At most local FBOs the ground crew is referred to as line service. Sometimes they are called ramp agents or line service technicians. (FBO stands for “fixed base operator” and it just means the company at the airport that provides services to your plane).
The great men and women of line service are all friendly but their interest and involvement in aviation vary. Some of them are pilots or student pilots, and others like planes but aren’t planning on taking lessons. There are even some line service technicians who don’t care about planes at all!
Depending on the airport, a big part of the job for a line service technician is friendliness. These are the people that greet you and your passengers after a flight. They are selling their FBO services to your passengers just as much as they are selling to you.
If you run across an unfriendly or rude line service agent let the company know. Thier negative attitude is not just uncomfortable, it can also be dangerous or costly. Consider someone doing a hasty careless job while towing a multi-million dollar jet. CRUNCH! Or maybe they are fueling your Cessna 172 with jet fuel. Or what if they bump into your wing and don’t tell anyone…..that can get you killed!
I, myself, worked line service for about 6 years across 3 airports including Phoenix Sky Harbor. If you are young and interested in aviation, line service is a great job, and some flight schools will give you a discount if you work there (ask before you apply).
At most small airports line service will operate with a crew of just 1 – 4 employees sharing the various jobs across the field. Each line service agent at a small airport does every job. They drive tugs, fuel trucks, luggage trucks, deice trucks, etc… They know how to handle various types of planes and they learn how to push planes into a hangar in tight formation. They act as wing walkers, standing next to the wing to let the tug driver know it is safe from obstacles. They act as marshallers, waving their orange wands to let pilots know where to park. They operate ground power units, air conditioning units, air start units, lavatory service carts, and all manner of machinery needed to support air operations.
When dealing with line service be friendly like you would anywhere, but understand the relationship. You need to tell them what you need for your plane and they will do it. You need to make your own fuel decisions. Even if you are a newly soloed student pilot and you feel like others know more than you….you are the one calling the shots!