Readers of this column may have noticed my penchant for recognizing and celebrating the myriad roles our men and women play in the great enterprise that is American Airlines. As you would imagine, it takes a variety of people, performing a multitude of important tasks, cohesively and consistently, to make an airline run well.
You might say I learned that lesson in college, or rather, during the summers and holidays I spent away from school, loading and unloading bags and cargo for one of American’s competitors. It was hard, strenuous work, but I enjoyed being outside, even on those brutally hot Texas days, and doing work that kept me in and around airplanes.
Of course, I had no idea that it was the beginning of a career in the airline business. Since then, I’ve seen just about every airline job there is, up close, and my respect and appreciation for the men and women who work on what we call the ramp has only grown. The nature of the work they do has evolved and is much more complex today than it was way back when.
To illustrate, let me take you through some of what transpires when an aircraft arrives at one of our hubs. An inbound aircraft is met at the gate by a crew of fleet service clerks, but prior to its arrival, the crew chief will look in Sabre, our computer reservations system, to see what will need to be offloaded, and how many bags and pounds of freight must be loaded on the outbound flight. With that information, the crew chief makes assignments and the crew springs into action.
After guiding in and safely parking the arriving airplane — chocking the wheels for safety — the crew unloads bags that have reached their destination and delivers them quickly to the baggage claim area. Luggage connecting to other flights is sorted and transferred to the appropriate departure gate. Cargo and mail also get unloaded and delivered to the freight warehouse or the post office. Outbound cargo and mail get picked up and loaded for the next departure. On an average day, fleet service crews around the world handle more than a quarter-million pieces of luggage, and more than four million pounds of freight and mail!
From your window seat, loading the plane probably looks fairly simple. In reality, though, the crew chief has to make sure that everything gets loaded in accordance with a sophisticated load plan that tracks the weight and location of each item to make sure the aircraft is in balance. Takeoff speeds and wing flap settings are determined by many factors, including the weight of what’s loaded and the distribution of that weight, which determines the plane’s center of gravity.
In a massive hub and spoke operation, quickly getting thousands of bags to the right place in the allotted time isn’t easy. But it’s just part of the job when it comes to getting an airplane turned around and ready to go. Fleet service clerks also clean the cabin for the next departure and hook up external power and pre-conditioned air which heats or cools the cabin as necessary. Other duties include filling the plane’s water tanks, cleaning the windshield as required, emptying the lavatories, and finally, using a tractor to push the airplane off the gate for departure. In cold climates, de-icing may be required, which adds an obviously important duty to the list.
The work done on the ramp by American’s fleet service clerks is critical to meeting our commitments when it comes to both dependability and safety. Like all jobs at American, doing it right requires intelligence, hustle, and teamwork. The action gets intense, and the weather doesn’t always cooperate, but our people work through it all with one goal in mind — satisfying you, and making sure you honor us with your business again and again. On their behalf, I want to thank you for flying with us. Happy traveling!