I took a job as a line girl at Lakefront Airport (KNEW) New Orleans about two weeks ago. I lost my job as a Supervisory Analyst in finance six months ago and figured, with money slowly running out, that it was time to get another job. Knowing I’d take a pay cut if I couldn’t find another Supervisory Analyst job, and believe me I’ve been looking, I decided that I should find something at the airport so that I’d at least be happy. But I also didn’t want to sit behind a desk, even if that desk were at the airport. As a Supervisory Analyst, I had to sit at a desk for a minimum of nine hours per day, usually even more than that. Some days I didn’t even have time to get up and pee (too much information, I know, but you get my point about having to sit for so long). So with my change of pace from working in finance, I also wanted a change of pace from the desk. That’s why I signed up as a line girl. For the non-flying enthusiasts, a line worker does pretty much everything related to airplane service: fuel airplanes; drive the fuel trucks; tow airplanes with the tug; push and pull the smaller airplanes; marshall them to a parking space with hand signals or light wands; greet passengers and pilots; help with luggage; fetch rental cars and pull them up to the plane; bring pots of coffee, newspapers, and catering out to the plane; and just generally be an ambassador for the airport and for the fixed base operation. The normal term you hear is “line guy” since there are VERY few women working the line. So once again, just as I stand out as a rare female pilot, I stand out as a rare female line girl.
The work can be very physical. One minute, we’ll have five airplanes come in all at once that need parking, need hangar space, need fuel, need a quick turnaround, need maintenance, and I often sprint from one plane to the next during our busy times (good thing I’m a runner!). Other times, it can be boring while I stand out on the ramp looking at an empty airport and wonder what to do after I already swept out the hangar, fueled all the planes that needed fuel, and lined up all the chocks so they are easy to grab when we’re busy.
The variety of airplanes that I see even on a slow day is mind-boggling. Everything from Cessnas like mine to Embraers, Citations, military jets, medical lift helicopters, and old warbirds. Just in my first few days on the job, I got to ride in an Eclipse jet (thanks, Erin!) and helped marshall in and schlep luggage for Madonna’s two jets: one carrying her entourage and one carrying her and her adopted children. I saw a warbird that even my airplane expert friends had never heard of: a Nanchung that leaked oil in about eight places that I mopped up off our clean hangar floor. Oh, and that was the first time I’ve used a real mop, the kind in the yellow bucket where you have to squeeze it out. There have been a lot of firsts on this job! I consider myself in pretty good shape since I run five days a week, swim a mile once a week, and do aerobics once a week. But this job has me sore from the top of my head down to my toenails! The fuel hoses are heavy and unruly, the big jet chocks are so heavy I have to sling them over my shoulder to walk with them, and the towbar that you have to attach to each plane to push/pull or tow it is also really heavy. Then there’s the luggage, and keep in mind there’s no weight limit for suitcases on general aviation flights. So there’s a lot of lifting. That little bit of weight I had put on recently while depressed over my lack of work went away in record time!
And of course my favorite part about the job is meeting other pilots and finding out where they came from, hearing about their airplanes and their flying lives, and just constantly engaging in your basic “hangar talk” between pilots. My default setting is an introvert, but put me in an airport and I can be the most outgoing person in the world. I like to think it just brings out the best in me! The pilot community has many similarities to my beloved city of New Orleans. My favorite is that it is extremely friendly and welcoming, and therefore you make friends very quickly. We know we all share a passion for flying, and that makes the getting along part easy. I’ve already made friends and agreements to go flying together. Gotta love that job perk!
I also like to add a little flair to my work. I skip out to planes (when I’m not sprinting) and occasionally throw in a “YMCA” after I give the “X” signal to stop a plane I’m marshaling. After skipping out to Madonna’s plane the other day, one of her pilots asked me later, “Were you skipping because you were so excited to see Madonna or do you always do that?” Yeah. I always do that. I was way more excited about seeing her jets than I was about seeing her, but don’t tell her that.