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What They Do

Insider Info

Question: What's a vacation without your suitcase? Answer: Not much fun if you're thousands of miles from home. That's why airlines want to make sure your luggage arrives when you do. Baggage handlers are the people who get this job done.

Baggage handlers sort baggage according to its destination tag. They also load cargo containers on and off planes. Some also do cabin preparation and cabin grooming. These workers are called "station attendants."

With airlines moving thousands of bags every day, things do occasionally get misdirected. Some baggage handlers deal with customer complaints about lost luggage and help trace the missing bags. These workers are called "baggage agents."

Within airlines, workers can move from being a station attendant to being a baggage agent. Moving from the outside jobs to the inside jobs, even in the baggage sorting area, usually takes several years of seniority.

Baggage agents may begin their career on the ramp or in some other area of customer relations with an airline.

Lisa Tecdeschi, a baggage service agent for an airline in Atlanta, says she worked in about six different areas before bidding on a job as a baggage agent.

Whether they're on the ramp or in front of passengers, baggage handlers require a comprehensive knowledge of airline codes and flight destinations. That knowledge comes through on-the-job training and experience.

Since planes fly in all kinds of weather, station attendants have to work in all kinds of weather. Guy Crane, an attendant in Portland, Oregon, says he's worked in snow, sleet and even 64 percent humidity (that's pretty clammy!)

Baggage handlers are required to do some lifting, so it's important to be physically strong. For that reason, the career tends to appeal more to men than women.

Some unionized baggage handlers work shifts between eight and 11 hours long in a compressed workweek. That means employees may work four days on and then have three days off.

Baggage handlers work for airlines at airports across North America and the world. Many are unionized.

For example, the International Association of Machinists (IAM) is the union representing employees working with baggage for United Airlines, American Airlines, Alaska Airlines and Air Canada.

At a Glance

Make sure passengers' luggage arrives when they do

  • Handlers sort baggage according to its destination tag
  • You have to work in all kinds of weather
  • High school combined with on-the-job training is the most common career path


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