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A week of the life of a ramp rat...

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Ramp Rat: A person who works on the airport ramp, servicing planes or handling bags in the bag sort areas.I work as a Ramp Agent for SkyWest Airlines aka United Express, at Denver Int'l. I have been here for over a year, and wanted to share my daily experience since I know many of you are curious about what its like to work for an airline.Thursday:First day back to work after a relaxing "weekend" with friends and at home. I drive to work via Pena Blvd, the "airport road" leading to Denver Int'l airport. The employee parking lots are near the terminal, of which there are two: Airside and Landside. Airside shuttle buses go to bus stops at the concourses themselves, on the ramp. Landside buses take you to the main terminal.Just like every other day for the past year, I park Airside, along with most other Unitedgo through an employee security gate, and get on the bus which takes me to Concourse B (we commonly refer to it as B-Con).I get off at the first stop, which is located between Gate B46 and B48 and walk over to the Customer Service (CS) breakroom to clock in. Then it's over to the Ramp breakroom for a briefing at 7am, at which a couple of supervisors will review the previous day's performance, safety issues, and other miscellaneous topics.After briefing, I get my assignment from a paper posted on the wall, listing everyone's station for a day. Today I am assigned to MU49.Underneath the Concourse, there are a number of steel baggage belts (I believe there are 18 of them all along the B-Con, with 4 or 5 more that are not in use). These are called Make-up belts (MU). The working area under the concourse is called the bagwell. Bagwells are split up into sections, with about 4 belts in each section, and a total of 6 sections with one being inactive. Between each section is a tunnel which allows us quick access to other sides of the concourse without having to go through the bagwells to get to the other side.Each belt has a number of assigned cities, so their responsility is to organize baggage carts for each particular flight that is assigned to their belt, and to take the carts out to the plane at either a "deadline" time of 40 minutes before a flight, or when the ramp guys working the flight call for the bags to be delivered earlier.So today I will be receiving bags, loading them onto apppropriate carts for the flights they belong to, and shortly before the flight leaves, I take the cart out to them so they can load the bags on the flight.When I take carts out to their flight, I write the flight down on a whiteboard that all the MU belts have just for that reason. It includes city, flight number, gate number, plane number, and departure time.Its not a bad place to work... can be very busy at times but at least you're out of the elements.Friday: After clocking in, I see that my assignment is TOB runner. TOB stands for Transfer Online Bags. A TOB runner is a driver that is responsible for meeting a flight as it arrives at the gate, picking up bags that are transferring onto another flight, and taking them to their respective gates, or if there is enough time between flights(say, more than an hour), take them to the MU belts to let the bagwell guys load them on the flight carts.TOB's are the ones that you will see pulling up to a plane, dropping a couple of bags, and leaving.This assignment is one of my favorites.I look for my assigned tug, and after finding it, I give it a daily morning check. After clearing the tug for use, I go to the "bubble", which is a room/cage inside the Ramp Breakroom with a window, and is a center of operations for local ops (Baggage runners get assignments here, and a lot of localized issues are run from this office). I get my first TOB assignment, which lists all the bags I will get by city, how many of each, time of departure for all the connecting flights, and their MU belt locations and/or gates. It also tells me the info for the arriving flight that I am meeting to take bags off of that flight.I pre-plan my route according to connection times and locations of where the bags need to go, make notes on the paper for quick reference, and I head out to meet the flight.During unloading of the plane, I will load my baggage cart in a systematic way so when I drive along my route and make my stops, all the bags are "up front and center" and I know where everything is, with all the baggage handles facing the side of the cart I know I will be unloading from. It only takes me a few minutes to load this way but it goes a long way with making a stress-less and quicker run. One pet peeve of many runners is to be stuck behind a guy who threw all of his bags on his cart without sorting them out, and ends up spending many minutes searching his cart for his bags, causing a backup in traffic behind him.I start my run, which begins with a fast drive to all the flights that have an hour or less between the connecting flight, then I start going into the bagwells and dropping off bags on their appropriate belts, and sometimes that will involve taking bags out to the gate if the MU belt has already sent the cart for that flight out.Then I go back to the bubble and report my run has been completed, at which time they will assign me another flight or have me wait until another flight is available.This job usually involves a lot of downtime so it can be one of the more relaxing jobs... it can be a royal pain too, on super busy holiday days.Saturday: I have been sent down to the Mod today, often lovingly referred to as the Dungeon. The Mod is located below the main terminal, in the basement. Their job is to receive bags when passengers check in. (We are the first people to handle your bag when you see the CS put your bag on that belt behind the check-in counter). Our operation goes like this:We have 4 "trains", which are tugs with 3 baggage carts in tow, so that means we have a total of 4 tugs and 12 carts, split up into 4 trains. We load the first two trains, with bags being sorted in a very specific way on each cart, according to cities. Certain cities will go in a certain place on a certain cart facing a certain way etc etc. Every 15 minutes (20 minutes in the evening) we send up those two trains. They drive out of the mod area, down into a tunnel which stretches from the main terminal all the way to Concourse C, and is about 3/4 of a mile long, with exits at every concourse. It is a half a mile drive to B-Con, where the Mod trains will exit, and proceed to their respective bagwell (each train only goes to one bagwell to save time), and stops at each belt. This is why we load them specifically: we unload onto each belt from the same cart every single time, and the handles are facing their belt, so basically when you get off the tug and start unloading, you don't even have to look at the bags, you know everything on that cart belongs on the belt, and results in an immensely faster unloading time. While this is going on, the other two trains back in the Mod are being loaded. When the other two Mod trains return from their run, the two trains that have been loaded up make their run.... wash rinse and repeat. Its an ongoing cycle that lasts from 630 am to about 830 or 9pm, nonstop. The runs average about a mile roundtrip and take 15 minutes on average, 20 if they are a slow driver/unloader.Mod trains are often met with groans and gripes, although almost always in a lighthearted way, because the green painted Mod trains are the bearer of bad news. Very often the bulk of the bagwell's workload comes from the Mod.Sunday:I got a ramp assignment. We are assigned a pair of gates, usually, sometimes three. The day starts with the Lead getting our equipment box, which contains a scanner, marshalling wands (bright orange sticks and light wands), CLR (Cargo Load Report) papers, headsets, and a radio, as well as a few other miscellaneous bits of equipment. We then get printouts of the day's flights for everyone on the team, and then go out to meet our first flight of the day. Operations will call out the flight being in range, then on the ground, which is our cue that we need to be at the gate and waiting to receive the flight.(This example is referring to the CRJ-700)One person goes out onto the Outer VSR (Vehicle Service Road) to stop all traffic on the road and serve as a wingwalker, and the other will marshall the plane into the gate using the wands. Upon the plane stopping, the marshaller will chock the nose gear of the aircraft and inform the captain that it has been chocked, at which point the main cabin door will swing open. A ramper will then disengage a couple of pins on the handrails for the stairs, which then lowers the handrails to clear the way for the jetbridge. The bridge would otherwise hit the handrails.Once the bridge has hooked up to the plane, we usually connect ground power via a door on the right side of the plane. Confirm a green light on the panel inside the door, then confirm with the pilots that they have power.The forward cargo bin is opened to unload carryon bags, and a ramper drives the beltloader up to the rear cargo bin and begins unloading. The bags are basically sorted/separated for TOB runners and City runners.All bags must be scanned coming on and off the plane.Then, if the bagwell did their job, we have the cart with the outgoing flight's bags waiting for us. We pull that cart up close to the plane, and start scanning/loading those bags.Working in the pit (the cargo pit) can be a very intense and grueling, although relatively short, experience. You are expected to load bags in a particular way for a couple of reasons... its faster, more efficient, and it prevents shifting of the bags. You also can fit more bags, which very often is an issue... you need to be sure you pack it tight every time. Loading a constant stream of 30-75 pound baggage is probably the hardest work we do around here. We also load them fast and neatly.After loading, we fill out the CLR, which reports to the captian how many bags we have, how many heavy bags, who's responsible for loading the plane, etc.We then wait for any bags that might be on tight connections, then close up the rear pit and pull away the beltloader. We also, at this time, retrieve all carryon bags, strollers, etc and load them into the forward cargo bin, and button that up. The guy who will push back does a walk-around of the aircraft, clears the area for pushback, and removes the safety cones around the plane.Usually the pushback tug and pushback bar has already been hooked up... if not, this is about the time they set it up.The jetbridge will pull back, and a ramper will raise the handrails on the stairs, insert the pins, and clear the flight attendant to close the door. Ground power is disconnected, and chocks are removed. We then have guy go back out onto the VSR and he and the pushback driver will wait for the pilots to give us the "brakes released" signal.Once we receive the "breaks releases", the pushback will verify with the wingwalker that he is going to push, then pushback begins. Here at DIA, about half our gates are a straight push, and the other half are push-turns.The CRJ-200 and -700 vary in one area when it comes to pushbacks. The -200 has torque links that must be disconnected via pins... pull the pins, and the lower part of the torque link drops free and the nosewheel can turn freely. When the tug stops the pushback and the towbar is disconnected, the -200 needs the links to be connected again, otherwise the plane will not have the ability to steer. The -700 does not have this additional step.The torque links have been a factor in a bad damage incident recently. Procedure states that you only disconnect torque links while the plane is connected to a pushback tug. Why? Here's what happened:A -200 was sitting overnight at TUS. They rampers released the links without hooking up a towbar, and the chocks were not up against the nosewheels. It also did not have main wheel chocks as overnight aircraft are required to have. Winds were strong enough that night that, because of the "loose" nosegear and the chocks not being up against the tire, the plane weathervaned and swung itself into a tug that was parked nearby, causing many thousands of dollars of damage to the plane.Monday:My "Friday", I'm glad to see that I've been set up to do City runs today.City is very similar to TOB, in the sense that they get a flight assignment and they take bags from that flight. The difference is that City bags go "downstairs" to the terminal. The city belts are in the same general area as the Mod.These are bags for passengers that are not transferring through denver but rather Denver is their final destination and want to pick up their bags. We punch in the flight number so it will show up on the board up in the terminal, the one that lists all the flights bags that have arrived. Send them up on the belt, then head over to a different spot to unload odd-size items and send them up via an elevator.Then it's a drive back to B-Con for my next assignment.This job is so easy and quick, and City runners get the best tugs... its a nice assignment. Its also very limited so only a few people get them.That's how most of the main jobs go around here... here's some of the other ones:CTX: Both City and TOB runners will get these... these international bags come off the plane and they go down to the Dungeon to get sent through a quick screening before getting recycled back into the system and sent up to the terminal or to their connecting flights.Interline: Also called TIB (Transfer Interline Bags). These bags are connecting onto our flights via other airlines (Ex. SEA-DEN on Alaska Airlines then connecting to DEN-FAR on United Express). This job involves going to an interline "station", where all the airlines have big bins to pick up their bags from, so we go to the SkyWest bin and get all of our bags, and from that point, we become similar to TOB, dropping bags off at MU belts and gates.Oddsize: Oddsize runners do the same thing as Mod runners, except we pick up odd sized items from a special belt and take them to the bagwell.BSO: BSO's are the guys we turn to when we can't figure out where to take bags, when we have lost bags, bags with no tags, bags that missed their flights and need another connecting flight, etc.Blue Angel: Responsible for draining the lavs, as well as filling the water tanks on aircraft.Hot Runner:This runner goes out and picks up bags from flights that have very tight connections, usually less than 30 minutes between arrival flight and departure time for the connection. They also roam the ramp for bags that have fallen off other carts.So there you go... hope that gives you a good insight into the inner workings of a major regional airline. United operates much the same way, with some differences which I won't get into. Hope you enjoyed the story!

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Thanks Jeff!How you been? You gonna come through Denver anytime soon? I keep thinking its too bad you don't still need sounds and pics for OSS... I could get all the interior and exterior sounds and photos you wanted lol.

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I'll be leaving for FAT around DEC 21st through the 28th. Not sure though if I'm flying UAL through DEN or USA through PHX.If I'm on a UAL flight, I'll look you up for sure if you're not already planning on being in FAT by the time I get there.You could call Mo in ST George and say hey for me though if you think about it...LOL

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I'm glad to see you appear to take pride in your work.That's a rare quality these days.Bryan

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Hi there,I'm a fa for Skywest based in Chicago. I have this fantasy that it would be fun to work as a 'ramper'. I think I've seen female skywest ramper's in Salt Lake,... is it truly a boy's playground?I love being gone, but was wondering if your schedule is as flexible as ours. How many hours do you work?I appreicate any feedback.Best,M

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Jim,Didn't you know? All missing bags are launched over to Saturn... after all, what do you think Saturn's rings are made of? Rocks??

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We have a LOT of female rampers here in Denver... it is NOT a boys playground, but you do need to be able to "play" as the work can suck sometimes. Here in Denver, we have VERY flexible hours... you can pretty much trade shifts as much as you want, sign off your shift for "free" days off, pick up as many open shifts as you want, etc.I usually work on average of 50 hours a week, sometimes up to 60, with 10-15 of those hours being overtime, sometimes more.

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Well, I must be a slacker. Sometimes I only work 50 hours for the entire month :)Could I get away with 10 or so hours a week?

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>Well, it came down in Detroit this afternoon. Just waiting>for someone to deliver it!>>Jim>Don't feel bad Jim, Iberia lost one of my friends bags one time--and the bag ended up in AUSTRALIA.RhettAMD 3700+ (@2585 mhz), eVGA 7800GT 256 (Guru3D 93.71), ASUS A8N-E, PC Power 510 SLI, 2gb Corsair XMS 3-3-3-8 (1T), WD 150 gig 10000rpm Raptor, WD 250gig 7200rpm SATA2, Seagate 120gb 5400 rpm external HD, CoolerMaster Praetorian

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This is a great read, thanks for posting.I have been to KDEN many many times visiting friends in DEN, and this really gives me a perspective on the ops there. As I fly out of STL I usually fly Frontier (United affiliates don't do much at STL). You have really neat airport there, although I miss old yards like Stapleton.Question: Do they ever WASH or CLEAN those white tent mountains on the roof of the terminal? Every time I go there, they look very...white...RhettAMD 3700+ (@2585 mhz), eVGA 7800GT 256 (Guru3D 93.71), ASUS A8N-E, PC Power 510 SLI, 2gb Corsair XMS 3-3-3-8 (1T), WD 150 gig 10000rpm Raptor, WD 250gig 7200rpm SATA2, Seagate 120gb 5400 rpm external HD, CoolerMaster Praetorian

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