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Steady tips keep skycaps flying high

Airport jobs financially rewarding, but work is backbreaking

By Chris McGinnis
CNN Headline News

Airport jobs financially rewarding, but work is backbreaking

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(CNN) -- When airport lines are out the door and you're running late, there's nothing better than a friendly and efficient skycap to help get a trip off to a good start.

Skycaps typically are stationed at the airport curb to assist with bags and to check travelers in for their flights. Skycaps are also in the baggage claim area with dollies or carts to help people get bags from carousels to cabs or their cars.

"I just wish there were more of them," said Joe Brancatelli, who runs joesentme.com, a popular business travel Web site. "I don't have to use them if I don't want to, and I'm thrilled to pay a guy to tote my bags -- or help me cut in line at check-in."

Contrary to conventional wisdom, most skycaps aren't airline employees -- they work for airline contractors, which typically pay them the minimum wage for tipped employees -- $2 or $3 an hour in most states.

But a recent CBS MarketWatch article titled "The Ten Most Overpaid Jobs in the U.S." ranked airport skycaps as seventh -- higher than airline pilots, who came in ninth. Huh?

'The money is so good'

"Most skycaps have held their jobs for years because the money is so good," said Dave Clayton, chief executive officer of Andy Frain Services, an Illinois company that provides skycaps to airlines throughout the United States.

"A good skycap at a busy airport can make between $75,000 and $100,000 a year, and most of that money comes in tips. I know several who don't even bother cashing their salary checks because the tips are so good."

Think about it. On a busy day, a skycap could assist about 20 travelers an hour. If each traveler tips $2, the skycap earns $40 per hour. In an eight-hour day, that's $320 in tips. Or $1,600 per week. $6,400 a month. $76,800 per year. Not bad.

Uncertainty with alert levels

Being a skycap is tough, physical work. Most of it is done outside in the rain or snow (or heat and humidity). Think about spending eight hours a day heaving oversize bags in and out of car trunks, giving directions to bewildered travelers, checking bags and searching for tips.

Then there's the uncertainty. When the Transportation Security Administration ratchets up the terrorism threat level, curbside check-in is banned. "They really take a financial hit," Clayton said.

Pointers for tips

If you're checking in at the curb, be sure to tip a skycap at least $1 or $2 per bag.

"Since skycaps are providing a value-added service, they are allowed to accept tips, but they cannot solicit them," said Delta Air Lines spokesman John Kennedy.

If a skycap helps you unload heavy bags, totes them to a conveyor and then checks you in, I would tip at least $5.

Extra special service calls for a tip of $10, even $20.

For example, such a tip is recommended if you're late for a flight and a skycap gets your bag checked and gets you to the front of the check-in line. Or perhaps the skycap overlooks an oversize or overweight bag for which the airline wants to charge an extra $50.

If a skycap has helped you or an elderly parent in a wheelchair from the curb to the gate at a large airport, a tip of at least $10 or $20 would be fair, given the amount of time it takes.


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