Artitsts impression of an airport employee.

Working At An Airport – What It Is Really Like!

Aviation, Travel Industry

At an airport desk in a low paid, overworked, under resourced department, with few prospects of promotion, where heated confrontations are commonplace, unsocial hours the norm, support not always on hand. Tasks monotonous, equipment outdated. You’ll feel undervalued. Customer expectations will be high. You’ll lack status and pride.

Eventually there will be little or no passenger/staff interaction at airports. Machines will process punters from check-in to boarding stages. A machine will take bags, run details through the system, check documents against biometrics. An automated security system will scan passengers and belongings, whilst a vastly condensed security staff watches remotely. There will be no drama, the experience thoroughly stress free. But until then, air travel and heightened anxiety will rule. Passengers will continue to be inconveniently jostled about, in the cause of trying to set foot on an airplane.




When I worked in the industry I’d do anything for an easy life. I processed passengers as quickly as I could before passing them along the metaphorical production line that airports personify. Time passed quicker. You attracted less grief. I couldn’t understand anyone who consciously made things difficult. I worked for a time on a desk contracted to a Middle Eastern airline in close proximity to a South East Asian carrier’s check-in area. One early afternoon two of the latter’s supervisors were discussing that morning’s figures. Agent X had checked in 180 passengers, Y had checked in 12. The supervisors were understandably baffled. I wasn’t. I’d spotted Y throughout the morning, standing in an elevated position behind check-in, frequently looking about, as though seeking assistance. There was little urgency about them. They weren’t new recruits either.

Of course some situations couldn’t be rectified with a quiet word. Like weather, technical delays, misconnections, or over bookings. For me, if you were calm, sympathetic, honest, you could evade most potentially hostile situations. You could go for months without any confrontation at all. Then there were days when all hell seemed to break loose at once. It was and is the nature of the airline business. Passenger numbers being what they are at Heathrow, you’d meet a couple hundred people on an average day, so on the balance of things the odd confrontation was inevitable. That said, grief seemed to gravitate towards certain employees. Others got little or none. Some staff took grief personally. Others let it go over their heads. One or two were frequently left in tears. Occasionally situations were serious enough to warrant calling the police. Staff could invite grief upon themselves too. By their tone. Their abruptness. The pressure of the job got to people, but you didn’t like to see workmates lose their cool. They gained little by it. I had close friends whose body language read, ‘Go to the next desk!’ I witnessed staff raging in customers’ faces, others increasingly frustrated, quoting cryptic airline jargon over, in a bid to explain a delay, then balking at a customer’s reaction. I wasn’t a model employee by any means, and towards the end of my career I wasn’t as patient as I used to be. And yet in my 11 years there was only a couple of heated instances I can still recall.

No, for me, being polite required less energy than being hostile.

If you want to read more, then I recommend to check out my other articles on working at an airport and life as an airline employee.

It might look easy but it is hard work dealing with people in sometimes stressful and pressed situations at an airport. Comments or questions about working at an airport? Please share them via email, in the comments below, on TwitterFacebook or Google+.

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