Quin Lai Ka-wai, senior station officer at Garuda Indonesia (Airport Team), is in charge of getting passengers and baggage onboard on time. It is a very challenging task given that the flight schedule can be unpredictable.
"The hardest part of our job is when flights are late or cancelled. Ground staff have to work together, in tandem with senior staff like me. When an incoming flight is late arriving into Hong Kong, the most challenging thing is avoiding extra parking fees by achieving a smooth and quick turnaround. Air traffic control has a schedule and passengers have expectations, meaning we must ensure our flow of operations is smooth," Lai says.
Ground staff operations involve two phases - pre-flight and post-flight. The former is when ground staff greet passengers at the check-in counters.
"We keep in contact with head office and the reservations and catering units in case there are special meal requests or disabled persons who need to be escorted," Lai says.
"Then, at the gate, we monitor the ramp operation to ensure that passengers board the plane safely. For the post-flight phase, we file flight data such as aircraft weight and balance, and send them to our headquarters. We must also occasionally arrange accommodation for operating crews staying in Hong Kong," Lai adds.
Aviation is an international, time-sensitive and customer-oriented industry, meaning that ground staff must be optimistic and friendly.
"These are two 'musts' in any customer service work. Every passenger has different demands and you have to be adaptable. Most of the time, passengers appreciate and are even surprised by our conscientiousness. Their thanks and appreciation are the best gifts for our customer services," Lai says.
Besides being optimistic and friendly, ground staff must also be independent and able to work under pressure, Lai adds. "There are many ad hoc and unpredictable issues and we have to choose the most suitable response in a limited time, based on our knowledge and experience, to minimise problems," Lai says.
Most of the training for ground staff is done on the job.
"New staff build their working experience through participation. Experience in aviation flow - from ticketing, passenger handling, ramp operation or weight and balance calculation - is preferred," says Lai.
Like most airport jobs, ground staff are required to perform shift duty. According to Lai, there are typically four shifts - 5.30am to 2.30pm, 7.30am to 4.30pm, 10am to 7pm, and 3pm to midnight.