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Airline Baggage and Freight Handler Job Description, Career as an Airline Baggage and Freight Handler, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training High school

Salary Median—$21,570 per year

Employment Outlook Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Airline baggage and freight handlers take care of the freight and luggage that passes through airports. Freight handlers must sometimes weigh the freight and prepare the shipping orders before the freight is put on the plane. Baggage handlers take luggage off planes that have landed and put baggage on planes that are about to take off.

To unload luggage, the handlers set up a conveyor belt that leads from the cargo hold of the plane to a baggage trailer. One of the handlers climbs into the plane and sorts out the baggage. Each piece of luggage has been tagged to show where it is going, so the handler can tell quickly which pieces of luggage should be sent down the conveyor to the trailer and which pieces should stay on the plane until it reaches the next airport.

The baggage trailers, which are attached to a jeep, are driven to the air terminal, where the baggage is placed on another conveyor belt that carries the luggage inside the terminal. In the meantime, handlers are busy putting new baggage onto the plane.

Luggage is not handled piece by piece on every plane, however. On larger planes both the baggage and the freight are loaded into huge containers. Each container holds baggage or freight that is going to the same destination. Handlers use machines to move the heavy containers.

Education and Training Requirements

Most employers prefer to hire applicants with high school diplomas or the equivalent. Very little training is necessary to become airline baggage and

Airline baggage and freight handlers take luggage off planes and deliver it to the terminal using special jeeps that tow long strings of trailers. (© Robert Maass/Corbis.)

freight handlers. Beginning workers learn on the job from experienced workers and supervisors.

Getting the Job

Job seekers can apply directly to the employment offices of the airlines. Applications are usually accepted in person, online, or by mail. Airline Web sites and the Air Transport Association of America can provide information about application procedures.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Baggage and freight handlers may advance to some airline managerial jobs. Additional education may be needed to advance in this field.

Employment of baggage and freight handlers is expected to increase about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2014. Turnover in this field is relatively high. However, jobs in the airline industry are affected by the general state of the economy. Airlines may lay off workers during economic recessions.

Working Conditions

Because airplanes arrive and depart around the clock, baggage handlers work in shifts. Night, weekend, and holiday work may be necessary. Handlers must be agile and strong, because transfer of luggage must be made quickly and some bags are heavy. Handlers work outdoors in all kinds of weather.

Earnings and Benefits

Salaries vary depending on the level of experience. In 2004 the median salary for all baggage handlers was $21,570 per year. Supervisors earned an average salary of $27,880 per year.

Where to Go for More Information

Air Transport Association of America
1301 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Ste. 1100
Washington, DC 20004-1707
(202) 626-4000

Transport Workers Union of America
1700 Broadway
New York, NY 10019
(212) 259-4900

Benefits include medical insurance and paid vacations and holidays. Some handlers earn retirement benefits as well. Many airline baggage and freight handlers belong to labor unions.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesTransportation & Logistics