Working AT the Airport vs Working FOR the Airport

E7831688-6818-4CEE-A322-9DFBAE7A72CCI saw a video on twitter recently of a baggage handler behaving badly. The person who tweeted the video tagged the airport to complain. Other people chimed in as well, demanding that the airport take action. The problem is, baggage handlers are not actually airport employees. They work AT the airport but they don’t work FOR the airport. The media often makes the same mistake. More than once I’ve come across a headline proclaiming “Airport Employees Accused of…” only to learn that the people in question are employed by some other company that just happens to do business out of the airport.

Unfortunately, if you don’t work in aviation it can be difficult to tell who works for whom. And even if you do work in aviation, the differences aren’t always clear. Further complicating matters is the fact that every airport is different. However, I think my airport is a fairly good example of how things are run at most airports in the US, so here’s how it is for us.

c2fbef0b-de48-4cf3-9b97-baa34ac049c0.jpegTicket Counter and Gate Agents

The ticket counter and gate agents at my airport are either airline employees, or they work for a company that has been subcontracted by the airline. These folks are almost never airport employees. I say “almost” because there are a few exceptions.  For example, some low cost and charter carriers that operate out of secondary airports will contract with the airport to use airport employees to handle ticketing. However, the vast majority of the time these employees are the responsibility of the airline.

Ground Agents/Baggage Handlers

Once again, these are airline employees, or they work for a subcontractor hired by the airline (with the same exceptions outline above). 

TSA/Security Personnel 

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U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

TSA agents are part of the Department of Homeland Security. They work at airports, but they are hired, trained and supervised independently by the US government. That said, some airports do have their own security teams and/or subcontract with another provider. At my airport we have both TSA agents who handle passenger screening and a private company which manages traffic flow and provides additional security support. 

Restaurant and Store Associates:

All the restaurants and stores at the airport are run by independent companies. These companies hire, train and supervise their own employees. 

36439472_UnknownCustodians and Building Maintenance:

Custodians and building maintenance personnel are airport employees. However, certain system specialists are independent contractors. For example, we bring in employees from outside companies to manage things like the baggage systems and the escalators and elevators.

Airport Police:

In airports that are run by cities, the airport police are usually city police. At my airport, however, the police are airport employees. So are the K9s. 

36438784_UnknownYou may be wondering: don’t airports have ANY authority over the people who work there, even if they work for another company? Well… yes. Sort-of. The airport is responsible for issuing SIDA (Secure Identification Area) badges to anyone who works in secure areas, regardless of who their employer is. If someone violates SIDA rules then the airport can revoke their clearance, effectively preventing them from being able to work. And, of course, anyone breaking the law can expect to spend some quality time with the airport police.

So, who do you contact if you have a complaint or concern while traveling through an airport? Well, if it relates directly to your flight (ticketing, baggage, delays, cancellations, etc.) your best bet is to contact the airline. If it relates to the building (leaks, trash, etc) then contact the airport. However, any time you are in doubt, go ahead and contact the airport. If they cannot help you directly, they can connect you to appropriate party to resolve the issue and get you on your way.  Happy travels!

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Going Where?

July to Oct 2015 iphone pics 2703It may come as a surprise to learn that I haven’t flown commercially in nearly a decade. However, many years ago I worked for a company that required me to travel several times each year. During that time I had a couple of wacky adventures that I look back on with amusement.

Brown Paper Package

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Photo by Marcella, Creative Commons License

One trip involved a flight with a coworker I’ll call Jay. We weren’t scheduled to depart until later in the day, so we worked in the office that morning and planned to head to the airport in the afternoon. As we were preparing to walk out the door another coworker, Mary, appeared and handed us each a package. “Here! I made you guys care packages for the flight!”

I found myself holding a package that had been crudely wrapped in plain brown paper with the words: “DO NOT OPEN UNTIL PLANE IS IN THE AIR!” written on the top in bold, black marker. Um… What the hell? Mary was standing there, smiling from ear to ear. Not sure what else to do, Jay and I thanked her and hurried to catch our ride.

suspicious_mail_or_packages_posterOnce in the car I looked at Jay.

Me: Well, either she’s very sweet or she’s trying to get us arrested.

Jay: Did she just give us bombs?

Me: I don’t know, but I’m sure as hell not taking this to the airport, let alone onto the plane!

Jay: Me either!

Me: I suppose we should open them…

Jay: You first!

I cautiously opened my package to discover snacks, playing cards and other small trinkets. Apparently Mary had good intentions. Then again, maybe she figured the fastest way to a promotion was to get her coworkers indefinitely detained!

The Unknown Destination

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Photo by Adrian Arpingstone, Creative Commons License

In the days before 9/11 when air travel was a wee bit more relaxed, I flew to Jamaica to attend the annual company conference. In those days you could fly to most Caribbean destinations using a driver’s license for ID. However, HR insisted every attendee have a passport, which was collected from us immediately upon arrival at the conference. I figured they were using them to cross-check attendance or something.

Normally at these events we attended meetings during the day, and social events in the evening. However, as I reviewed the schedule I noticed that we had meetings Friday morning and then nothing until Saturday afternoon. This was definitely unusual.

Jamaica

Photo by RickPilot, Creative Commons License

At the conclusion of the Friday morning meetings we were gathered together, handed plane tickets and placed onto buses. An examination of the ticket revealed something strange – there was no destination! When we arrived at the airport we ran to the monitors to check our flight information. The destination for our flight listed as Dominica. But a second later the destination changed to the Turks and Caicos. Then it changed again to Cuba. It continued to display various destinations while we waited.

Finally we were called to board. The gate agents smiled knowingly and played along saying, “Have fun in Havana!” “Enjoy St. Lucia!” We walked out onto the ramp to find two Boeing 737s waiting for us. After we were seated and the cabin crew had completed the safety briefing, the Captain got on the PA. I thought we would FINALLY learn our destination. Wrong! The Captain welcomed us aboard and noted that we had great weather for our flight. He went on to say that he had no clue where we were going so he figured we’d just cruise around at 34,000 feet for a while. Doh!

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Photo by Torsten Maiwald, Creative Commons License

I have to imagine this situation must have been pretty amusing for the crew. I mean how often do commercial pilots get to pretend like they have no idea where they are going? (Actually, don’t answer that!) The flight attendants certainly thought the whole situation was funny! Soon after the Captain’s announcement we took off and a few minutes later found ourselves cruising above the Caribbean with NO IDEA where we were going. So, where do you think we ended up? Go ahead, take a guess!

 

 


 

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Photo by BeanZull, Creative Commons License

If you guessed Panama then congratulations – you’re a winner! As we taxied to the gate it dawned on me that I didn’t have my passport. In fact, none of us had our passports. Uh-oh! Fortunately somebody  must have done some creative “negotiating” because we exited the airplanes and marched right through the terminal – no customs, no immigration, nothing.

panama_canal_gatun_locks

Photo by Stan Shebs, Creative Commons License

We made our way out front where we got into open-air buses, each with a mariachi band in the back. They took us down to the canal where we boarded a party boat. We were wined and dined for several hours as we cruised up and down the canal. We returned to Jamaica in the wee hours of the morning with serious hangovers and one heck of a story to tell.

So, when will I fly commercially again? I don’t know, although I have a couple potential trips in mind. However, I’m pretty sure I will never get to jet off into the unknown again, which is why I cherish the Panama stamp in my passport. (Nope – I have no clue how it got there!)

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