One of the biggest mysteries to the average traveller is what happens once you drop your checked baggage at check-in. The last you see of it is as it travels down a conveyer belt. The next time you see it, it will be at (hopefully) the baggage carousel at your destination.
Behind the scenes is an underworld quite like no other, with kilometres of conveyer belts, ingenious devices splitting baggage and hundreds if not thousands of airport employees making sure you get reunited with your belongings.
However, as seen with the recent viral video that depicts Swissport employees working on a Qantas flight, a process that has such little known about it hasn’t been given the best image, and this wouldn’t be the first time either.
The viral video captured at Melbourne Airport showcases Swissport employees emptying luggage from an inbound flight and loading it onto the adjacent conveyer belt. Ultimately, the video has gone viral thanks to the treatment of the baggage, with the employees giving their best WWE impression, although the fellow wrestlers on this occasion being the checked luggage with valuables of travellers inside, a video that has disturbed many.
The actions, which have been labelled as deplorable and resulted in the trio of employees being stood down, have sparked outrage at the handling of baggage and once again brought up the question of is this behaviour is justified, whether this is how all bags are treated and presented the idea that all airport workers are the same. Let’s explore key talking points that emerged following the video’s publication.
Firstly, it must be said that the workers shown in the clip are employees of Swissport. While many believe that this is the staff of Qantas because of the bags they’re working on. This is not the case. Qantas has, in recent years and especially during the pandemic, sacked all their ground workers in favour of outsourcing, outsourcing to companies with significantly cheaper labour costs and far less experience. All in the hopes of reaching their goal to reduce costs and streamline, it has resulted in numerous problems, from safety issues with loading to a lack of experience in roles that need it. It’s also a decision that has seen Alan Joyce.
The group’s CEO came under heavy fire. This video is the latest in a string of PR nightmares for the Australian flag carrier.
What is Swissport? For those unaware, Swissport is an aviation services company. Their prominent role is to provide a host of services to airports worldwide, from ground operations to hospitality inside the airport, and cargo operations, among many other critical areas of an airport’s operation. In addition, airlines and airports can sign this third-party company to handle their aircraft.
For example, Qantas picks Swissport to handle the ground operations of their aircraft in favour of Dnata, another aviation services company. Therefore, while these employees may work on Qantas aircraft, they do not say Qantas employees specifically. However, they still represent the brand in a sense as they handle the aircraft and can be seen around the Qantas branding.
Baggage handlers, among many other positions at the airport, have teams full of heroes that battle the elements day and night, while airports can have curfews very rarely, if ever, are they genuinely silent with the army of workers preparing for the next day of operations. From these actions, some have labelled all baggage handlers as the same, insinuating that no worker that handles baggage does so with care. Is this the case?
No, generalising the millions of workers that handle baggage every year as the same is not only incorrect but an insult to the 99.9% of employees that strive day in and day out to do the best for themselves, their employers and, of course, the people’s baggage in question they’re handling. A couple of bad apples don’t speak for an entire batch. However, if the bad apples’ actions are loud enough, they can quickly cascade over the excellent work that most baggage handlers and ground staff do. This can be applied in any industry.
It’s much easier to share footage of employees doing something terrible than good, which is gaining traction. What is true, though, is that without the army of workers, we wouldn’t be able to travel. So while we sit comfortably in our seats above the workers, maybe being greeted with a beverage before departure, they’re outside in the rain, hail or wind, readying the plane for departure.
A safety-sensitive role in itself, they’re responsible for the safe loading of planes, whether with fuel or bags, each being crucial, from weight distribution to the overall fuel loads, all critical elements calculated inside the airport and executed by these workers. One minor slip-up can have a catastrophic effect on the flight.
Now, onto tossing. Tossing is a term often used by the general flying public and even airport employees themselves and is a method of putting a bag on a conveyer belt or taking it off. However, the actions in the video are by no stretch of the imagination tossing.
Tossing is a method that, in its own right, has an inevitable process behind it, a process that allows for the ease of ground handlers who have to move along 30kg bags consistently for hours not to feel the strain and, when executed right, can look like poetry in motion.
See below this example of how inbound bags can be tossed. So, while tossing may have negative connotations, there is a method behind the madness, which can result in a seamless process.
It isn’t a secret that while the aviation industry is critically important, it is also an industry that sees jobs significantly underpaid. It means that for an industry in dire need of personnel following the pandemic, finding these people can be hard to come by as they’d instead give their time elsewhere, in better conditions, with better pay and more.
An argument has been made that the treatment of the bags is justified. Why? Because the employees aren’t well paid to begin with, and this is the treatment they should be giving to the bags. I cannot entirely agree with this. I’m not qualified to speak on pay matters and the ins and outs. However, I believe people should be paid fairly for their responsibilities. Saying that to treat someone else’s belongings like so isn’t acceptable, and you can publicly see other ground staff opposing the actions undertaken in the viral video.
The measures are unprofessional, and while baggage handling can present challenges, it doesnt mean that baggage should be thrown around violently. These are people’s belongings.
One of the biggest takeaways from a video like this is that people may be shocked to understand that while 99.9% of baggage handlers take good care of your personal belongings, 0.1% are still quite loud. While their actions may not be filmed on camera, this kind of treatment takes place at airports worldwide, from major ones to smaller airports.
Unfortunately, it’s the unfortunate reality of the system. While there can be lots of contributing factors, from pay to working conditions, the underlying truth is that the problem is the people in these videos.
It wouldn’t matter the role they’re in, the lack of professionalism is evident, and these actions should not ever be a representation of the hard work undertaken by our valuable airport employees worldwide.