I was in my late teens in the early 1970s. For two summers, I had the absolutely perfect job that any young AvGeek would ever want ’“ working on the ramp at a major airport. Yes, I’m proud to say that I was a ’œRamp Rat’!
My summer job was at Toronto International Airport (YYZ), then also known as Malton Airport. I worked in Terminal 1, the uniquely-designed round-concourse ’œAeroquay’. It’s long gone, having been demolished and replaced by YYZ’s new T1.
I was part of a crew of four; my boss, called the ’œlead hand’, and two other guys. No girls allowed in that club back then! We did everything, including baggage and cargo offloads and onloads, and cabin cleaning. I’d normally work the 2 pm to 10 pm or the 4 pm to Midnight shift, when the main international ’œpush’ happened at YYZ.
It was a transition period for the international carriers. Most still flew the early-generation 4-engine jets, like the 707, DC-8, and the beautiful but incredibly loud Vickers VC-10. The wide-bodies were just coming into the fleets, with early 747s, DC-10s, and L-1011s.
Short- to medium-haul flights were handled by DC-9s, BAC-111s, 727s, and a few 737s. The 737 wasn’t particularly popular with the airlines back then ’“ how times have changed. We worked turboprops, like the Convair CV-580 and Lockheed Electra. Any Airbus planes? Didn’t see any, because the A300 didn’t go into service with Eastern Air Lines until the late ’70s.
And just like any job, stuff happens. But for AvGeeks like me, there are many things I’ve remembered, all these years later:
- When the later-evening Eastern Air Lines 727s arrived, our crew would rush to do the offload. Then we’d head to the cabin and grab a first-class dinner tray before the catering trucks came to empty the galley. Filet mignon ’“ yum.
- While cleaning the cabin of a BOAC 707, a summer thunderstorm rolled over the airport. The winds were so strong that they actually pushed our chocked plane about six feet. There was a catering truck up on its lift on a 747 at the next gate ’“ I thought it was going to tip over.
- Late on a pea-soup foggy evening, appreciating the surreal experience of driving around the ramp, oh so very carefully, as the wingtips lights of each plane loomed out of the fog.
- Feeling a bit sorry for a co-worker, on the same foggy night. He was driving a van, and didn’t go the right way around the left wing of an American Airlines 727. He wiped out the left aileron. The plane was grounded for repairs for over a week. My co-worker’s career at the airport was permanently grounded.
- Almost suffering the same fate, when I positioned a baggage tractor for an arriving BOAC 747. I confirmed with my lead to make sure it was in a safe parking spot, and then went up to put the Jetway on the arriving plane. The 747’s nose appeared and stopped, then the engines spooled up and the door came into position. I put the Jetway in place, then went back down to the ramp to find that the steering wheel of the tractor had been crushed by the inboard left engine cowling. The damage on the cowling was a small, 1 inch scratch. Many pictures, inspections and discussions ensued. The plane was cleared, though, and left on time. My lead and I were in ’œbig potty’, but kept our jobs. Luckily the steering wheel didn’t end up in that engine! And that 747’s registration ’“ G-AWNL ’“ I’ve never forgotten.
- Ick ’“ cleaning the washrooms on charters coming from Europe. Double-ick ’“ those were the days before smoking was banned, so the armrest ashtrays had to be cleaned out, too.
- Working an Alitalia 747 that happened to be the flight that my parents were taking to Rome, and on to Tel Aviv. Much waving from their seats. Because of the connection and security issues at the time, their bags weren’t in containers, but had to be put in the ’œfree load’ hold just below the tail. Who was in the hold, and put their bag gently in place? Me! Who didn’t notice that the cart with their other bag ended up back in the baggage room? Ummm’¦me. And who got the 3:00 AM call from Rome, from my very p/o’d Dad? That would be’¦me again.
- My favorite shift was being assigned to the refueling crew. All of the ground equipment had to be refueled, every day. Our lead had a van to drive us around, our crew all had clipboards with a list of the equipment, and we drove the tractors, belt loaders and even the aircraft tugs back and forth to the gas pumps. I’d try to grab one of the baggage container-loaders because they went really slow. I’d enjoy a beautiful summer evening on the ramp during the 20 minute drive to the pumps. And back.
- If I was working on a cabin, I’d try to do the clean of the forward part of the plane. That included the forward part of the economy cabin, the first-class cabin, galley and washroom, and’¦the flight deck. I think I spent way too much time just sitting in the left seat. It took quite a while to empty the waste bins, you know. Except one day on a JAT Yugoslav 707, when the very imposing stewardess-in-charge told me ’œYou don’t clean, I clean! Go!’ (Yes, they were stewardesses then)
- On those hot, humid, Toronto summer evenings, watching the 707s and DC-8s use just about every foot of the longest runway on takeoff. There was a hump about halfway along Runway 32, and the planes would pretty well disappear from view before they fought their way into the air, spewing black smoke from their max-power engines.
Do you think I had fun? You bet! And I’m sure that there are other current or ex-Ramp Rats out there that have other stories. Want to share? Please do so in the comments.
UPDATE: Our friends at Air Canada just sent me 5 fabulous archive photos. Have a look:
|This story written by… Howard Slutsken, Correspondent.Howard has been an AvGeek since he was a kid, watching TCA Super Connies, Viscounts and early jets at Montreal’s Dorval Airport. He’s a pilot, and gets away to fly gliders whenever he can. Howard is based in Vancouver, BC.|
Awesome story. Love the tidbit about first class steaks!
Howard, good stories I’m a regional manager for ground operations and can tell you the food stuff still occurs these days it’s a race between M/X and ground ops. I still enjoy getting out of the office and spending time on the ramp.
Thanks, Chris – I surprised myself with all the things I remembered. And it seems that not much has changed over the years. Back then, grabbing some food onboard was a much better alternative to the employee cafeteria, which thankfully was demolished when the “Aeroquay” came down!
Love it Howard! I remember T1 so well. The family used to go there to have lunch and watch the comings and goings. Great memories, thank you for sharing.
i always remember going to the top of level P9 to wave goodbye when family members when on their trips all thats gone now not the same to bad the parking was not built the same way so you could look down
Wow that’s a beautiful story I did the exact same things offload United 727 run up on American thanksgiving and have the first class Turkey dinner before grooming but I started in 1984 I worked for Hudson General.
The days airports were privileged spots to be…for a flight, a cocktail or a fine meal with a view on the tarmac. Thanks for sharing!