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March 27th, 2012 By Brandon Barb | The Morning After | Posted In: Commentary, Culture, Life, Travel

Tales From the Airport: What Travelers Don't See

A former baggage handler's account of the job

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Tags: CVG
originalCVG circa 1970s
The Cincinnati airport is located in another state — I’ll let you decide on how backwards that makes the city. The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport, CVG, was a major hub for Delta Airlines but in the last few years the number of daily flights and employees has dropped. In 2009 the airport laid off close to 900 employees, and I was one of them. I was a baggage handler for two years, and boy do I have some stories which will be gotten to a little later. But first, there is some good news for CVG.

On March 15, DHL announced that $47 million would be invested in a new facility at its CVG hub. This new sorting facility will help meet international customer demands and add close to 300 jobs over the next 12 months. The date given for the facility to be operational is Nov. 2012.

DHL has been thriving compared to the downward spiral that is Delta. DHL has gone from 1,600 jobs to 2,000 in the span of three years and has invested around $105 million in the Cincinnati location since it was established in 2009. Not everything that happens at CVG is bad.

During my two years as a baggage handler I experienced a little bit of everything. From holding on to the wing of a plane to keep in from tipping during a wind storm, to seeing a drunk little person getting taken off a plane in handcuffs, to destroying a few bags. There is more to an airport than what passengers see in the concourses. Have you ever wondered where that guy in the orange vest was going when he disappeared behind a door? Ever thought about how your bag was being handled? Well, hopefully with a few of these stories those questions and more can be answered.

The Weird

During my time as a baggage handler, I saw some incredible things. At the same time, there were weird events that took place. These would occur like lightning; they happened quickly and would never strike the same place twice.

One of those events is about a worker stealing. He wasn’t stealing from the company, but stealing from passengers’ bags, more specifically, female passengers’ bags. As baggage handlers, we would load the bags up into the cargo bins of aircraft. These bins were only big enough for one person, and at times that one person would be in the bin for extended periods of time. Normal workers would write random sayings on the bin walls, or play a game on their phone, but this guy did something different.

When he was up in the cargo bin, he would go through the bags until he found women’s panties — clean or dirty. To show the high caliber of intelligence some of the people at the airport had, he kept all the underwear in his locker at work. There was no attempt to hide anything in his car or house; the underwear was in a bag in the break room. I’m not one to call someone stupid, but he deserves it for this one.

Did he get caught? Hell yes, he got caught. When our supervisors went through his locker, sure enough, there was the underwear. His explanation of it is comical on its own. “It’s for my girlfriend.” His girlfriend, if he had one, fluctuated in weight a lot because the underwear was different sizes. This doesn’t reflect on every baggage handler but it shows there are some strange people touching your bags.

The Disgusting

The job of a baggage handler is a dirty one. I came in contact with bags full of unwashed clothes, shook hands with people who don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom and cleaned out the restrooms. Ever wondered who cleans out the lavatory on an aircraft? Well, at CVG, that job falls to the baggage handlers. This task is worthy enough for Mike Rowe and then some.

When an aircraft needed to have its bathroom dumped, a handler would drive up next to the plane in the "lav cart." Imagine a blue electric cart that has never been washed, excrement has been spilled on it, it has a tank full of shit and the sun has been cooking its contents all day. I felt like I should have been wearing a Hazmat suit whenever I was around the damn thing. It made me throw up a little every time I was in the driver’s seat.

When a baggage handler dumps a lav, he or she drives the cart up to the aircraft, hooks up the foulest smelling hose to the aircraft and pulls a lever. What comes out, I’ll leave for the imagination. Once all the lovely contents are inside the cart, the “blue juice” is added, which is the liquid solution that you see when flushing an aircraft toilet.

Some handlers would dump a lav, not wash their hands and then go straight to loading bags. A person fresh from coming in close contact with human goodness would go right on touching, quite possibly, your possessions.

The Embarrassing

In the movie Fight Club the narrator tells of a policy about holding a passenger’s bag if it is vibrating. At CVG I never once saw a bag being taken because it was vibrating. What we did do was either slam the bag on the ground in hopes of shutting off the razor or toothbrush — not the smartest idea if it really was an explosive. Another way we handled a vibrating bag was to call the passenger down to the ramp where we would proceed to open it to find the cause of the vibration. If you have seen Fight Club you know what is coming next. Sometimes the bag would belong to a female passenger. When her bag would be opened a certain product would be rattling around on the inside. That happened to me once and while the passenger was red-faced, I had to walk away before I began to laugh in her face. Movies can teach you something every now and then.

There is a side to an airport that most people don’t know about. Sure, there are those zoo-like windows in the concourses that allow passengers to see outside, but that is just a glimpse. Does everyone want to know about what goes on behind those doors? Probably not. I’m not trying to scare people away from flying. In a way, an airport is similar to a restaurant. Taken at face value everything is great and everyone has a smile on their face, but behind closed doors disgusting, depraved and weird things are going on.

 
 
03.27.2012 at 11:32 Reply

I'm not sure exactly what company the writer worked for, sounds like comair since most delta planes require 2 ppl in the cargo bin.  Also the writer must not realize the toilets are not dumped by baggage handlers, another company (ASI I believe) handles the dumping of the lavs.  This story  seems like quite a lot of embellishment was sprinkled into it.

 

 
 
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