Worst summer job ever: What I learnt from baggage-handling at an airport

If you think your baggage is being taken care of when you wave goodbye to it at check-in, think again... 

Kashmira Gander
Tuesday 24 January 2017 16:03
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Colleagues deliberately throwing suitcases against walls. Staff licking luggage as alcohol from broken bottles leaked through the fabric. Aaron* isn’t sure exactly which moment during a summer as a baggage handler convinced him he hated his work. But he’s resolute that it’s the worst job he’s ever had.

As a ramp agent with a ground handling firm, he was tasked with moving bags on and off commercial flights at a UK airport during the peak season of May to August. And as the two-day training course ended, the prospect of the job already seemed pretty bleak.

“We were taught we were under surveillance at all times and any infraction will be seen,” Aaron says. “But then long-standing baggage handlers told us their favourite stories of former colleagues stealing cigarettes and booze from bags.”

Aaron claims he was told during formal training that speed always trumps consideration for a passenger’s belongings.

Bags were routinely kicked and intentionally thrown against the walls of aircraft holds for “fun” , he told The Independent. “We were taught in training that if a bag breaks or something inside it breaks, it is the fault of the passenger,” Aaron points out.

In the peak summer season, Aaron says he handled between 100 and 120 bags per plane. And if a flight was due to set off again shortly after landing, staff had only 20 minutes to shift the load and save the handling firm from being fined.

According to Aaron, when offloading luggage in order to transport it to the baggage carousel, one worker would pull themselves up into the aircraft's cargo space and throw bags as far as 20 yards to another handler, who stacked them up.

Aside from how luggage is handled, Aaron says that he was most shocked by other members of staff who licked up booze leaking from luggage in the hold; rooted through lingerie in baggage that wasn’t closed properly; and stood beneath aircraft staircases to look up passenger’s skirts as they boarded.

“Baggage handlers are nearly all men, and spend all day discussing sex and football,” Aaron told The Independent. “You spend a lot of the day sitting in the break room waiting for flights, reading the paper or porn, or watching Sky Sports, interspersed with sudden moments of sweaty stress.”

Although it wasn’t the job for him, he learned a lot about how not to pack a suitcase if you want all your belongings in one piece at your destination.

Now, he says he would neither buy cheap luggage that is too flimsy to protect what's inside, nor suitcases that are so expensive they become a target for bored handlers.

“When buying a bag, imagine it being thrown against the wall of the hold. I will only consider a suitcase or bag that is not rigid, and wouldn’t crack or become deformed upon hitting a wall.

“However, it needs some strength of form if you want to keep anything vaguely fragile in one piece.”

To keep any items in your suitcase safe, he suggests placing them in the centre of the bag wrapped in pants and socks. Liquids should be placed in an airtight bag with soft materials such as pyjamas on top. And hide sexy lingerie or private essentials in innocuous clothing, to save it being from fished out of your suitcase.

To those wondering whether it is worth using a lock to secure their suitcase, he says it is always better to be safe than sorry.

“UK baggage handlers have to pass a CRB check but the opportunity to steal items when in the hold is always there,” he warns.

As for buggies, he says be sure to collapse them if you want them back in one piece.

“Baggage handlers' hands get cut up to bits. They will show no love to your pushchair if you need a PhD to collapse it and they catch skin trying to do so.

“If it takes them too much time, they will just chuck them in. And who knows if it will survive.”

*Name has been changed

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