How You Can Become an Airline Ramp Agent

Ramp agent Vince Divon retrieves gate-checked items after the Allegiant Air jet parked at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.
In this Thursday, May 9, 2013, photo, ramp agent Vince Divon retrieves gate-checked items after the Allegiant Air jet parked at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. (David Becker/AP File Photo)

If you've ever taken a commercial airplane flight, you've seen those folks driving, waving signals and walking alongside your plane as it prepares to take off or coasts into the gate. They are ground-support service workers, and the ones you're most likely to see from your window seat are specifically called ramp agents.

What you might not know is that entry-level jobs like these provide a great opportunity to rise in aviation-related careers. You might start off at $8 per hour, according to aviation job resources, but get up to $20 per hour. More importantly, you'll have a chance to work up to management.

"The industry demand for ground-handling companies has been increasing as airlines are outsourcing more and more to companies like ours," said Martin Meador, vice president for employee services at Airport Terminal Services (ATS).

Based in St. Louis, ATS hires ground-support services workers. The company is the largest American privately held ground handler with approximately 2,000 employees in 34 cities.

"We've doubled in size over the last five years and are continuing to grow," Meador said. "This creates lots of job and career opportunities for many individuals."

Some top officials at ATS started off as part-time ramp agents. A ramp agent's responsibilities include: marshaling in the aircraft; offloading and onloading the baggage and cargo, cleaning the aircraft, servicing the lavatories and pushing the aircraft back.

The work requires constant exposure to outdoor conditions and loud jet engines, resulting in high turnover. According to Ground Support magazine, less than 40% of new workers stay on after the first few months.

That means companies are offering incentives to keep workers on. Meador notes that ATS provides merit increases every six months.

"In addition, for those employees who want more responsibility and show leadership qualities, there are promotional opportunities to a lead ramp agent, supervisor and manager," he said.

The Job's Requirements

To apply for a ramp agent position, you must be a high school graduate (or equivalent), 18 years of age or older and prepared to work in a physically demanding position outdoors. While previous experience is not always necessary, ramp agents should understand and practice safety, enjoy working outside regardless of temperature, enjoy physically demanding duties and be a team player.

Because ground ramp positions require access to the airport's secured areas, you should be prepared to have your education, work history and criminal history scrutinized.

"A criminal history records check will be run through the FBI as well as other felony and misdemeanor checks directly through the courts themselves," Meador said.

As a ramp agent, you will be handling individual pieces of baggage or cargo packages that can weigh between 70-100 pounds each. To ward off injury, physical fitness and use of proper body mechanics are key.

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