Baggage and cargo handlers must load and unload passenger baggage, mail, food supplies, commercial freight, or other cargo into or out of the airplane’s cargo hold. Handlers often operate baggage conveyors, forklifts, and various freight vehicles. For security reasons, baggage and cargo handlers are required to wear company uniforms and picture identification. At some airlines, the baggage and cargo handlers also de-ice the aircraft, clean the aircraft’s interior and exterior, and perform other pre-flight tasks. Generally, the smaller the airlines, the less specialized the positions will be, including baggage and cargo handlers. This is also true for corporate aircraft and some regional airlines or charter aircraft companies.
Many people find that being outside performing physically demanding work is a reward in itself. Working as an airline baggage or cargo handler is a good way to break into the airline industry and eventually move into a senior position or management role. Four days on, then three days off is not uncommon for baggage and cargo handling positions. Many people enjoy this as it offers them several days off in a row.
The primary challenge for baggage and cargo handlers is the physical demand of the job. Depending on the airport’s location, the weather may also be challenging. Working at an airport in Denver means working in freezing cold winter temperatures. In Phoenix, summer temperatures can soar into the triple digits. Regardless, the handlers must work quickly and efficiently. Handlers must also ensure that the loads are properly secured within the hold to prevent them from shifting during flight which can be very dangerous. Handlers must make sure that baggage and cargo is routed to the correct location and onto the right plane. When problems arise, the handler may have the frustrating job of tracking down lost baggage. Handlers often work long hours, on weekends, and through the night.
High school diploma or equivalent. Previous shipping experience is often not necessary but may be preferred.
This physically demanding job requires heavy lifting of up to 70 pounds or more and must be done quickly and efficiently for extended periods of time. A valid driver’s license is necessary as is a clean driving record. Employees usually have to purchase their own uniforms. The minimum age for this position is usually 18.
In most cases, the airline provides training for its baggage and cargo handler employees, and some of that baggage handler training comes while on the job.
Salary and Benefits
Pay ranges from roughly minimum wage to $20.00 per hour. Here is a sampling of pay ranges:
Benefits may include paid vacation, dental and life insurance, sick leave, retirement plan, free or reduced airfare for employees and immediate family members.