A Day in the Life of a Passenger Agent
It’s Christmas Day in Montreal! And what does that mean? A quiet day at work! or as I thought…
As I’m riding on the employee shuttle bus from the parking lot to the airport, I was reflecting on my previous day, Christmas eve, and recalling how f***ed up it was at work. I had a 5:30am till 8pm shift. That’s 14.5 hours in my nasty uniform… Flights were very full and it ended pretty badly at night with a DB
(denied boarding) on my Charlottetown flight due to oversell…
The shuttle bus pulled up to the airport. I walked up to the employee room to badge in, where a couple of my colleagues where shift trading… One of the greatest benefits of working in my position is that we can trade shifts as much as we want, which frees up a lot of days off! After signing-in at 1:20pm for my 1:30pm - 8:15pm shift, I looked for my name on the work sheet to see what position I will be working for the day. International Standby Desk! That’s not bad. A bit stressful if the flights are busy. Basically, my job consists in giving seats to all revenue passengers who didn’t get seats when they checked-in due to oversold flights and to employees if there is space. It’s easy when there’s 10 pax on my list, but sometimes there’s around 40 pax and we must work very quickly because we start giving away seats when the flights start boarding.
I head to the planner’s room. The planner is a Customer Service Manager (CSM) who basically dispatches the agents for flight departures and arrivals. I always pop-in to say hello and chit chat for a bit. I have very good relations with my managers because they all know how hard-working I am
(that’s a fact lol).
Hey Val, Merry Chrsitmas!
“You too! What time do you start?” she asked in an alarming voice.
Ummm, in 10 minutes about.
“Ok, gimme your coat and lunch and run to gate 5! We’re missing a second boarding agent for Vancouver at 13:45!”
Oh boy there we go again. If they start rushing me even before I actually start my shift, that means the day doesn’t look good at all… So I gave Val all my belongings which she promised to guard with her life. I kinda walked quickly to the gate (I tend not to run at the airport because I know they’re just trying to rush me when they say that), where my colleague Anna was answering a couple of questions from pax and taking care of the upgrades. People were still deplaning from an arrival at the gate, so I knew there was no reason to run! A 20 min delay was posted on the flight.
The crew was still at the gate. I knew the purser and we chatted a bit. As usual, the Vancouver flight was full, and there were lots of standbys on it. When the last pax deplaned, I told Anna I was going down with the crew to the plane and would call her from the bridge when we’re ready to board.
As we got the plane, both groomers and catering were on the plane busy with their work. Grooming was done in 5 minutes, which is pretty good, but catering was taking more time. A minute later, I see pax coming down the bridge. Great, I thought. As usual, someone called the gate and told them “Groomers are off start boarding”. So I politely ask the pax to stay on the bridge for a couple of more minutes until the plane is ready to receive them. I also quickly grab the phone on the bridge and call Anna to tell her to stop boarding as (1) catering was still on the plane and most importantly (2) the crew is still waiting to get on the plane. Typical miscommunication in YUL
… that’s what happens when several managers try to take control of a flight.
Everything cleared up 5 minutes later and I went back up to the gate and continued boarding the flight. We wrapped up boarding pretty quickly in around 15 to 20 minutes. By that time, it was 2:15. I printed the PIL (paper work we give to the crew with names of our business class pax, special meals and commented pax such as wheelchairs, etc.) and went down to the bridge with the gates CSM.
There were still lots of passengers on the bridge waiting to get on the plane. The last 2 were a French couple who were making out in front of everyone and I really wanted to punch them in the face. Even my manager said the “What the f*** is that??” and that was the first time I heard her swearing.
Anyways, doors closed around 2:30pm and both my manager and I made out way back up to the gate.
Job well done, I make my way back to the planner’s office to take my coat and lunch. Val thanked me for my help. “That’s what I’m here for!” I replied. Took my belongings and went upstairs to my locker to put my nice green vest on. Then back down the stairs to check-in, where I settled in my standby desk. But the first international flight wasn’t till 5:30pm, AC
884 to CDG
. Then AC
874 to FRA
at 6:40pm, AC
870 to CDG
at 7:30pm and finally AC
864 to LHR
at 7:55pm. All flights were oversold with lots of employees except the London fight which had around 15 open seats.
The lines were building up. Of course, several employees called in sick on a day like today. So check-in was kinda slow. I saw a big Vietnamese family of around 15 passengers in the queue. I told them to come with me as I will check all of them in at once. The day before I had checked-in lots of Vietnamese going home to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) to visit relatives for the holidays. Today it looked like many others were making the same journey. As I pull up their file, I realized that none had the connection out of Paris to Vietnam on Vietnam Airlines. So I have to manually add it in, which took some time. When I started tagging the bags, one of them said “So they will go directly to Hanoi right? We don’t have to pick them up in Paris?” A comment to which I froze.
I had done a big mistake. I added a connection to Saigon instead of Hanoi because of the habit of doing it so many times the previous day. What’s worse, is that already 3 bags have gone down to the baggage room. So I apologized and told the family what I had done. I reassured them that I’ll fix the problem by finding the bags in the baggage room and re-tagging them myself. But for the time being, I’m going to fix the connection on the computer and take the rest of the bags. They seemed nervous but it was my job to convince them that I’ll do my job correctly and professionally. I called the baggage room downstairs to ask them if they can put the bags aside for now and that I’ll be coming down later.
It took me around 15 minutes to finish checking them in. Once I was done, I printed 3 extra bags tags and rushed downstairs to the baggage room, which is very noisy and dirty. I asked for the Paris pier, and if they had pulled out 3 bags I had asked for. Indeed they did. So I tore off the old tags which had SGN
on it, and put the HAN
instead. I was relieved in a way. I hate making mistakes, and what’s worse, I hate passing on the responsibility to someone else. I wanted to make sure that the problem was fixed, and the only way to do so was by fixing it myself.
Went back to check-in, where I saw the Vietnamese family. I reassured them that everything was fine.
Around 4:30pm, I called my colleague at the gate for AC
884 just to make sure she didn’t need to do any seat swapping before I started giving away seats up front. Then I went through the check-in lines yelling “Est-ce qu’il reste des passagers pour Paris a 17:30? Any passengers for Paris at 5:30pm?”
A couple of pax raised their hand, so I pulled them out of the line, told them to quickly go to my counter and I checked them in. Then at 5:45pm, I got the OK
to close the flight, which released around 10 seats in economy, just enough to accommodate my revenue pax who didn’t get seats yet at check-in. I called them one by one by name, gave them their seats, checked their bags, and told them to run to gate 61 which is the furthest gate at the airport. A couple of employees were there as well, but most had gone directly to the gate since they had no bags. I notified my colleague at the gate and she gave them their seats there. Job well done, cleared the standby list in 10 minutes. I decided to take my break lunch now as I had to be back at the desk by 5:30pm for the FRA
flight. So it gave me a good half hour to relax in the lunch room.
As I made my way back there were more passengers queuing up for check-in. AC
874 was soon going to close so I started pulling pax out at 5:30pm. Got around 10 passengers out of the line and checked them in. I looked at my standby list, and although the flight is oversold, there was no revenue standbys on my list…. That’s because FRA
has one of the largest no-show factors out of YUL
. There were lots of employees waiting for seats, but only a couple in front of me. So I gave them the seats right away before the flight closed as it was obvious that there was many seats left and that would give the employees enough time to get to gate 52. I finished all of that around 5:45pm. The flight officially closed at 5:55pm, 45 minutes before departure. I continued doing some normal check-in.
Unfortunately, some passengers decide to arrive late at the airport.
Hi where are you going today?
“To Tunis via Frankfurt”
Frankfurt??? I asked… looked at my watch, it was 6pm. Looked at his ticket, and it was well written 6:40pm.
It’s too late sir, the flight is leaving in 40 minutes.
“No! I’ve been waiting in that long line for an hour!”
No sir, I called out everyone 20 minutes ago. The flight is boarding and all bags for Frankfurt have been taken to the plane.
He continued arguing with me until I took him to ticketing and quietly explained him why we don’t accept passengers passed the cut off time (mainly to ensure an on time departure). I told him ticketing will rebook him for tomorrow and that there may be fees involved as well. He wasn’t convinced, but I reminded him that it’s his responsibility to come at the airport at least 2 hours in advance for an international flight. I’m almost sure he had arrived less than 1 hour prior. If the passenger doesn’t have bags, I will sometimes think about re-opening a flight and make the pax run to the gate (although I don't have the power to do so, but I can make a couple of phone calls). But, I will also explain that we will not wait for him/her and I clearly advise the gate agent, so it’s a “at your own risk” kinda thing.
I went back to my counter to serve more passengers. With my luck, my next pax were also heading out to Frankfurt. Same ordeal, they got mad, but I didn’t respond. Brought them to ticketing, and reminded them of the rules to which they calmed down.
Again, I head back to my counter and it was around 6:20pm. Time to start the second CDG
870. Again, I pull out the last remaining passengers left to be checked-in from the lines. Because of the heavy load, we really had to wait until 6:45pm to close the flight and release the seats. I had around 15 revenue and some employees. Lots of revenue pax were coming to my desk pretty angry not understanding why they weren’t assigned any seats when the checked-in. I have an easy time explaining overbooking to passengers, but no matter how clearly you explain it, and even though you tell them “I guarantee you a seat, but you’ll have to wait till the flight closes”, the French will always be mad at you and add a comment like “This system is ridiculous! Last time I fly you guys!” Oh well, what else can I do?
Once the flight closed, I gave away the seats, and everyone was on their way the gate 51 by 6:55pm. I called the baggage room to tell them that the last Paris bag was on its way down.
Last flight was AC
864 to LHR
. Since that flight was open, there were no standbys to take care of. So my job was done. I decided to take a little walk to the back offices as the line-ups at check-in were much better. I went to the planners room again, where Gilda was now the afternoon planner.
“What are you doing now?” she asked with yet again with an alarming voice.
Well, I’m done with my standbys
“Good, we’re missing one boarding agent for London. You’re on it now… run to gate 50!”
Another typical day at YUL
…. Running around the airport covering up the fact that we’re always short-staffed...
I got to gate 50 around 7:05pm, out of breath, 10 minutes before we start boarding. The working agent for London is Gisele today, one of my favorite colleagues at work. The 2nd boarding agent was not there yet. The working agent (Gisele) is responsible for upgrades, seating, announcements and any other problems which may occur, while the boarding agent (me) takes care of the boarding only. A good boarding agent is proactive. In other words, asks the crew if they are ready to board, gets all pax needing assistance close to the gate, and gives as much info to the work agent to ease up the operation. That’s what I do, but some people are just lazy unfortunately, which can cause stress on the work agent and possible delays. Just a reminder that we have extreme pressure from our managers to make flights leave on time… not 1 minute late, or we get called in the office and “yelled” at.
Gate 50 is a nice new gate at Trudeau…. but the airport authority can’t seem to get their act together with their equipment. Phones, printers and boarding pass printers don’t work, and we don’t have time to fix it. I was the only one with the radio, so I gave it to Gisele as she needs to communicate with the managers if there are any problems. I go down to the plane to see if they are ready to start boarding. “Positive boarding” is 40 minutes prior to departure for an A330. The purser was briefing the crew when I arrived on board at 7:10pm. I kindly asked if we can start early to get things going but the purser said no as she needed to finish up the briefing, but that they’ll be ready in 5 minutes. All good. I made my way upstairs again, rounded up my wheelchair passengers, and one legally blind pax, and I assisted them down the bridge. Then I quickly made my way up again where Gisele was making her Business Class announcement. I realized that the 2nd boarding agent wasn’t at the gate yet, so Gisele started boarding with me on the other side of the desk.
5 minutes later, the agent still was not present, so I took the radio and called the planner and notified her that boarding is going smooth but that we need a 3rd agent. She said she’ll try to find someone ASAP.
15 minutes later, a replacement agent came in and took Gisele’s computer. Only then was she able to finally concentrate on her upgrades and some problems with e-tickets.
As I continued boarding, I was listening to the radio, and some bad news was going on…. Halifax flights were being cancelled due to weather. And later, it was getting worse.
“Gilda you need to send someone to gate 52, Frankfurt is returning to the gate”
I was still boarding at that time, so I couldn’t do much but to hope that I would be done my shift by the time the plane is back at the gate.
As boarding came close to an end, we had 1 passenger missing, and it was 7:45pm. Usually, by that time, the cabin “must be secured”. So I quickly went on board to see if the passenger was there. At the same time, I notified the ramp agents to start looking for the bag. They called me back on the radio 5 minutes later telling me that the bags don’t appear to be on his list. Great, so no bags mean doors can close and off we go!
I go up to see Gisele and she’s finalizing paper work for the flight. We watched the bridge come off and the departure was posted at 7:57pm. Darn, 2 minutes late. The reason posted was baggage reconciliation, so we’re not to blame!
I ask Gisele if she needs me and she said “no thank you, I’ll finish it up”. So I took my radio, and walked back to the offices. My shift finished in 15 minutes!
I continued listening to the radio, more bad news. AC870 still at the gate with a mechanical. And it looks like it’s not leaving tonight.
I got in the planner’s office, where Gilda was there and she looked pretty exhausted. I sat down next to her to chat.
So what happened to Frankfurt?
“Disruptive passenger. Plane took off, flew for an hour, then pilots decided to come back to take him off the flight because he was being violent of some sort”.
So Paris is seriously not leaving?
“Well, it doesn't looks like it. Would you stay on overtime to help out?”
Yeah sure, nothing to do tonight.
“You want booze with that?”
Sure why not? Hehe, but I knew she was joking…
Anyways, after joking around a bit waiting for some news, we heard to our relief “870 pushing back”.
AC874 to Frankfurt unfortunately left 3 hours later then scheduled. Most connections out of FRA
got busted. All of that for a stupid passenger who couldn’t keep his drinking under control. Security escorted him out of the plane. He cost the company a lot in fuel, landing fees and more. His file got transferred to corporate security and he’ll most probably be banned from flying Air Canada again.
As for me, my night was done. Thank God we didn’t have to deal with the nightmare of a canceled European flight. I already dealt with this nightmare this past summer and I don’t want to relive it.
I went up to my locker, then badge out at 8:20pm, and off I went to catch the shuttle bus back to the employee parking lot.
I was expecting a quieter night. All I knew is that I had a 5am shift the following day (Boxing Day!), and that it was going to be a crazy one
Thanks for reading everyone, hope you enjoyed it!