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A ramp agent assists with loading and unloading at aircraft arrivals and departures. These airline personnel work on the tarmac, also known as the ramp, handling basic aircraft servicing, baggage processing, and customer needs. They need to be able to drive heavy equipment used to move baggage and supplies, and typically must pass a background check for security reasons before they can start work. Compensation and benefits options can depend on the airline and the location.
Loading aircraft can include getting baggage in place, making sure items are arranged in order and complying with special handling instructions. A ramp agent can also service the lavatories on board the aircraft and load potable water supplies. Fueling may be handled by these personnel, unless a third party contractor is responsible. They also walk around the plane to check for any issues, deice the aircraft if necessary, and alert airline staff to concerns about the safety of the aircraft or the personnel.
The ramp agent may guide the plane as it moves away from the gate to get ready for takeoff. This requires knowledge of the signaling systems used at airports, and coordination with airline and airport personnel to prevent collisions and make sure planes take off on time. When planes arrive, the ramp agent performs these duties in reverse, guiding planes into place, securing the plane, and helping ground crews set up jetways or stairs so passengers can disembark.
Airlines may assign ramp agents to specific positions to streamline the turnaround process. Thus an agent might focus on working with baggage, servicing the lavatories, or operating deicing equipment. At smaller airports where fewer planes come in and the airline has reduced staffing needs, it can be more common to share responsibilities and fill in as needed. The ramp agent is more likely to interact directly with passengers, who may board from the tarmac rather than following an elevated jetway where they don’t come into contact with ground crews.
Working conditions can be unpleasant. Ramp agents work in high heat and extreme cold, including snow and heavy rain. Clothing provides some protection, but discomfort can occur in harsh weather. Tarmacs are also noisy, requiring the use of hearing protection to reduce the risk of damage to the ears. They contain fumes and other hazards which can increase the risk of illness, as well as safety threats like moving aircraft and heavy equipment.