For most people, the flying experience only really starts once they are on the plane. But have you ever stopped to think about the different people you meet along the way? For every airline, the first person you meet – the check-in agent-shapes your perception of the company and so it is very important they find the right person. But what is their role? What training do they receive? What kind of people are they?
Interview with Jacqueline Habenicht-Nicod from Swissport at Geneva airport to find out who a check-in agent really is.
Jane: How would you define the role and tasks of a check-in agent?
Jacqueline: I think it is important to explain what we do and ensure people are aware that this is really an important job. We are on the front line if you want. We do our best for the comfort of our passengers, so it is about being flexible, attentive and following the procedures to get our passengers on their way without having too many problems.
Jane: How did you become a check-in agent?
Jacqueline: I have always liked airports as far as the work environment is concerned. I definitely targeted some types of job which would enable me to work in this kind of atmosphere and come into contact with people. So I went on their website and started looking for available positions with the various airlines here in Geneva. I realized that there was a course to train people how to become a check-in agent which was about to start, so I applied and was lucky enough to be chosen.
Jane: How long have you worked as a check-in agent?
Jacqueline: I am quite new. It is only been a year and a half. I started in March last year but I like it because I am full of energy when I am here and I am working on a special contract which is called “The Mums”. This contract is designed to enable us mothers to work three hour shifts during the week, but not the weekend. It helps you get back into the world of work and at the same time allows us to have a family life without being over loaded with hours.
Jane: What sort of education should you have to become a check-in agent?
Jacqueline: We see a lot of different profiles-university students and other people who are generally interested in doing different things. I would say you must be open to different cultures and speak several languages. It is not like we pick out a certain category of people, but you have to be intelligent, open minded and like having contact with people, because you have to be able to speak with people about anything and everything. Once you are hired, you go through a special two week course using software called Guy and DCS, which takes you step by step through all the information you need to work with. You are then coached and supervised for a further two weeks until you are able to work independently.
Jane: What is the procedure for recruiting?
Jacqueline: This happens via the website, sometimes we are informed as employees if there is a need for new staff and people also come to ask us directly.
Jane: What kind of skills do you need to acquire to become a check-in agent?
Jacqueline: Communication skills are very important because some of the passengers are very easy going while others are more difficult. You come across different people. The situation sometimes gets very stressful and you have to be able to transform this into “good energy”, so your communication skills need to be strong.
Jane: What are the main languages that you use at work?
Jacqueline: The main language is English. From time to time you may use German, and it is good if you have the three main Swiss languages. Often the first interaction you have with people is in either French or English. However, people always appreciate if you can say a few words or greet them in other languages like Russian.
Jane: What kind of personality is a check-in agent expected to have?
Jacqueline: One of the main points is flexibility. You have to be very attentive to passengers’ needs and stay focused in order to direct them accordingly.
Jane: Can you submit your application directly to the Human Resources Department?
Jacqueline: Yes. You might not be given a favourable response right away, but at least your CV will be kept on file for any future positions.
Jane: Are there any vacancies currently?
Jacqueline: You can find out all the information regarding recruitment on our website.
Jane: What are the opportunities for career advancement?
Jacqueline: You just have to show interest in doing something new. If you communicate clearly about what you want to do, the authorities are always open to listening to you. They will go through your file and take the necessary steps. As far as I am concerned, there are no restrictions.
Jane: What are some of the challenges or difficulties in your job and how do you deal with them?
Jacqueline: The challenges we have here are more technical and not so much with the people we are in contact with. As you know, Geneva airport is quite old. Although they do renovations from time to time, there are a lot of passenger movements in this airport and the tools we are given here are not yet adapted to the numbers of people who pass through. For example, the conveyor belts are old and can get stuck sometimes so you have to move luggage physically, especially during holiday periods like now. This is very challenging, because it is tiring.
Jane: How would someone like me, with professional experience in reception and administration, go about becoming a check-in agent?
Jacqueline: Go straight to the Swissport website and apply for the vacant positions which interest you.