Sometimes the things that customers don't see make the biggest contribution to a successful flight
Author A. AVERYL RE
WHILE PASSENGERS will probably never meet Al Dotson face-to-face, they would definitely notice if the Denver International Airport lead ramp serviceman and his co-workers were not on hand to help keep things running smoothly. Dotson, who’s been with United for 25 years, is one of three employees who maintain the radios that airport teams use to communicate, as well as the scanners they use to get planes loaded and on their way.
Ramp employees work “below the wing” to direct planes to the gates, connect them to ground power and heat or air-conditioning sources, and push them back from the gates. They also load and unload baggage and cargo, bring strollers or wheelchairs to passengers, and perform walk-arounds on aircraft to ensure everything is in order. To communicate with a range of other employees — at gates and ticket counters, in maintenance and cockpits — the ramp personnel use radios. And for just about everything else, they use handheld scanners.
“Because Denver is a United hub, it’s a big transfer station with a lot of customers passing through on their way to somewhere else,” Dotson says. “Obviously, we want to get those planes in the air quickly so people can get where they’re going, but we also want to make sure customers get there with their bags. For that, the scanners are critical.”
The ramp employees use the scanners to read the bar code on each baggage tag and send the time and location of the scan to a central databank, as well as the identity of the employee scanning it and the identity and destination of the passenger who owns the bag. Dotson and his co-workers are responsible for keeping this vital equipment running, training ramp personnel in its use and sometimes, in a pinch, pitching in to make sure flights get loaded and away from the gate on time.
“The scanners enable us to keep everything moving with the most up-to-date information. They give us gate changes and aircraft numbers to ensure we make those transitions smoothly,” Dotson says. “Just like with a shipping company, where it’s nice to know where your package is, it is nice to know where your bag is. With the scanners, we can give customers more complete information, and they like that.”
The bottom line, of course, is providing every passenger with a smooth travel experience. “How can I not think about the people who are flying?” Dotson says. “They pay for a service, and they deserve to get the service they pay for. We have to think about them and the service we are delivering.”
Dotson came to United after studying aviation technology at Purdue University. The company seemed like the right fit for him because it meant spending time around planes, something he truly loves. He also appreciates his co-workers, especially those he calls the true stars of the ramp. “They’re out there in the cold every day, getting everything done, and I help them,” he says. “We’re all a team, and it takes everyone giving their best — even when it’s snowing.”
Tough winter weather gives Dotson another reason to brag on the safety team at Denver. “If you’re in the middle of a snowstorm, we’re the best de-icing station, hands down,” he declares. “You don’t want to spend a lot of time on the ground. You don’t want to waste a lot of fluid. Our guys have it down to an art.
“It’s a great airport, too,” he adds. “If you have to be in an airport, it’s a great place to be.”