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You don’t have to be insane to work in air cargo … but it may help

You don’t have to be insane to work in air cargo … but it may help

IN 35 years of peering through the unwashed windows and dusty lace curtains, I’ve never come across anyone who actually planned to live in air cargo street, writes Nigel Tomkins.

No-one woke up one morning, wiped the sleep from his or her eyes and sanely declared to the world: I desperately want to be an airfreight forwarder.

Sadly, the widespread paucity of air cargo acknowledgment starts from a young age. As far as I am aware, you can’t do ‘O’ level or High School diploma exams in air cargo and there are few university degrees which focus squarely on freight forwarding (except, perhaps, if you work for Panalpina). You can, though, obtain qualifications in mental health management, or maybe sewage mechanics.

No careers advisor at any school I know of included air cargo in the list of potentially exciting career paths offered to pupils. It was always the same old list of banking, teaching, medicine, law, retail, fireman, airline pilot, marketing, town planning, air traffic control or – if you went to a particularly liberal school – that list might also have included the sex industry, tattooing, internet scamming, stand-up comedy, the US presidency and alternative hairdressing.

It is no surprise then that you will not find air cargo in the all-time top-100 global list of excellent career choices.

So how did all you people end up in air cargo? Mostly by default, I reckon. You probably started out as bankers, librarians or accountants, got bored within a few months and – probably because your parents lived near an airport – ended up getting a job at a local forwarding/warehouse/airline/trucking/packaging/distribution type of company. It’s possible that you started work in an airline’s passenger division – and then got ‘promoted’ to the cargo department.

You didn’t know it at the time, of course, but that was possibly the beginning of the end for your sanity. Suddenly, and virtually without warning, you were on the path to a career in air cargo. Welcome to the madhouse.

So, what did you find when you entered the front door? To start with was the faded wallpaper, the questionable smells … followed by a winding path of low pay, low expectations, poor mentoring, insane unsocial hours, universally poor spelling, grubby workplace conditions, bad office locations, a dog-eat-dog culture and, perhaps the most useful qualification/condition of all: an all-embracing sense of humour.

Let’s face it, if you are fiercely proud of your air cargo career, then you probably haven’t bothered to read this far. If you have, it possibly explains why I have never met a single pompous air cargo professional. Pomposity is for bankers, politicians, aristocrats, committee people hell-bent on moving up the ladder, traffic wardens and those corporate business executives guilty of the same repeatable ‘we are delighted’ quotation clichés which fill so many disingenuous air cargo industry press releases.

That’s why I have compiled this top-five list of critically needed qualities you may require in order to succeed in the air cargo industry. The list probably includes:

  • Unremitting patience
  • Black humour
  • Technological naivéty
  • Lack of originality
  • Rampant entrepreneurialism

On the other hand, it seems to me that what you don’t need to be a success in air cargo may include the following:

  • Tech-savvy brilliance
  • Artistic creativity
  • Military precision
  • A sense of romance
  • Sartorial elegance

In the meantime, if you chose banking instead of airfreight, I’d like to remind you that a bank is a place that will lend you money only when you can prove that you don’t need it.

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