Life on The Ramp

Recently, WorldTravelReport conducted an interview with an airline gate agent, and you can check out that story here Now we have conducted an interview with an airline ramp agent named Chris C. to find out all of the ins and outs of ramp life. Chris works for Delta Airlines at the airline's largest hub, which is at the Atlanta-Hartsfield Jackson International Airport. Atlanta also happens to be the world's busiest airport, so it can be challenging working there, but Chris absolutely loves it, and here’s why.  

The first question we asked Chris was why he wanted to be a ramper and why he wanted to work for Delta. He said that he wanted to work for Delta because the company treats its employees exceptionally well in every aspect. From high starting wages at over $14 an hour to amazing benefits including travel privileges, health insurance, and even auto insurance, among other things for. Chris has been with the airline just shy of a year now as a “Ready Reserve” employee, which means he can only work a maximum of 4 days a week at 5 hours per day and 1,400 hours per year. This is an excellent job for someone who is in school or needs to have a part-time job. An interesting fact about the airline is that the work year begins and ends in October, so if you are hired close to that time, you can pick up a lot of overtime shifts without having to worry about going over your yearly limit. With that being said, you can move up to a full-time position over a short period of time at the airline and gain the full amount of benefit other than just flight privileges.  

Delta flies out of all seven concourses in Atlanta and has nearly 1,000 daily departures, so we were interested in finding out if a ramp agent works out of all of the concourses or gets selected for certain ones. Chris told us that every six months or so, employees get a bid sheet that allows them to bid and pick which concourse they want to work out of. The concourses can be split up into multiple sections like concourse B has B North and B South. When you go through initial training, the oldest person usually gets first pick at which terminal they want first, and the youngest tends to be last, but that begins to change the longer you work for the airline. The longer you are there, the higher your seniority becomes and the more options you have. Shifts are also assigned by off days. Everything can be seen and selected through an airline employee online system and on the system, you can even choose to change your role if it is available. You can move to cargo services, become a manager, change to a driver, or even move to the mailroom among a bunch of others. The Ready Reserve employees have their own section on the site.   

I also wanted to find out what Chris’ favorite and least favorite parts of working on the ramp are. Now one thing to note is that Chris is a complete and total AvGeek, and his favorite part is working the different aircraft types, especially the McDonell-Douglas MD-88's and 90’s or “Mad Dogs” to AvGeeks. Besides the fact that he loves that aircraft type, he said the MD series aircraft are great for rampers in many ways. First off, since the engines are tail-mounted, ramp agents do not have to worry about being hurt by the jet blast that comes from the engines when chocking the plane in. Next, the aircraft is very well-balanced and can accommodate a lot of bags, and you can put bags in any of the six cargo bins below the aircraft. His least favorite part is dealing with the weather. When it is really cold or extremely rainy, it can take a toll on ramp agents. He said that when the weather gets below 36 degrees, it can become uncomfortable to be outside during your entire shift. To prepare for this, he said rampers need to get ready by going on the company store website, which uses Land’s End clothing and buying winter weather gear. Delta does give employees their first pair of uniforms and provides each employee with monetary credits to use at Land’s End for additional clothing.  

Next, we asked Chris what the transfer process is like for an employee if they want to switch cities and move to a different airport. He said that the airport needs to have lines available before you can transfer, but transferring to and between bigger stations such as hubs and focus cities are easier to do usually. Another thing we wanted to know from Chris is what the most significant thing he has learned from working for the airline on the ramp for nearly a year was. To him, this was learning about how the airline works and knowing that he can’t always prevent delays, especially the ones that occur due to weather, mechanical issues, or crew scheduling. He also has much more respect for all the Delta employees because they genuinely do care about the airline and the customers, and most importantly, they take safety seriously.   

One of the most interesting questions we asked Chris was what the process is like for an airplane to arrive, be serviced, and then depart again as a ramp agent. The scenario we gave him was an MD-88 coming in from Chicago-O'Hare airport with 200 bags on board and is then going out to Augusta, GA, with just 45 minutes scheduled on the ground in Atlanta. The very first things that happens is Chris looks at his schedule for the day of which plane and flights are coming to the gate he is working, throughout the day and shift, this can change, however, due to gate swaps. He can look on a device and see what the loads are for the inbound and outbound. Then, he is out at the gate 10 minutes prior to the aircraft arrival. After that, the ALA, which is the lead person for the flight, will make sure the docking system is working at for the gate. Two wing walkers will be deployed on each side of the gate to help marshal in the arriving aircraft. Once the aircraft is parked at the gate, the ramp agents will immediately chock the plane, which is putting rubber stops behind the landing gear and put cones around the wingtips. Then the ALA will plug in the GPU so the pilots can switch off the APU to save fuel. Then the air will be hooked up to the plane to keep it cool, followed by the ALA filling up the water if the tank is below ¾ full. Then the rampers will pull up the ground service equipment and begin unloading the inbound bags. It only takes about 10 minutes to get everything done. Now a lot of you might be wondering what happens to your bags during a layover at an airport or how they gate from the plane to baggage claim, and Chris was able to dissect this process down for us. With Delta’s system, while the rampers are unloading the aircraft drivers will pull up to take the bags to different places. The first driver takes the local bags to the baggage claim as Delta guarantees all checked bags to be at the claim within 20 minutes of arrival. Then the bag room driver pulls up and takes all of the “cold” transfer bags to the bag room for sorting. Cold transfers are connections over 45 minutes or more in Atlanta. Then the driver for the “hot” transfers comes up and takes any bags with less than 45 minutes for domestic connections and less than 1 hour for international connections and drives the bags straight to the next departing gate. After that process is complete, the aircraft is reloaded up with new bags and is prepared for departure, then pushed back with the same crew.  

Overall, Chris really loves his job and would love to work for Delta long into the future in different roles within the company. You can really see how much he loves his job and how much responsibility he has while working on the ramp. Chris truly finds his job to be super fun and enjoyable, which is great because if you love what you do, it is never work. Thank you, Chris, for allowing us at WorldTravelReport to learn more and write about your position as a ramp agent!  


-Brandon Aronoff  

WorldTravelReport- Thoughts That Fly...