A skycap is a porter who works at an airport, assisting passengers with luggage, wheelchairs and other special needs. Typically, visitors to an airport can identify skycaps by their uniforms, which are often brightly colored or otherwise distinctive so that they stand out. Skycap jobs generally are entry-level positions, with a low rate of pay and minimal possibility for advancement. Some airlines have done away with skycaps altogether, in the interest of reducing costs.
A Service for Travelers
The skycap is the descendant of the redcap, a railway porter. Redcaps were named for their distinctive red hats, which helped them stand out in a crowd so that railway passengers could easily identify them. When commercial airlines became viable, many airlines provided skycap service because people were accustomed to getting assistance from railway porters, and the term “skycap” was coined to describe porters who worked in airports.
Most skycaps stand at the ready near the front doors to the airport, so that they can meet passengers as they arrive. Skycaps usually have access to luggage carts for moving large quantities of luggage around, and they might also assist with wheelchairs, strollers and cumbersome items. In some airports, a skycap might also perform curbside check-ins for flights, allowing passengers to skip the lines at the airline's counter. Skycaps also often answer questions from passengers and family members.
Skycaps traditionally are paid for their services. Although tipping is not required, because skycaps technically are a service provided by the airlines, their rate of pay is usually so low that they are forced to rely heavily on tips. Generally, tips are offered per piece of luggage; in the United States, for example, tips of $1-2 US Dollars per bag are common, with higher tips being offered for extra services or during periods of holiday travel.
In some airports, airlines have tried to prohibit the tipping of skycaps, arguing that the cost of luggage handling is included in the ticket price. Some airlines point out that many travelers do not have local currency or might not have cash readily accessible because they are not expecting to spend money at the airport. Skycaps have spoken out strongly against attempts to ban tipping, arguing that tips are an important part of their earnings, and pointing out that if people want to give tips, they be able to do so.