I was in my late teens in the early 1970s. Â For two summers, I had the absolutely perfect job that any young AvGeek would ever want â€“ working on the ramp at a major airport. Â Yes, Iâ€™m proud to say that I was a â€œRamp Ratâ€!
My summer job was at Toronto International Airport (YYZ), then also known as Malton Airport. Â I worked in Terminal 1, the uniquely-designed round-concourse â€œAeroquayâ€. Â Itâ€™s long gone, having been demolished and replaced by YYZâ€™s new T1.
IÂ was part of a crew of four; my boss, called the â€œlead handâ€, and two other guys. Â No girls allowed in that club back then! Â We did everything, including baggage and cargo offloads and onloads, and cabin cleaning. Â Iâ€™d normally work the 2 pm Â to 10 pm or the 4 pm to Midnight shift, when the main international â€œpushâ€ happened at YYZ.
It was a transition period for the international carriers. Â Most still flew the early-generation 4-engine jets, like the 707, DC-8, and the beautiful but incredibly loud Vickers VC-10. Â 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. Â The 737 wasnâ€™t particularly popular with the airlines back then â€“ how times have changed.Â We worked turboprops, like the Convair CV-580 and Lockheed Electra. Â Any Airbus planes? Â 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. Â But for AvGeeks like me, there are many things Iâ€™ve remembered, all these years later:
- When the later-evening Eastern Air Lines 727s arrived, our crew would rush to do the offload. Â Then weâ€™d head to the cabin and grab a first-class dinner tray before the catering trucks came to empty the galley. Â Filet mignon â€“ yum.
- While cleaning the cabin of a BOAC 707, a summer thunderstorm rolled over the airport. Â The winds were so strong that they actually pushed our chocked plane about six feet. Â There was a catering truck up on its lift on a 747 at the next gate â€“ 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. Â He was driving a van, and didnâ€™t go the right way around the left wing of an American Airlines 727. Â He wiped out the left aileron. Â The plane was grounded for repairs for over a week. My co-workerâ€™s career at the airport was permanently grounded.
- Almost suffering the same fate, when I positioned a baggage tractor for an arriving BOAC 747. Â 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. Â The 747â€™s nose appeared and stopped, then the engines spooled up and the door came into position. Â 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. Â 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. Â My lead and I were in â€œbig pottyâ€, but kept our jobs. Luckily the steering wheel didnâ€™t end up in that engine! And that 747â€™s registration â€“ G-AWNL â€“ Iâ€™ve never forgotten.
- Ick â€“ cleaning the washrooms on charters coming from Europe. Â Double-ick â€“ 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. Â Much waving from their seats. Â Because of the connection and security issues at the time, their bags werenâ€™t in containers, but had to be put in the â€œfree loadâ€ hold just below the tail. Â Who was in the hold, and put their bag gently in place? Â Me! Â Who didnâ€™t notice that the cart with their other bag ended up back in the baggage room? Â Ummmâ€¦me. Â And who got the 3:00 AM call from Rome, from my very p/oâ€™d Dad? Â That would beâ€¦me again.
- My favorite shift was being assigned to the refueling crew. Â All of the ground equipment had to be refueled, every day. Â 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. Â Iâ€™d try to grab one of the baggage container-loaders because they went really slow. Â Iâ€™d enjoy a beautiful summer evening on the ramp during the 20 minute drive to the pumps. Â And back.
- If I was working on a cabin, Iâ€™d try to do the clean of the forward part of the plane. Â That included the forward part of the economy cabin, the first-class cabin, galley and washroom, andâ€¦the flight deck. I think I spent way too much time just sitting in the left seat. Â It took Â quite a while to empty the waste bins, you know.Â Except one day on a JAT Yugoslav 707, when the very imposing stewardess-in-charge told me â€œYou donâ€™t clean, I clean! Go!â€ (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. Â 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 Iâ€™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: Â Our friends at Air Canada just sent me 5 fabulous archive photos. Â Have a look:
|This story written by…Â Howard Slutsken, Correspondent.Howard has been an AvGeek since he was a kid, watching TCA Super Connies, Viscounts and early jets at Montrealâ€™s Dorval Airport. Heâ€™s a pilot, and gets away to fly gliders whenever he can. Â Howard is based in Vancouver, BC.|