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Skycaps Can Be A Traveler's Best Friend

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Nick Anis

Skycaps Don't Work for the Airlines
They Work for You!

Many travelers and even airline employees are not aware that skycaps, the people who check in your luggage curbside and carry your bags inside the terminal, and to and from the curb, are not airline employees.  These uniformed workers don't get any benefits such as overtime, paid vacations, health insurance, and so on. Adding insult to injury, for all their heavy lifting and carrying in hot sun and humidity and freezing rain and snow, their average pay is only about $2.58 per hour, and they don't even get any air travel benefits.

Skycaps are underpaid, overworked, and definitely under-appreciated.  I was reminded of this while on a trip to the Caribbean.  A skycap sent me an email about the valuable services they provide air travelers.

In case you haven't figured it out yet ... skycaps work for tips.  The average tip for skycaps is about a buck a bag.  That's the same amount I used to get when I carried luggage for travelers as a teenager 30 years ago at La Guardia Airport in New York City.  Maybe I'm feeling guilty about how I cut into skycaps' business as an impoverished teen or maybe I've learned to appreciate just how valuable a service they provide.  But I'm beginning to realize that these tireless workers deserve more gratitude and gratuities.

A skycap I'll call Manchester (not his real name) reminded me that skycaps don't just check-in your bags curbside.  They check your ID, helping make your flight safer; they check your flight to make sure it's on time and so that you will know what your departure gate is, and so on. 

Depending upon the airport, skycaps provide you with luggage tags and pens, tape for your bags, and boxes for your garment bags, skis, and golf clubs.  Most can also check bags for passengers with electronic tickets, and make change for travelers with only larger bills.

Like nimble rock climbers and eagle-eyed scouts, skycaps can climb up on the luggage conveyor, spot, and scoop up your bags while you freshen up in the restroom, make a phone call, comfort a jetlagged child, or just sit down and rest.

If you are starting on an international flight, skycaps can and frequently do, carry your bags while leading you inside to a ticket agent for check-in.

There is NO CHARGE for all this service, other than a voluntary gratuity. On average, most travelers give skycaps a buck or two a bag.  Occasionally, a traveler will give them little or nothing regardless of how much service is provided. 

Several years ago I witnessed an affluent looking man with his family and six bags including two very heavy ones take two bucks and wad it up.  He handed the money to his wife and asked her to hand it to the skycap.  Then he sneaked off on the pretense he had to make a phone call.  The skycap took the tip, smiled, and thanked the woman with genuine sincerity.  I saw this man and his family a few minutes later at the departure gate waiting to board their flight.  To my surprise, the skycap appeared, holding something.  "Sir, your dropped your wallet by the bench you were sitting on while your wife was checking the bags," said the skycap.  He also handed him a little key he left in one of the suitcase locks.  The man said thank you very much, reluctantly handed him a buck from a wallet filled with cash, and turned away. 

It has been some time since I watched this little drama.  I had forgotten about it until I received an email from "Manchester" about skycaps which refreshed my memory of the incident.

In my overall experience, I have found that most travelers can be quite generous.  Manchester, basically told me the same thing.  Most travelers tip, but they would probably be more generous to skycaps if they were aware tips are just about their only compensation.  It's too bad airlines and airport administration doesn't permit signage explaining the skycap's reliance on tipping or even indicating these hard workers are skycaps.

There is little doubt travelers are a little ticked that the airlines don't have more help at the ticket counters to check-in bags.  It doesn't seem fair, however, to blame a skycap who isn't an employee of an airline because of the airline's cost cutting and resulting inadequate service.

Curbside Baggage Check is Best

These days, the best way to check you bags for a flight is at the curb with a skycap.  This is a valuable service, even if there is a wait, or a skycap just lifts you bag onto a nearby conveyor.  Even if there is a long line outside, the wait inside at the ticket counter is almost always longer.  You might save a few bucks checking bags at the ticket counter because airline "employees" are not permitted to accept tips.  But you are likely to have an overall longer wait.   You will also have to lug your bag inside the terminal to the check-in line where you will slowly snake through the line as your flight's departure time grows nearer.   The biggest drawback of not using the skycaps to check your bags is you may take too long on the ticket counter line which can lead to all sorts of problems.  Your bags might not make it on your flight.  You might have to carry your bags all the way to the departure gate.  Or you might not make it through security and to the departure gate in time to make your flight, and your bags will make the flight and you won't.  When you finally arrive, you may find your suitcases locked up in storage with no one available with a key to release them to you.

Carry-On Luggage Drawbacks

In case you are thinking you can skip checking-in bags all together by having more carry-on bags...think again.  Most airline are restricting carry-on to 1 or 2 bags.  Even if you are not over the carry-on bag limit there may not be enough room, or you may have to put them so far away you could forget them when you leave.  If you have too many carry-on bags or your bags are too large, you will have to do a gate check.

Gate Checking Bags

A gate check has some drawbacks but is actually a good way to handle checking bags in some situations.  If you have a valuable and/or somewhat delicate item, or something that is too large to fit on the plane you can check it with a gate agent or flight crew member on the ramp of the plane and (at your option) pick it up on the next connection, or your final destination. 

Gate checked items go from the gate or ramp to the belly of the plane where the other luggage is stored.  When the plane lands, gate-checked items are handed to the inside of the ramp just before the passengers begin to disembark.  You may opt to gate check an item for each connection or check it through to your final destination.   If you gate check through, your luggage will be

When you gate check something, you don't have to worry about it being crushed by another passenger stuffing the overhead storage bin, or being damaged by falling out of the overhead storage onto the floor of the plane. Be careful not to gate check a bag with your airline tickets, wallet, glasses, diapers baby formula, and other items you may need.

Unfortunately, while you are doing a gate check, your plane is likely filling up with passengers who are taking all the carry-on space, pillows, blanks, and so on.

Practice good travel sense.  Pack your bags wisely, use good luggage with name tags, and arrive early enough to properly check your bags, confirm your seats, clear security, and board your flight. 

Another equally important air travel tip is to please take good care of your skycap, because he or she will always take care of you and the other members in your party - even if you end up having to wait a little, or it appears all they are doing is lifting a bag onto a conveyor belt.

Comments, email

Skycaps and others may re-print and distribute this article if they wish.

Nick Anis

1125 Bramford Court
Diamond Bar, CA  91765

Phone: 909-860-6914
Fax: 909-396-0014

Nick Anis is a computer and technology writer and the author of 24 books who also writes about travel, food & wine, entertainment, skiing and family recreation. He writes for Ziff-Davis, Microtimes, The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Travel Watch, TravelGram, and Restaurant-Row. He is responsible for the Restaurant Row Ethnic Dining Guide, co-published by the Long Beach Press Telegram. Nick is a member of the Computer Press Association, The International Food Wine, and Travel Writers Association (IFW&TWA), and the North American Ski Journalists Assn. (NASJA).

Nick can be reached at, Phone: 909-860-6914, Fax: 909-396-0014.


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Last Revised: Friday, May 15, 2015 06:38:58 AM
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