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IamA Baggage handler at a major US airport, I handle your luggage and more! AMA!

Nov 25th 2014 by hauntedfox • 45 Questions • 1367 Points

I've been working at an airport for a few years now and enough people inquire about my job that now I'm doing an ama. A few of these have been done before but no two people on the ramp have the same perspective, I'm sure. Sent proof to the mods.

I do eventually have to sleep, so ask away!

Edit: This was so much more fun that I thought it could be. Thanks for all the great questions, but it is now 8:30am local time here, and I have not slept. I want to high five you all, or at least give you all some gold star stickers. Peace out.

Edit 2: woke up to gold, thanks! From now on I think I'm just gonna go around saying "Baggage handler here! Something something carousels."

Q:

I handle your luggage at the biggest airport in Norway! Up top, colleague!

Whats the craziest shit you've seen at work?

A:

slaps five

Saw a crash once, someone with carts was trying to pass someone dropping off bags at a carousel. It was a thin bagwell, and the back bumper caught on one of the carts as they passed. The cart they hit jack-knifed and rode up on top of the carousel, pinning some dude's leg between a metal bar and an 1100 lb cart (not including bags). This happened just as I was stepping out of the way of the jack-knifing cart, I barely escaped major injury and got a front row seat to the whole thing.

To top it off, the supervisor at the time tried to cover it up and got fired.


Q:

From a insider's point of view, considering all the security measures that have been implemented, how secure do you think airports are ?

Do you think that securing them that much was worth it?

A:

Not very secure. An employee could pull off a terrorist attack with accomplices. I feel awkward saying that but its true.

The NSA is now monitoring this AMA


Q:

How do I get my bag to come out first?

A:

Show up mostly late, but not at the last second. Your bag will be stacked on top of the cart, be the first loaded on the plane, be the last loaded off, and the first onto the carousel. Its probably 70-80% effective. Just don't be so late that yours is one of the last bags loaded.


Q:

Why wouldn't you want to be one of the last bags loaded?

A:

Because we do two pickups, one to get the majority of the bags, one to get any we missed, one at D-60, one around D-30

D=Departure time, D-60=one hour before departure

Anything after D-60 would be loaded after the D-60 bags, and hence the first to leave the plane, last loaded.

It amazes me how much people care that their bags get out 20 seconds before someone else's.


Q:

After sitting in an aluminum tube between Fatso and Mrs. Lets-Talk-About-Everything-Want-To-See-My-Kids for 2 hours you can't stand those people any longer.

A:

Whenever we have to carry down, like, a dozen strollers, we ramper's give each other a knowing smile. This flight is gonna be hell.


Q:

So, the first will be last and the last will be first, way to even the odds baggage handlers.

A:

I neither control it nor care.


Q:

Do you have to go through airport security every day before going to work? If so, do you get paid for the time you're in security?

A:

Nope. I go through security maybe twice a month, its a joke. I have to go through a crazy amount of background checks and whatnot to get an ID card though.


Q:

So If you guys can bring in whatever you want why do I have to go through a body scanner? Does the TSA not think about the fact you could be bribed to bring in contraband?

A:

The TSA is in the groping business, not the security business.


Q:

Have you dealt with breeders shipping pure bred puppies? If so, how are they treated?

A:

Like they're made of glass. The cages they come in look like little puppy prisons :(

Everyone loves dogs here.

GIANT SIDE NOTE: Please do not bring your dog on vacation. No dog likes being in the pit.


Q:

This. I'm also a ramper out of DTW. I've had dogs come off of an ICN flight, scared to death, covered in piss/shit, and looked like they wanted to die. It's so sad.

A:

The worst thing is when the owner doesn't give them water for a cross country flight. Its almost routine having to ask the flight attendants for water.


Q:

Have you ever destroyed/ruined a luggage and just think "Well nobody saw me..."?

A:

Haha, no, not beyond minor stuff like a zipper coming off or a small tear (stuff gets caught in the equipment)

Once, A bag fell out of a cart as I was driving and got stuck under the wheel. I didn't notice. Someone stopped me and pointed out the bag, which was now half a bag. The other half was now powder, making a blue streak for several hundred feet behind me. The blue streak was someone's vaporized jeans.


Q:

Why do your coworkers insist on handling instruments like footballs? I swear every time I see them load a trombone or a French horn or a tuba it's a contest to see who can be roughest

A:

Lol, an experienced ramper would know better, but we have an insane turnover rate, so we constantly have new guys coming in. I'm not the perfect employee, but as a former band geek I always take great care of instruments.


Q:

Is it true that throwers don 'to have to worry about bags that tick because modern bombs don 't tick?

Is it true when a suitcase vibrates throwers have to call the cops, and that every once in a while it's a dildo?

Is it company policy never to claim ownership in the event of a dildo?

A:

We often return bags that tick or vibrate, its standard procedure, no security shutdowns or all that. They just go through the bag and shut off whatever it is. Usually a razor. I once saw a dildo though. Fight Club is probably right.


Q:

What's the best way to pack my drugs to make sure you don't find them?

A:

Normally. You think I give a shit?


Q:

How should I securely pack my baggage?

A:

Do your absolute best to make fragile items your carry-ons, as simple as that. In the rush of our work environment, not everyone is going to bother noticing the fragile tags. Basically, most people don't care about fragile items, and the airlines care even less.

Besides that, generally I would say bring two well secured medium-sized bags before bringing one too heavy one.


Q:

"Don't trust is with fragile items. We will break them."

A:

We don't usually break them. The most trouble I ever got in for mishandling a bag, their stuff didn't even have a chip.


Q:

What is the most bizarre piece of luggage you've ever seen?

What is the weirdest thing you've seen come out of a broken piece of luggage?

A:

Most bizarre would have to be the zebra. Holy shit. A fucking zebra.

When luggage breaks, I ALWAYS seem to see a bottle opener. Its weird.

Weirdest thing though would have to be a dirty diaper.


Q:

Uhmm, you can't just say Zebra and not elaborate!

A:

Well, the local zoo was bringing in a zebra, I forget where. It wasn't my assigned flight but I just wanted to see them somehow get a zebra out of the cargo pit of a 737. The struggle was real. Most police I've ever seen gathered around that plane though, except for the one time Harry Reid came to town.


Q:

Do you get deals with the airlines for free/reduced travel?

How wind up getting your job? I saw you say you have a lot of turnaround. Is it an easy business to get into with regular hiring?

A:

Ech. By deals, do you mean I would have to plan it probably 2 months in advance, still pay 10% plus tax, fill out a small mountain of paperwork, and possibly get rejected after all that? Then yeah, I get mad deals.

Got my job through some friends. Getting hired probably isn't the hardest, but some people drop out during the process (trust me, you do not yet know the meaning of 'background check'). Also, the paperwork. If you need a job though, by all means, go for it.


Q:

do you ever just think "fuck it, I'll just take this piece of louis vuitton luggage home with me"? :D

A:

That would cost me my job and reputation. Everything done on the ramp is a federal crime, so I'd likely get arrested as well. People have been fired for taking a bite out of an orange.


Q:

taking a bite out of an orange.

Did he peel it first...?

A:

I would like to think so, just so he can at least say "Sucks that I got fired, but that was one righteous orange"


Q:

Once I saw a video on how to open one of those trolley luggage with just a pen inserted in the middle of the zipper. Like this one: Open A Locked Suitcase With A Pen

Is this a thing?

Also, how secure are those plastic wrapped baggage?

Nice AMA btw! :)

A:

Thanks :) I don't know if thats a thing, I don't sort through people's stuff!

The plastic comes out if someone's bag came open or if someone can't stand the thought of their bag getting hit by a couple of raindrops. I suppose its secure enough for those purposes.


Q:

Thanks for the answer. I meant secure in the way that it's easily spotted if it was tampered with.

A:

That's not how the security works, people are designated to certain stations and if stuff goes missing, its not hard to track down who did it. That said, yeah, the plastic holds up. Sometimes.


Q:

why the actual fuck would someone stack an entire flight handles in?

evil motherfuckers

A:

I know your pain, brother. I know your pain.


Q:

I sometimes travel with my bike - will you treat it with more care knowing it's in a cardboard bike box or shall I invest in expensive bike luggage?

A:

Bikes are big and annoying anyways, so we'll generally be careful with them by default, for fear of hurting ourselves.

Seriously, those things are a ramper's nightmare. I'm trying to stack and then I get like, six bikes, and I have to start tetris-ing that shit. Then I wake up.


Q:

Sorry - mine is pretty light but it is an awkward size. Bikers travel together sometimes.

A:

They are light, but god damn, what did I ever do to you? :P


Q:

Are you one of the nice guys who gives the Fueler enough clearance to do his job?

A:

Yes. Fuck skychefs though. They can eat a dick.


Q:

if you see a nice bag, like a fancier leather one or something, does it usually get handled better?

A:

Nope! We are not baggage nazis, and there is no LouisVuitton masterrace


Q:

Does the luggage sorting area look anything like the scene in Toy Story 2?

A:

Gosh, been too long since I've seen that one. If I remember correctly, yes, kind of. I don't usually see fighting toys though :/


Q:

Do you increase staff for the holidays? Is there plenty of overtime?

A:

Overtime for the holidays. We get paid time and a quarter on Christmas, its pretty fucked. I don't work thursdays though, this year I'm golden. Gonna rub it in all my coworker's faces like a jackass too!


Q:

Do you ever have to handle anyone's personal baggage? Like, do people come to you with the heir daddy isssues?

A:

Oddly, I quite often get stares, sometimes scowls. Perhaps its the reflective vest. Most customers are nice. Some are hell. Just like anywhere.


Q:

Hm, never seen an airline baggage handler AMA before, good stuff!

1) Regional or Large airport? 2) What airline? 3) What sort of advice for us travelers can you give from your experience? (other then the fragile items in carryon that you already provided) 4)What's the coolest or most fufilling aspect of your job?

Cheers!

A:
  1. Large

  2. Dipping into personal info territory here, but Alaska

  3. Don't fly Alaska Don't be late I guess. The flight will not even wait an extra 30 seconds for you.

  4. Most fulfilling is that it keeps me active, and I encounter something new every day :) Thanks for the great questions!


Q:

Ok comeon you have to have some sweet Alaska flight line stories! Moose wandering onto the runway and halting planes from taxing? Someone trying to ship a live bear cub home? Entertain us!

A:

Alas, I work for the airline, not in the state. I did hear there was a bear cub once, but I didn't see it.

Something that might be interesting to some people is that the airport employs snipers. If a stray animal gets onto the runway, and its a last case scenario, they will be shot. Sad but true.


Q:

Does it feel like you're doing squats all day?

A:

I just don't know what to do with all these big, bulgy muscles.


Q:

What are your thoughts on this?

A:

United gets paid more than I do -_-

Lol there are idiots at every airline. I would never mishandle a guitar.


Q:

Usually, how much time do you have to finish loading and unloading the luggages?

A:

We have to have all the bags dropped off at the carousel in 20 minutes. We are expected to be at a flight an hour early to load bags. Its usually more than enough.


Q:

I was a luggage handler at a smaller airport in the MidWest. Just curious if they treat you like crap (management and customers alike) at a big airport too?

A:

Yep, possibly moreso. Even in an industry known for being shit to its employees, my airline has a bad reputation. They have so many ridiculous rules that a work-to-rule would probably work.


Q:

Has there ever been a case, where there were drugs or some other illegal stuff in the bags? What did you people do about it?

A:

Haven't heard of it. I imagine that even if something like that were discovered, we'd just shut up about it. Security is not our job.

The most illegal thing that happened was one of our supervisors along with a small group of employees got caught doing organized theft and running a smuggling ring for the stolen items. They're in prison now, I believe.

Also someone stole a gun.


Q:

I really want to have sex with an extraterrestrial on one of those conveyor belts that the luggage comes out of, would this be a) difficult, b) legal, and c) would you like to make a video of the event for posterity?

A:

+1 username. Your question is invalid, they are carousels, not conveyor belts.


Q:

Follow-up: what's the weirdest thing you ever saw going on with a conveyor belt or carousel?

A:

Carousel. And that has got to be the most boring question yet, not that you would've known. I can't think of anything besides the fact that they jam every time a mouse farts. Good question, terrible answer.


Q:

How often is it a vibrator and not a bomb?

A:

Its never a bomb. That's all I'll say.


Q:

what happens to unclaimed luggage?

A:

TSA gathers in groups and has "unclaimed baggage" parties

I honestly don't know.


A:

Ha! That made me smile.


Q:

If I check my large backpack, do all the straps put it at risk of getting caught up in your equipment? "Travel" packs seem to be more streamlined, but they're not as comfortable to haul around with a full load.

Also, I've heard at least one photographer suggest taking a flare gun with them, which is technically a firearm, so that their bag gets special treatment when checked. Any truth to that? It seems clever, but also a bit like a pain in the ass.

A:

Not sure about flare guns. To your first question, which was a good one: yes, backpacks and camping packs get caught more often than normal luggage.

Once, an airport representative walked across the airport, picking up every zipper he found. There were thousands.


Q:

Thanks for the reply. TSA does say that flare guns and starter pistols have to be checked like a real gun, but I was under the impression that they put a sticker on the seam of the hard case to "seal" it so that you know if anyone has tampered with it during transport. Do you see anything like that, or are hard cases with guns pretty anonymous to you guys? I don't know why I care, I have no intention of flying with a gun or fancy photography equipment, but I've always wondered for some reason.

A:

You could probably get away with anything so long as you don't put it up your butt.

The guns are anonymous and locked.