2014, as there was so much snow falling that the airport wasn’t able to maintain the runways clean without closing the runway every 30 minutes, which of course caused major delays and cancellations. After 3 or 4 days like this, we had approximately 10,000 passengers stranded in Zurich, with half of the flights cancelled. Everybody was waiting in a 4/5 hour long queue in order to be rebooked for the next possible flight. As you can imagine, it was a difficult period for everybody, as it was Christmas time. Every passenger wanted to get home to see their family, friends and relatives. The airport had to provide and prepare thousands of beds into the terminal, provide enough drinks and food. We rebooked passengers on a later flight, which at the end got cancelled as well. And so on … I let you imagine how difficult it was to handle, as nobody really knew if the flight was going to depart or not. After 5 or 6 days the weather was getting better, most of the flights were departing and we could handle it in a way that we were able to get the passengers out of Zurich. Of course, a few days were needed to resume normal operations, but it was a great learning experience for everybody.
I have hundreds of cases I could detail, but this is definitely the most impressive one. One thing is sure, you will never get bored at an airport!
That was it, for now, I hope you enjoyed reading the article, and maybe you are now motivated to start a career at the airport? As I wrote in the beginning, there are plenty of jobs I didn’t know about until today, and I can assure you that they are all worth it if you want to enter into the aviation world.