At a time when stocks are soaring yet many Americans feel their wages are grounded, airports around the world share in that wage-earning and workplace turbulence. Wages, working hours and conditions, perks – all of these vary from airport to airport.
It is hard to imagine a workplace more constantly active than an airport. Open around the clock, they are filled with passengers traveling to the four corners of the globe. To help them on their journey are all manner of different employees for different airlines and companies.
The pressure of getting things right is immense. Everyone has had a “bad time at the airport.” Most of us don’t remember the many mundane airport trips where everything worked out fine.
The miscues, the long lines due to incompetent or overwhelmed staff, the times our baggage is lost or damaged or both – we remember negatives a lot more viscerally than positives. That makes it all the more important for airlines and oft-underappreciated airport staff to strive for the latter.
Whether you’re traveling for business or for pleasure, however, airport personnel are a vital part of your journey, and we’d never get where we’re going without them. With that in mind, let’s look at some of the most prominent types of airport jobs, what they’re like, and how much they pay.
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1. Flight Attendant
Median Salary: $39K
From the moment they welcome you at the gate throughout the duration of your flight, few people are more important to your flight experience than flight attendants. They spend long hours on their feet, serve passengers, work to keep the plane clean – and all with a smile on their face.
That last part can be incredibly difficult. After all, flight attendants often have to deal with angry or difficult passengers, to say nothing of the harassment faced by female attendants in particular.
That said, flight attendants enjoy perks like being able to travel the world. Health benefits vary from airline to airline. Given how much they have to put up with, their median salary of just under $39K may seem a bit low, but at least it’s better than other service-based positions.
If you’ve ever thought those stores in the airport selling food, drinks, essentials, and souvenirs are extortionately overpriced, you’re right – and these are the people who profit from that.
How much you make in this position will vary depending on the nature of the concessions being sold. A souvenir stand or convenience store can be a lucrative proposition. Even so, most concessionaires are paid by the hour.
Another thing to keep in mind about concessionaires is that they can keep all kinds of hours. Whether you’re arriving at Heathrow from LAX at 6am or are taking off for Charles de Gaulle Airport from JFK at midnight, you can count on many concessionaires to be selling their wares.
3. Air Traffic Controller
It’s hard to imagine a job where the stakes are higher than an air traffic controller. A single slipup can be catastrophic. Thankfully, at the very least these jobs are paid as such, with the median salary for an air traffic controller in American airports being $82.3K.
An air traffic controller has to be on high alert throughout their long working hours. They are typically positioned in an air traffic control tower and have to keep a close watch on and remain in contact with pilots all around the airspace near the airport.
That said, unlike other jobs, there is no formal requirement to be an air traffic controller. It is thus one of the highest salaried jobs you can make without a college degree. However, recruitment standards are extremely high, and you’ll have to pass a rigorous aptitude test and screening process.
4. Airport Engineer
Salary: up to $117K
Think of all the little things that have to go right to keep an airport humming. Now think of the consequences of just one of those things going wrong. Airport engineering gone awry can lead to massive delays – or worse.
As such, airport engineers are vital to keeping everything on schedule and all the machinery in good working order. They construct and maintain the main airport structures as well as the takeoff and landing strips.
There is a heavy amount of research involved in this job. Airport planners often come from civil or structural engineering backgrounds, and perform many tests to make sure that the things they build are up to snuff. They’re compensated handsomely for this work, making up to $117K.
5. Airport Planner
Salary: $40.5K to $90K
Airport planners are often the people who come up with the ideas which are then put into practice by the engineers. That said, there is some overlap between the two jobs’ descriptions and duties. In addition to planning new structures, airport planners can also plan renovation work.
With all that planning, it shouldn’t surprise you that this is yet another job which involves a heavy amount of research. In addition to looking into the technical side of things, airport planners also have to make sure everything is in accordance with regulations as well.
They are also often tasked with looking into the long-term consequences of building projects. For example, airport planners can conduct studies to project the long-term impact that airport improvements may have on the surrounding area.
An airport planner’s salary can range wildly from a low of $40.5K to more experienced planners making as much as $90K.
6. TSA/TSO Airport Security Members
If you have been through an American airport lately, you know TSA all too well. While airport security members are a fixture at airports around the world, in the two decades since 9/11, America’s airport security measures have stood out worldwide as among the strictest, with TSA overseeing it all.
Working these kinds of jobs can mean everything from taking guests through screening procedures to screening their bags to asking security-related questions. Every year, security teams at US airports screen millions of bags.
This is another job which does not require a college degree. That said, as you might imagine with such a sensitive security job, the screening and training to become a TSA/TSO agent are rigorous. For their long hours of work, US airport security members make around $27.5K.
7. Air Marshal
Another facet of airport security is air marshals. These figures often work as plain clothes agents to surveille the airport and sniff out any suspicious or potentially dangerous activity. The undercover nature of their work makes them some of the most important airport-based counterterrorism agents.
Air marshals are the rare personnel who are allowed to carry weapons within airport bounds, and are present on some (though not all) flights for added security. The high-stakes, high-stress nature of their job is well-compensated, with salaries of $68.7K in the US and £51.7K in the UK.
Different countries have different processes and requirements for becoming an air marshal. The US devotes the entire Federal Air Marshal Service to the task, while in the UK air marshals serve as part of the Metropolitan Police. Israeli airline El Al, meanwhile, provides their own trained marshals.
8. Airframe/Powerplant Mechanic
The electronics onboard an airplane are handled by avionics teams. Airframe or powerplant mechanics deal with everything else, from the engine to the brakes to the landing gear and every other major facet of the plane.
As you might imagine, working on such large pieces of machinery means having a fair amount of physical strength. It also means having a good knowledge of the complex workings of a plane. You will thus need to attain a reasonably high level of education.
Avionics professionals must be accredited by an official body such as the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) or Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Airframe or powerplant mechanics typically must do the same. They are well-compensated, with an average salary of $52K in the US and £39.1L in the UK.
9. Baggage Handlers
If you have ever arrived at an airport only to find your suitcase a mangled mess, you know the “impact” that baggage handlers can have on your flight experience. Hopefully your experience doesn’t have to be such a negative one, however.
When baggage handlers do their job well, you hardly notice them at work. However, you can bet that they are all too aware of their work every moment of the day or night. Baggage handling is a highly labor-intensive job, often requiring handlers to lift extremely heavy bags.
They are also tasked with packing that luggage onto the flight as well as placing your baggage on the carousel that leads to the baggage pickup area. All of this takes quite a lot of work, for which baggage handlers are paid $23.5K on average.
10. Airline Pilots
Salary: $60 to $100K
Last but not least, what list of airport-based jobs would be complete without the pilots themselves? Pilots can be found at the helm of planes carrying all manner of passengers and cargo traveling all over the world. The training and screening process to become a licensed pilot takes many years.
That’s due in part to the fact that pilots don’t just fly their planes. They also perform pre-flight checks, communicate with air traffic control members to make sure they’re in the clear, adjust flight paths if necessary, and update passengers as to the status of their flight.
Pilots can fly for airlines, for private companies, or as personal pilots for entrepreneurs. Depending on the field in which they are working as well as their experience level, they can make anywhere from $60 to $100K – all while traveling the world.