Unsung Heroes: A gate agent on his passion for aviation, 72-hour work weeks and how customers can get the VIP treatment
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The airport experience is so much more than takeoff to landing. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work that’s involved in getting your flight moving from point A to point B, and one of these crucial jobs is the airline gate agent.
Beyond ticketing to boarding your flight, gate agents ensure that customers have received their seat assignments, monitor jetway doors and assist with customer requests to get the show running.
This week, we’re sitting down with Alex Zois to gain insight into his previous role as a gate agent. You’ll learn about his background, day-to-day and future travel aspirations as a vital service member of the aviation industry.
Unsung hero: Alex Zois, a previous gate agent for GAT on behalf of a major U.S. airline
TPG: How did you get into becoming an airline gate agent?
AZ: I graduated from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, FL, with my bachelor’s in aviation business and my master’s in aviation management. Before the last semester of my master’s programme, I interned at JetBlue Airways in Long Island City, NY, in the technical operations department. From that point on, I knew that my long-term goal was to work in airport operations on a corporate level, as I shadowed various teams throughout the summer.
Then, the pandemic hit right as I was searching for my first job. That was a really hard time for the industry, and I had to rethink how I was going to continue working in aviation when nobody was hiring. While I had an initial mindset of working corporate, there were virtually no aviation jobs available.
During the pandemic, I saw that many business partners (who hire airline ground support on behalf of carriers) were hiring rather than the airlines themselves. I eventually applied to GAT and Unifi, two airport service providers in the U.S. I accepted the GAT gate and ticketing agent position in Phoenix because my brother lived in this city.
TPG: How long were you a gate agent?
AZ: I worked for GAT on behalf of a major U.S. airline for 10 months. I just recently started a new position at Breeze Airways as a Station Operations and Guest Services Policies and Procedures Specialist.
TPG: What did a typical work week look like?
AZ: During the height of the pandemic, I was working just under full-time — before the recovery of airlines began. Once airlines started to build out their flight schedules and pick up more routes, I worked six days per week, 12 hours per day.
Every shift, I clocked in, went over the briefing sheet and prepped for the flights of the day. Then, the other crewmembers would come in and start the briefing. We’d discuss what’s going on, what to expect and how to plan for the day. Our goal was always to be one step ahead — even though we might experience 12 different setbacks that day.
I’d start at the ticket counter, and as planes would arrive, the other agents and I would switch over to the gates. As the flights have become more full over the last few months, it’s been very busy — with a lot of running from gate to gate! Some situations would arise that would need a supervisor’s attention. My boss and I were the only supervisor-level agents, so it was a lot of multitasking and putting out fires as they would come. It wasn’t just gate agents that weren’t adequately staffed — it came down to everything, even the baristas in the airport Starbucks.
TPG: What is your favourite part of the job?
AZ: The planes! As an AvGeek, I loved plane watching and seeing my favourite planes (my personal favourite being the A320) pull up.
TPG: What is your least favourite part of the job?
AZ: The uncontrollable weather delays where there’s really nothing you can do about it. Sometimes, a delay in the morning shift would then roll over to the night shift, making the workday really long. We’d do our best to alternate breaks and accommodate, but those were definitely stressful.
TPG: What’s the one thing you wish more people understood about your job?
AZ: We’re always multitasking. It’s getting busy, and it hasn’t been this busy in 1.5 years. As everything starts to ramp up again, having a bit more patience can go a long way. It’s a learning process for everybody. While most customers are pretty patient, but some tend to demand more than others.
TPG: What’s something anyone can do to be a better traveller in 2021 and beyond?
AZ: Just to say please and thank you! It goes a long way, especially if you’re asking for something from an airport crew member.
TPG: What is something a traveller can do to get the VIP treatment from you?
AZ: The truth is, there are no real upgrades, which is what most people are looking for. However, if a customer was being nice and polite, I would always try to go the extra mile to see if they can accommodate their seat request on a full flight if they came up to the gate. If I saw a seat open, I would do my best to give them the seat since nobody was going to sit there anyway.
TPG: How does working in the hospitality industry change your idea of travel, or going on holiday?
AZ: I’ve worked in the hospitality industry, not just in terms of airlines but also in restaurants. It’s given me a chance to better understand what everyone is going through. It’s different from working with people from an office perspective, but you’re working with customers who expect you to deliver a product.
Overall, working in this position has opened my mind more, especially when things go wrong. In an irregular operations (IROP) situation, I know the agents are working their best to take care of the delay. If something’s wrong with a hotel within reason, I know they’ll fix it and they’re trying their best.
TPG: If you could go anywhere in the world on a holiday, where would it be and why?
AZ: I want to go somewhere I’ve never been… so the Maldives! I’ve also never been to Europe, so I’d love to fly to London, then take the train everywhere.
TPG: Tell us about the best holiday you’ve ever taken, or the best place you’ve ever travelled.
AZ: Australia! I’m originally from there, so I went to go back and visit home. It’s truly the best country I’ve ever visited and is such a breath of fresh air. There’s so much to do and it’s a different culture and environment, and I loved that way of life. I would move if I had a job there!
Featured photo by American Airlines
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