The other day I posted on Facebook an article of mine answering the question, ‘do you need a Pacsafe to protect valuables while traveling?’ – and reader Armanda added they can help prevent your bag straps from getting caught on belt loaders. Armanda is a part-time ramp agent at a regional international airport in the northeast United States as well as a full-time student studying Hospitality and Tourism Management. She was kind enough to answer a few more questions about her job plus some insights into how are bags really are handled once out of passenger sight.
What exactly is a ramp agent?
The responsibilities of a ramp agent can vary greatly from airport to airport and airline to airline. I work in a smaller regional airport, so we do quite a lot. We are responsible for sorting as well as loading and unloading the baggage and cargo on the planes. We also make sure the flight crew gets the necessary paperwork they need and call the city for fuel and/or lavatory services, and deicing (these are all handled by the city ramp workers at my airport and not the individual airlines ramp agents). We make sure flight attendants get ice and any other supplies they may need (not including catering services at my station). We also marshal the planes in and out plus wing walk. We are also responsible for cleaning, searching, and securing the planes that stay overnight at the airport to make up the outbound flights in the morning.
I always tell people, that we’re a lot like a NASCAR pit crew. When we have a plane on the ground we have a lot of things to get done in a short amount of time (barring delays), and safety is always our top concern.
In larger airports, a ramp agent is usually assigned to any one of the tasks I mentioned, and will do that same task for their entire shift. The job can be very stressful and very physically taxing, and at my particular airline, we make just above minimum wage. Most of us keep the job as a second part-time job for the flying benefits. With my airline, we fly stand-by for free! As well as our immediate family members. However, every airline is different, and every airport is different. Some airlines contract out their groundwork.
What is an average day like?
Once again, every airport is different. At my airport, in the summer months when our flight schedule practically doubles, the days are usually crazy. There are always many, many things going on at once, and communication and attention to safety are critical. One of the things that I love about this job is that every day is different, and you just never know how it’s going to play out. Some days your planes come in early, and everything runs smoothly and you get out early. Other days all of your planes are delayed, and nothing runs smoothly and you end up getting stuck two, three, four, or more hours longer than your scheduled shift. It can be grueling at times, working in the elements under high stress, and you’re not always able to take a break for a snack or a drink.
In the winter months, we have fewer flights and shorter shifts and a lot more down time, but we also have snow, ice, and brutally cold temperatures to work in and around making things a bit tricky! We also have pretty continuous computer training that we need to keep up to date on. The amount of training varies based on how many different types of aircraft your station services.
How bad (or well) are bags actually treated?
I cannot speak for every airport, but it has been my experience that bags aren’t treated as badly as people think. However, things happen. You have to keep in mind, that we are almost always under time constrictions, and we can’t place every bag carefully on the baggage cart, or on the belt, or in the bin, there’s just no time. I can only imagine that in bigger airports, this is even more so. Most of the time we have to work very quickly.
What is the most fragile thing you would consider packing? Anything we definitely shouldn’t put in a check-in bag?
As far as checked-in luggage goes, I wouldn’t put anything in your bag that you wouldn’t want to lose. There are just too many variables and too many unknowns. Having worked in an airport, it is clear to me how easily a bag can get lost or damaged, I am actually surprised it doesn’t happen more often! Especially in the larger airports that deal with hundreds or more flights a day.
I know that is not what people want to hear, but if you want to be safe, don’t check anything you wouldn’t want to lose. Definitely don’t check medications, it amazes me how many people make that mistake and then get mad at us.
I also would avoid checking liquids/lotions/etc. or anything breakable. I would absolutely recommend a suitcase with a hard case exterior. These hold up much better, are easier to stack, and have no straps that get hung up on belt loaders, or other bags leading to damage or getting lost. They also protect your clothing and whatnot from the elements. Your bag will definitely be spending time outside and we don’t always have enough covered carts to go around.
How much time or contact do ramp agents have with a single bag?
Again, it varies from airport to airport. But at my airport, I and/or other ramp agents will handle your bag at least two times, possibly more if there are delays and passengers change flights, or if flights are cancelled. At larger airports baggage goes through a much more complicated system, however, I am not familiar with this.
Anything travelers probably don’t know, but should, about checking in luggage?
I strongly suggest using baggage with as few straps, pockets, and zippers as possible. These are constantly getting hung up on equipment and other bags causing damage, and adding a safety hazard to our work environment. Just last week I was lifting a gate checked bag over my head to pass to another co-worker and the arm strap fell down and smacked me in the eye, luckily my eye was not scratched!
If you have to travel with a bag that has a lot of straps and pockets such as a hiking pack on a backpacking trip, find a way to at least keep the straps contained so they wont get caught up in equipment. The other thing I see all the time is car seats being checked as they are. You definitely want to put car seats in some sort of container, a garbage bag at the very least. The straps always always get caught on something, and a car seat is definitely not something you want to be compromised.
Strollers as well, make sure the straps are secured and tucked away before checking them. Ask the counter agents if you need to, they should have packing tape, zip ties, or garbage bags. However, it is best to be prepared upon arrival. Another thing is, pay attention to the weight restrictions of your bag. I see handles get ripped off pretty regularly simply because they are not designed to carry the amount of weight that has been stuffed in the bag. The same goes for zippers, if they are busting at the seams because you have stuffed as much as you possibly can in them, they will more than likely bust at the seams, and your clothing, shoes, etc. will end up all over the ramp, or the bin of the plane, or the carousel.
Pack light, pack secure, and pack smart! Don’t let luggage ruin your adventures!
Thank you again Armanda for sharing your advise, experience and expertise with us!
Maintain Intense Workouts While Traveling With This Portable Exercise Equipment (That Fits In Any Backpack)
One of the more frustrating aspects of traveling for me personally – and I suspect many of you health nuts as well – is being able to maintain a workout regimen. The exercise part isn’t terribly difficult to muster but it’s cultivating a challenging routine in changing environments that often suffers from a lack of time, gyms, and equipment. Although body weight exercises like this 5 minute hotel room workout are effective at burning calories and slowing muscle mass loss (or fat gain) you’ll need some gear to push yourself.
Since packing dumbbells isn’t practical (just imagine the luggage fees you’d have to avoid) instead of gravity, these tools exploit leverage, pushing your muscles to grow without the benefit of heavy weights.
1. Black Mountain Resistance Bands ($35)
One of the best gifts travelers can buy before the end of 2013 are these highly durable Black Mountain bands that can give you up to 35 kilograms (~75 pounds) of resistance. Highly recommended by fitness expert Yasmin Al-Atrache in my September live chat, the kit also comes with ankle straps, door anchors and occupies only about 640 cubic centimeters (6 x 7 x 6 inches) just under 1 kilo (2lbs).
- Resistance Band Workouts – Men’s Fitness has an excellent full body workout (with video), Bodybuilding.com has two alternative routines, and Shape adds 9 low-intensity moves.
2. ProSource Dual Ab Wheel ($13)
Ab wheels are a somewhat neglected tool which provide an effective core and upper-body workout without the use of weights. For those of you unfamiliar ab wheel roll outs, this video shows a good example with proper form, and the clip below gives you an idea of possible variations.
The ProSource wheels are smaller than shown in these video examples (roughly 15 cm or 6 inches, across) and I prefer them because they can be quickly disassembled for packing.
3. Veloce Pushup Handles ($19.99)
The number of (proper) pushups you can do is a strong indicator of your overall fitness as well as a gauge of how well you might age later in life, according to most health experts. Using pushup handles can engage more of your chest muscles (since you can drop down further than a standard pushup) but a major benefit is strengthening your grip. And it’s not the guy or gal with the biggest triceps or bulging biceps that are the strongest in the gym, it’s the person who’s got the biggest forearms. I recommend the Veloce pushup handles because of their simple, light design that make them a cinch to pack clothes around.
Burn Calories And Ditch Jet Lag
I hate to break it to your friend who’s always going on about what a workout walking around a new city is but when you accurately calculate how many calories you burn sightseeing, it’s likely a lot less than you were hoping. Although any exercise is good exercise, the fact that you’re sore from walking for a few hours probably says more about what you need to be doing on a regular basis back home. (The browser plug-in FitBolt can help.) Aside from strengthening muscles, exercise 3 hours before you need to sleep can induce the right amount of cortisol to get you to dreamland, helping you get back on schedule in a new timezone.
Our bodies begin to lose maximum cardiovascular output after about 9 days and noticeable muscle mass after 3 weeks. The more in shape you are the faster it is to physically bounce back but to keep your motivation lifted at any level, don’t ever leave your workout (or portable equipment) too far behind.
Travelers can be a frustratingly fun bunch to shop for since there’s a lot to choose from and well, because there’s a lot to choose from. Whether you’re narrowing down the type of gift or a specific selection in a given category, let me help eliminate some of your choices while still giving you (and your budget) a lot to choose from.
The innovative dominance of Apple’s latest core products is debatable these days but when it comes to the Macbook Air there’s little question it’s the best ultrabook on the market others look up to. Unless the person you’re purchasing for is a die-hard Windows user or a serious gamer, your quest for a travel laptop should begin – and will likely end – here.
For larger laptops or smaller budgets you can browse the rest of The Best Travel Laptops of 2013 which includes the hybrid Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro (~$1,100) if you can’t decide whether to get a laptop or tablet and prefer a little of both.
The camera I carry and highly recommend as do so many of you who travel with a model of Lumix. Alternatively the Olympus Tough TG-2 iHS (~$359) is perfect for adventurous-types who might especially appreciate a camera that is waterproof down to 15 meters (50 feet) and doubles as a baseball. Whichever camera and lens you settle on keep them clean with an iKlear Cleaning Kit ($25) good for all the digital screens you’ll be gifting.
- GoPro HERO3+ ($399) – The best selling camera in the world and a great gift for the skydiving, whale diving, off-roading, adrenaline junkies you want to surprise.
A very generous way to say keep in touch.
- Android: Nexus 5 ($349-$399) – Thank you Google, this is how a phone is done and priced to sweep the legs of the competition. Pretty screen on the outside with powerful electronics inside – plus an efficient operating system – the person unwrapping this gift should be quite happy.
- iPhone: Seriously Get The 5s ($699 Contract Free; $199 with Carrier) – The iPhone 5c is basically the old iPhone 5 with colors so I wouldn’t recommend getting it for someone who’s already got an iPhone 5 – unless they really like colors excluding gray, gold, or black.
- Windows: Nokia Lumia 1020 ($799 Contract Free; $149 AT&T US-only) – This isn’t the phone to surprise someone with unless they’ve already expressed a very strong interest and realize its limited base of apps… or want the most amazing camera in a smartphone available at any cost.
Wireless Backup Solutions
Data backup isn’t necessarily the sexiest gift but an incredibly thoughtful one you may be graciously thanked for long after its been received.
- Kingston Digital Wi-Drive (~$159) – Provides 128GB of additional storage plus wireless syncing of photos and files.
- Digital Foci Photo Safe II ($149) – Useful for travel photographers and enthusiasts who want to quickly backup photos on the fly without a computer.
In addition to these physical backup solutions there’s also the gift of a Crashplan subscription ($59.99; 1 year subscription) which can prevent your next vacation from turning into a disaster.
A Personal Technical Consultant For Only $9.99
I recently reduced the price of The Ultimate Tech Guide For Travelers Version 2.0, my 208-page living ebook that comes bundled with 6 months complimentary tech support and consultation. Here’s one of the latest reviews on Amazon:
“I travel constantly and work on the road. This book is the best tool I have found for learning strategies for traveling effectively, efficiently and securely anywhere in the world. The book comes with the ability to ask the author questions via email for a limited time. I read the book and sent Anil a detailed question on two occasions and both times he followed up with specific answers within 24 hours. I think this service really ups the value of the book.
I believe any traveler, from occasional to full time, will find this information useful and relevant, as well as time and money saving. I don’t know of another product like it. It’s far superior to searching the web for random articles on the subject. It’s well worth the price and Anil’s service is a unique bonus. Highly recommended. Enjoy the journey!”
14 Physical And Digital Books Nomads Will Love
You can browse through these selections of some of my personal favorites but if you aren’t sure if some they’re already been read by the person you’re shopping for, you can fall back on an Amazon.com gift card.
- 8 Great Motorcycle Books That Will Ignite Your Wanderlust
- 4 Powerful Books That Transformed The Travelers Who Wrote Them (And Will Change You Too)
Capturing The Journey ($10) - Written by friend of the site, Darin Rogers, who’s shared his photography tips 5 Ways To Take Better Sunset Photos When Traveling and Avoid Your Camera’s Black And White Setting To Take Amazing Monochrome Photos in two guests posts on foXnoMad. If you find those articles useful you’ll love his ebook.
- How To Live A Life Of Travel ($27) – The most comprehensive guide I’ve read for people who want to get out the door and travel more.
Speaking Of eBooks, Which eReader Should You Get?
The first decision is whether or not you want a color tablet or a dedicated e-ink device. E-ink may reduce eye strain compared to color screens but without a doubt their matte screens are easier to read in bright light (bookworms by the beach, this is for you).
Once you’ve decided upon a color or e-ink device, the next big decision is which model to go for and I can make this simple for you. Basically, if you don’t have a credit card with a United States billing address or live outside of the United Kingdom, go with either the Kindle Paperwhite ($139; e-ink ad-free) or Kindle Fire HD ($139; color).
Everyone else: you’ve got a few versions of Barnes & Noble’s Nook to consider and to be honest, I think their current line of eReaders beat the Kindle to varying degrees across several fronts. Those who enjoy reading in poorly-lit train cabins or hostel dorms will appreciate the crisp back-lighting of the Nook GlowLight ($119; e-ink) [engadget Review] and adding Google Play to the Nook HD ($129) makes it an alluring color tablet. Additionally the Nook HD+ ($149), which has a 9-inch screen, was rated CNET’s best tablet value.
Online store commitment isn’t what it used to be and both the Kindle Fire and Nook HD lines can run their competitor’s reading apps meaning you can read ebooks purchased from Amazon on the Nook and vice versa.
Stay In Shape For 2014
As the end of the year approaches don’t forget that plenty of travelers will be resolving to keep their bags light in January by ditching some junk in their trunk. Fitness expert and my September live chat guest Yasmin Al-Atrache recommends Black Mountain Resistance Bands (~$35) as the ideal portable workout kit for fit travelers which make a nice addition to the Micro Luggage Scooter ($299), the small suitcase you can literally add to your cardio routine.
As picky as us travelers tend to be, we usually have a mental list of goodies we’d love to add or upgrade in our backpacks at any given time. Slyly ask the right questions and you’ll probably be able to glean the information you need for the right surprise.
Whatever religion you practice or don’t, it’s likely you’ll be shopping for someone between now and the end of 2012. And, knowing you, some of those people are probably the cool, traveling type who can be hard to shop for since they like gadgets but don’t like carrying a lot of stuff. Fortunately though I’ve got you covered, with the best gifts, gadgets, and accessories for your vagabonding buddies, family members, and of course you sitting right there.
Laps And Tabs – The Best Computing Devices
Those of you having trouble deciding between between the two can take a look at my answer to the question, should I buy a tablet instead of a laptop for my travels? If you happen to fall on the laptop side of that argument, I’ve narrowed down your choices to my favorites.
- The Best Travel Laptops Of 2012- From netbooks and ultrabooks to full-sized 15-inch laptops, this collection of laptops should make your shopping decision a bit easier as I guide you to the right machine based on your needs and travel style.
As for tablets, you’re in a good time to go shopping for them, as there are great options and prices on the market right now. There are basically two varieties of tablets; the difference being drawn between smaller 7-inch and larger 9-inch screen sizes. Some of my favorite models on the available right now from both categories:
Nook HD (7 and 9-inch versions available) – In my opinion, the most underrated eReader/tablet competitor. It’s got powerful hardware (1.3GHz OMAP 4470) and excellent screen resolution (1440×900 at 243ppi) – those specs only improve on the 9-inch version of the Nook HD. Especially if you’re on the market for an eReader or deciding between a Kindle (or iPad mini for that matter), and aren’t tied to any one online store, the Nook HD is the one I would go with.
- Google Nexus 7 – Probably the least talked about 7-inch tablet on the market, which is surprising, since it’s simply solid overall.
- iPad 3 – Don’t get the 4, it’s pretty much a gimmick that’s $50 or so more expensive. Also, if you’re looking for a 9-inch tablet, get an iPad; they created the category and rule it for a reason. The iPad mini, not so much.
You can also take a look inside of my own backpack to see all of the tech gear and gadgets I travel with for some ideas. They’re road tested and traveler-approved.
Luggage That Moves With You (How To Pick The Right Backpack)
- Micro Luggage Scooter – There aren’t many bags out there that you can actually ride around the airport zipping to your gate whether you’ve got time to spare or are running late. Read my full review.
- Osprey Sojourn 25-Inch 60 Liter (Pictured above.) – This hybrid backpack-rolling suitcase is my main back I take with me everywhere and what I keep all of my worldly possessions in. I rarely find myself needing to use the backpack straps (which tuck away nicely when not in use) but the option is nice when, say, on the bumpy side streets of New Delhi.
- SwissGear Computer Backpack – The separate bag I use to keep my electronics in whenever I need to check or be separated from my main Osprey luggage. It’s got pockets within pockets upon pockets, perfect for any traveling techie.
Finally, the last backpack I carry actually sits inside of my bags, tightly packed into a ball as it’s designed to. The REI Stuff Travel Pack makes a wonderfully portable daypack, holding about 22 liters of your exploring essentials, like your camera when you’re out and about trekking around the mud volcanoes of Gobustan.
Boom, Snap, And Shot
For all of your traveling music lovers, help turn noise into sound, without the humming engine background.
Headphones: V-MODA Vibe In-Ear Noise-Isolating Metal Headphone – I’ve had my particular (red) model of these V-MODA headphones for 4 years and can’t recommend them more for sound quality, durability, and noise reduction.
Monster Inspiration Headphones With Active Noise Cancellation – Earlier in the year I traveled for 3 weeks around Asia with these headphones snugging caressing my ears. They’re high-end headphones but the sound quality is exceptional and any traveler who takes their tunes seriously will enjoy a pair of these.
Your travel memories are only as good as your travel photos and if you disagree with me now, just wait until you’re 80 years old. Arm your loved ones with the best digital cameras to get the job done.
Camera: Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10 – The camera I’ve been using for the last 18 months or so and if you wander through my archives over that time and browse through the pictures, you’ll get an idea of what this camera can do. Check out my Photo Essay of The Alhambra in Spain or my Birthday Pictures of The Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey. Since I picked up my DMC-ZS10, Panasonic has released an upgrade, lighter model, the Lumix ZS20.
- Inside I’ve got a 32GB SanDisk SDHC memory card and use my old 8GB card as a backup if needed.
xShot Camera Extender – This is easily one of the most useful and used items I carry in my backpack. The xShot not only lets you get photo angles you couldn’t otherwise without growing an extra meter in height, but makes it simple to get group or self photos without having to stretch your shoulder clean from its socket. The xShot fits standard on most camera types and is one of the best ways to take better travel photos without getting a better camera.
Save Money By Gifting Your Frequent Flyer Miles Directly
You can be generous and share you own miles, which makes for a great, inexpensive travel gift. But rather than outright transferring them to someone else’s frequent flyer account, you can save on fees by simply booking the flights directly for your friend or family member. Also, if you end up purchasing frequent flyer miles to gift them, try to keep them on one of these 3 alliances to maximize their usefulness for whomever you’re giving them too.
eBooks – The Best Is Now On Sale
The Ultimate Tech Guide For Travelers Version 2.0 – Become a tech-savvy traveling digital ninja by learning the hacker secrets and tricks to make your gadgets versatile tools on the road. Save more that $100 within a year and get 6 months of free technical support by me (where else can you buy yourself a personal traveling tech consultant?) to help you with any topics covered. You’ll also get 3 months of free updates learn more than you ever knew possible about your laptop. Oh, and it’s on sale, 30% off right now!
Discovering The Hidden Europe With Author Francis Tapon – It’s rare to find a book that’s as educational and entertaining as this one is. I thoroughly enjoyed reading. The Hidden Europe: What Eastern Europe Can Teach Us, and comparing notes from my own travels there.
I read often and a few good books I’ve recently enjoyed – that blend travel and tech – to add to this list are: The Pirates Of Somalia, A Little History Of The World, and The Signal and The Noise: Why Some Predictions Fail But Others Don’t.
Giving The Gift Of Geek
Please excuse me while I turn the geek dial all other way to its highest setting for the combined enjoyment of those nerdy travelers you’re shopping for right now. Ka’plah!
- Here’s my list of all the latest recommended models.
Tickets To Geek Events – There are all kinds of conventions, fairs, and festivals for your nomadic geek buddies to attend. First though you’ll have to narrow down what kind of nerd you’re shopping for by checking out my list of the best places for nerds to travel.
Albert Einstein Mouse Pad – He goes with me everywhere, providing a smooth surface for my scrolling and offering a bit of wisdom and happy smile as needed.
Belkin Mini Surge Protector Dual USB Charger – Much like bandwidth, you can never have too many good electrical outlets. A sight that’s not incredibly common in many parts of the world or cafes either, so a Belkin Mini Surge Protector can help you make the most of an outlet when you find one.
Apps The Translate: SpeechTrans – You can combine the speech and text translating apps using SpeechTrans (Android and iOS) for $14,99. If you want to covert the functions of the other major translation apps into one, SpeechTrans may be a good fit as a gift.
High-Resistance Workout Cables – Your friends are probably not burning as many calories as they think sightseeing but these cables can help tip the scales in their favor. I travel with them for the days here and there I can’t make it to the gym, and turn any hotel into a gym with these quick 50 calorie killers.
And Finally, Gifts For Your Travel Blogging Friends
We’ve covered pretty much all kinds of techy travelers here but it would be a bit ironic for me to neglect the many other travel bloggers out there sharing their adventures with family and friends. They’re likely to appreciate a few new additions to their digital worlds and you can do that by gifting a SmugMug subscription for your photographic friends, purchasing some of their online hosting costs for the upcoming year on Media Temple, or surprising them with Aweber’s newsletter service for their fans. Additionally you can check out the blogging services I use on foXnoMad and consider one or some part of them for your travel blogging buddies, or self, as you shop into 2013.