Hot job at O'Hare's tarmac

United Airlines ramp service worker Janice Geske on the tarmac at O'Hare Airport Thursday morning with a thermometer that reads 112 degrees.

July 21, 2011 3:43:04 PM PDT
As a shiny Boeing 757 airliner is guided into a gate at O'Hare International Airport, a dozen workers scramble to attach a luggage conveyer belt, auxiliary power units to cool the plane and a fuel hose.

The plane barely comes to a stop before workers spring into action on the tarmac at O'Hare International Airport. This group of United Airlines employees will repeat their orchestra of activity seven or eight times during their shift in the un-relenting heat.

"You just pretend you're in the gym, in the sauna. It's like a little spa," said Janice Geske, a United ramp service worker. Geske and her colleagues can each unload an average of 13 bags a minute -- and the work doesn't stop when the mercury soars. The temperature on the tarmac hit 112 degrees by midday, but the areas around the actual airplane can be even warmer.

"Right now outside is actually kind of pleasant. It's when you get in the aircraft pit, it's about 20 degrees hotter than it is on the ground," Geske said.

Under the plane, air conditioners vent air so hot that it sent our thermometer spinning past its limit and nearly burned my fingers. To beat the heat, United workers built a hydration truck that ferries jugs of water and lemonade from gate to gate. The airline says it also adds staff to give ramp workers more frequent breaks.

"It's tough to do when you're out here 8-10 hours straight but you need to take breaks, cool off, find shade and drink a lot of fluids," Steve Polan, United Airlines ramp service worker, said.

"Yesterday was the hottest day so far and it's supposed to be bad all week but I think on the dayshift yesterday we had just one delay, I mean it's amazing," Mike Cklamovski, United Airport operations supervisor, said.

Even as hot and sweaty as the job is in the oppressive heat, ramp worker say it beats a blizzard and even the rain.

"This isn't bad. Cold weather isn't bad. It's that constant rain. Rain in the fall all day long where you're cold and you're hot, that's got to be the worst," Polan said.

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