What Does a Ramp Agent Do?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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.

Ramp agents are trained to drive heavy equipment holding supplies and baggage at an airport.
Ramp agents are trained to drive heavy equipment holding supplies and baggage at an airport.

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.

Ramp agents might learn signaling systems in order to guide planes on the tarmac.
Ramp agents might learn signaling systems in order to guide planes on the tarmac.

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.

A main task of a ramp agent is to load and unload baggage from an airplane.
A main task of a ramp agent is to load and unload baggage from an airplane.

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.

For passenger safety, most airlines require that ramp agents submit to background checks and drug screenings.
For passenger safety, most airlines require that ramp agents submit to background checks and drug screenings.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

Drentel

@Animandel - I agree that the working conditions for ramp agent can be harsh, especially in places where they are working in really cold and windy environments, but this is still a good position for most people who work these jobs. Considering that you don't have to have extensive training or a college degree, the pay for ramp agents is really good at most airlines. You also get benefits and steady employment for the most part.

I know the work isn't glamorous and the routine can get old, but most of us can say the same thing about our jobs.

Animandel

I have a girlfriend whose husband spent 20 years in the United States Air Force and then he decided to retire. He was ready to return to civilian life. His family was living in the southern United States before he retired. Then he and his family moved back to Maryland where he grew up. A friend had gotten him a job as a ramp agent at the airport.

The family planned to make their home in Maryland. After working for a couple of weeks in the dead of winter in the freezing cold, my friend's husband had had enough. He was ready to get out of the cold working conditions. He found a job back in the town they had left, and they moved back as quickly as they could.

Feryll

I see the ramp agents on the ground moving about and directing the planes sometimes when the plane I am on has just landed or is about to take off, but I don't really give much thought to how important their jobs are to passengers. I think the only time most airline passengers thing of ramp agents is when their luggage gets lost or sent to the wrong location.

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