I have held many different jobs in different industries over the course of my life, but nothing compares to the joy and satisfaction of working for an airline.
Just to give you a little history, I have been an airline enthusiast since I was a young child. I caught the airline bug while traveling from the U.S. to Poland in the early 90’s. Over the course of my youth into adulthood, many new interests came and went, but that love of commercial aviation always remained.
I had always dreamed of working at the airport, and even volunteered for a few years with the airport volunteer program by helping and assisting passengers arriving from international flights. It was a great feeling helping others, yet I didn’t feel fully satisfied, as my security clearance didn’t allow me to do much, and I wasn’t getting paid. Once I began college, I stopped volunteering and put my airport dreams on hold.
During my final year of college, I lucked out and landed a job with a charter airline at the airport. I was thrilled! I was officially a gate agent and couldn’t wait to start working. The airline I worked for was a small charter operation using the Airbus A-320 aircraft. I was told to report to work at 4am the first day, as the first flight left around 7am or 8am. Upon my arrival, I was given a basic run down of what I would be doing that day, which consisted of watching everyone else and helping put bags on the conveyor belt. It was mindless work, but I didn’t care. I got to work around airplanes and get paid!
As the days went on, I learned more and more about how their airline operated. There were only two flights a day. One outbound in the morning, and one inbound later at night. Since there are no connecting flights, the task of checking passengers in was rather easy. Simply compare their passports to the printout, check off their name, and then check off the seats on the airplane map.
Once all passengers had checked in, we would proceed to the gate area, and begin the boarding announcements. Once all passengers were on the plane, and the door closed, our job was now done for the next 10 hours or so… That’s right. 10 hours of getting paid to sit around and do NOTHING. While that seems ideal in today’s age of YouTube videos, Amazon Prime, and Netflix, we didn’t have such luxuries back in the mid 2000’s. Those hours were spent talking, sleeping, walking around the airport, and texting people on an keyboard phone that required you to hit the number “2” three times for the letter “C”.
While I enjoyed this job very much and was excited at the potential to travel for free soon, my hopes were dashed as the airline lost the charter contract, and we were all let go. This was a devastating blow to my airline pursuits, but it was only a matter of time until I was back again.
Upon graduating college with a degree in business, I felt as if the whole world was mine for the taking. I was a young, enthusiastic, wide eyed graduate that was ready to take on the business world. Unfortunately, the local and national economy was not ready for me, or anyone else I went to college with. As the days turned into weeks, then into months, and years, most of my fellow graduates caved in and took the first average salary job that was offered to them. In a bad economy, beggars can’t be choosers. I had attempted a startup internet company, as well as many different types of odds and ends jobs to make ends meet until I landed that “good corporate job”.
One day, luck was on my side, as I received a call back for a job with Continental Airlines as both a ramp agent and gate agent. I was so excited! This wasn’t some small fly by night charter operator, but one of the largest airlines in the country! The next part of their news was even better. I had to fly down to Houston to do paperwork and give a urine sample, then fly back home that night. I was pumped! I hadn’t flown in 2-3 years at this point, and having the opportunity to fly somewhere and back the same day for free was a dream come true!
After my background checks and everything came back clear, I began my work on the ramp. It was an awesome job. We worked on Boeing 737-500’s, ATR’s, Embraer 145’s, and Dash-8’s. We also had the occasional charter flight, which was an old smoky Allegiant Air MD-80. Working the ramp with Continental was a dream come true.
A short while later, I was asked to go down to Houston for a month to learn the gate agent functions. I was so excited for this new adventure. Free hotel, free flights to/from Houston each week, free food, and get paid! Wow.
My training class at Continental was amazing. The instructor was a well respected Continental veteran, and someone we grew very close with. Our class grew close together, and it was fun building friendships with co-workers from as far away as India!
By the time Friday rolled around, I was looking forward to flying back home to see my family. Since we worked for the airline, we could change our ticket or do whatever we wanted for free. Some of the guys in our class would opt to go other places for the weekend instead of home (Florida, Vegas, California). Usually I would arrive home between 9 and 11pm on Friday night, spend Saturday with friends/family, and head back down to Houston on Sunday. The hotel restaurant was good, but after the 3rd week or so, it was getting a little boring. However, I won’t complain about free meals!
As the training wrapped up, I learned more than I could ever imagine about how the airline industry works. My favorite part of training was acing my test of Airport Codes (which I had learned from a young age) and printing fake dummy tickets on Continental ticket stock, which I still have to this day.
On our final day of training, our group arrived back in the classroom from lunch, and the instructor had asked me and another girl in the class from my city to meet in the hallway. His usual smile and laughter had disappeared, and we were met with a look of worry and concern. Once in the hall way, he informed us that the airline lost a large contract at the airport, and they were reducing staff by 50%. We were effectively terminated from Continental Airlines and needed to fly home immediately.
My local friend and I headed back to the hotel, and when the rest of the class returned and heard our upsetting news, they took us out for a night of fun on the town.
The next day we sat together on the flight home, mostly in complete silence the entire way. I just couldn’t believe my awful luck. Twice I had a nice job with an airline, only to have it taken away. However, luck was on our side. As we walked down the jet bridge to enter the airport from the plane, our old manager was standing there with a sad look on his face. He shook our hands and apologized about the staffing cut. Then he told us the good news. “If you guys still want to work for an airline, I will take you down the hall to American Airlines and they will hire you.” And that is exactly what he did. We walked into the supervisors office, he introduced us to our new manager at American Airlines, and after a brief conversation, we were both hired!
We both learned quickly that jobs within an airline aren’t gained by what you know, but WHO you know.
Continue Reading Part 2 for more stories and adventures from my time as a ramp agent with American Airlines.