Cargo Handlers: Job Description & Career Information

A cargo handler, also known as a baggage handler, is a member of an airline's ground-ramp crew and is responsible for safely loading and unloading passengers' luggage and other cargo from an aircraft. Keep reading to find out more about the requirements and benefits connected to this occupation.

Career Definition for a Cargo Handler

Stacking baggage on carts and making sure it gets to the correct destination may seem like the most important job a cargo handler has when that baggage belong to us, but a cargo handler actually has many more responsibilities than the average traveler may realize. A cargo handler generally works outdoors in all types of weather and may operate a forklift or a conveyor in order to move luggage, packages, bags of mail, and other types of air cargo. The safe and efficient work of a cargo handler is an often overlooked, yet important part, of the service provided by an airline.

Education High school diploma
Job Skills Able to lift more than 50 pounds, good communication skills, able to work under deadlines
Median Salary (2018)* $27,270 (for hand laborers and material movers)
Job Growth (2016-2026)* 7% (for hand laborers and material movers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

Beyond a high school diploma, there is no specific education required to work in cargo handling. Jobs in this field are considered entry-level and the necessary skills can be learned quickly. Most new employees will receive on-the-job training while being supervised by an experienced cargo handler or manager. Regulations vary, but licensing may be required for cargo handlers who drive forklifts or operate other heavy equipment.

Required Skills

A cargo handler must be able to repeatedly lift items of 50 pounds or more. He or she must speak, read and write English fluently, and communicate effectively. The airline industry is one with tight schedules and exacting regulations so the ability to constantly work under the pressure of a deadline is needed. Experience operating a forklift or other industry related machinery is an asset.

Career and Economic Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ( classifies cargo handlers among hand laborers and material movers and predicts that employment in the field will grow at an average rate of 7% from 2016-2026. The Bureau's records indicate that the median annual salary for these workers was $27,270 in May 2018.

Alternate Career Options

Similar careers to a cargo handler include:

Construction Laborer and Helper

No formal training is required for this occupation that may be learned on the job, although some attend vocational school programs to learn skills for fulfilling basic, physical tasks on construction sites. Faster-than-average employment growth of 12% was expected during the 2016-2026 decade for this job that offered an annual median salary of $34,810 in 2018.

Material Moving Machine Operator

Most of these positions may be learned on the job, although employment as an excavating machine or crane operator may require previous work experience. A 6% growth was expected in the number of available positions from 2016-2026, according to the BLS. In 2018, the BLS reported an annual median wage of $35,850 for material moving machine operators.

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