In an increasingly globalised world where the cost of air travel has become more affordable, millions of passengers take to the skies every day. Regardless of where they have come from or where they are flying to, they have one thing in common: they have all travelled through an airport at one point in their journey.
With such a high turnover of daily visitors, it’s no surprise that airports can sometimes experience a spot of friction. What keeps things moving, though, is the people that work there.
In every airport across the globe, workers fulfil an eclectic mix of roles and responsibilities that are all vitally important to the bigger picture – and you could be one of them.
Indeed, if you want to embark on a career in this highly dynamic and fast-paced industry, then you’re in luck. We’ve compiled a handy breakdown of the most lucrative roles available.
So, whether you’re looking for a new job or you’re fresh out of school, read on – these are the highest paying airport jobs in the world.
Average salary: $21,280 (£15,285)
Concessionaires are responsible for managing and operating the numerous restaurants, gift shops, coffee houses and brand stores that you encounter and peruse during those long waits before your flight. Their services are especially handy when you need a caffeine hit at 6 am, just before you embark on that important business trip to Frankfurt.
Generally, these jobs pay by the hour and, like many similar positions in the service industry, offer little above minimum wage, but don’t let that put you off. You get to meet lots of interesting people passing through, and the extended opening hours mean there are plenty of opportunities for overtime.
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19. Cabin cleaner
Average salary: $29,350 (£21,080)
Cabin cleaners are responsible for cleaning the interiors of an aircraft in between flights, restocking the food and drink trollies, and getting rid of toilet waste. You’ll have to be a quick worker; airlines are constantly trying to make ground turnaround times shorter, and during busy periods you might only have 20 minutes to clean the entire aircraft to a high standard.
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Average salary: $30,890 (£22,190)
Although the exact requirements of the role can vary depending on the size of the airport, custodians manage the general upkeep of the airport each day. This includes upholding passenger zones (such as waiting areas and toilets) to a high standard of cleanliness and performing other minor maintenance and janitorial tasks.
Again, there are no educational requirements to be a custodian, although you should ideally have experience in a similar role elsewhere.
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17. Ramp agent
Average salary: $34,380 (£24,690)
Ramp agent is a generic term for the ground crew who perform external maintenance and turnaround on an aircraft in between flights; this can encompass refuelling the plane, enabling passengers to embark or disembark and performing various safety checks. Like cabin cleaners, the timeframe in which to complete these tasks is often limited.
Ramp agents are also responsible for ensuring the safety of the runway by checking for and removing any rubbish or debris that could get sucked into an aircraft’s engines.
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16. Ticket agent
Average salary: $38,510 (£27,650)
Ticket agents, otherwise known as customer service agents, are employed directly by airlines and are often the first people you meet at the airport. They check passengers in and assist with any administrative issues. They also liaise with flight dispatchers and cabin crew before take-off to finalise passenger lists.
Customer service skills are essential for this role, especially when there are delays or cancellations and passengers can become angry. They also act as the representative face of their airline, so it’s important to consistently project a positive image.
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15. Aircraft fueler
Average salary: $40,450 (£29,050)
It is safe to say that aircraft fuelers are potentially one of the most important roles at any airport. Their primary responsibility is to refuel trucks and add fuel to the aeroplane. It is also a dangerous position since you will be working with hazardous aviation gasoline and kerosene and climbing ladders or stools a few dozen times during every shift. Overall, you will complete, on average, 15 fuellings per day.
14. Airport security handler
Average salary: $44,920 (£33,260)
Known in the US as transportation security officers (TSOs), security handlers have been a part of the airport staff for some time now. Every year, they screen millions of passengers and their carry-on bags before they are permitted to board flights.
There are no educational requirements to be a security handler, but you will have to complete training courses devised and implemented by your respective country’s aviation authority. These often include in-depth security checks. You will also need to demonstrate strong communication and customer service skills.
13. Baggage handler
Average salary: $50,980 (£36,610)
As the name suggests, baggage handlers are responsible for ensuring that your hold luggage leaves from the little carousel at the check-in gate and ends up at the big carousel in your destination airport, a transition that doesn’t necessarily always go to plan.
There are no educational requirements to be a baggage handler, but due to the labour-intensive nature of the job, you need to be in good physical condition to qualify for this role.
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12. Airfield operations specialists
Average salary: $51,330 (£36,860)
Like an aviation safety inspector, airfield operations specialists focus on the planes’ safety during take-off and landing. This is achieved by ensuring that all airfield safety procedures are adopted and maintaining contact with air traffic control. Often, the airfield operations specialists must balance the coordination between air-traffic controllers and the employees on the ground.
11. Flight dispatcher
Average salary: $52,078 (£37,390)
Flight dispatchers primarily liaise with pilots to create flight plans before take-off. These must take into account weather conditions, emergency planning and all aspects of fuel management. They also take into account flight cargo, passengers and any other variables that may affect the flight’s ability to depart or land on time – as a result, this can be a very stressful job.
Being able to multitask is detrimental, along with the ability to work under pressure. To land this job, you’ll also have to pass a written exam and accrue a minimum number of supervised training hours.
10. Flight attendant
Average salary: $56,640 (£40,700)
Ever since the heyday of Pan Am in the 1960s, becoming a cabin crew member has been seen as a glamorous and highly sought-after career; it’s also a great way to travel the world for free – all while wearing a fancy uniform.
Of course, on the flip side, there are also long hours, unruly passengers and unpredictable weather conditions to contend with, not to mention the highly competitive recruitment process.
If you’ve got what it takes, though, working as a flight attendant can be one of the most interesting and exciting careers in the industry.
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8. Avionics technician (tie)
Average salary: $66,680 (£47,870)
Avionics technicians are responsible for inspecting, maintaining, and repairing aircrafts’ electronics systems, either through routine inspections or when particular issues arise. With nearly every aspect of an aircraft’s management system now being electronic, this is a vital position.
As a result, you will be required to possess a relevant engineering qualification accredited by a regulatory body, such as the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in Europe or the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) US. With experience and further training, you can then explore more opportunities in the aeronautical and wider aerospace field.
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8. Airframe and powerplant (A&P) mechanic (tie)
Average salary: $66,680 (£47,670)
If avionics technicians oversee the electronics systems on an aircraft, then aircraft mechanics – also known as A&P mechanics – are responsible for everything else. They perform a similar role, inspecting, maintaining and repairing any issues with the plane, including the engine, landing gear and brakes.
You will need to attain a similar level of education to an avionics technician. This is directly the case in Europe, for example, where the B1 and B2 categories of the EASA Part 66 represent the A&P and avionics licences, respectively.
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7. Air marshal
Average salary: $68,467 (£49,160)
Air marshals are covert plain-clothes security operatives that provide on-flight security and counter-terrorism measures in the event of a hijack or security incident. Although they are not present on every flight, they routinely carry firearms and other weaponry onboard.
The process of becoming a marshal depends on your nationality; this is because each country has a different means of recruiting them.
In the UK, for instance, this tasking falls under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Police, while in the US, there is an entire government department (the Federal Air Marshal Service) set up to provide personnel.
In Israel, meanwhile, flag carrier airline El Al routinely provide their own internally trained marshals on every single one of their flights. Either way, expect to undergo several highly intensive training courses.
6. Airport manager
Average salary: $89,000 (£63,900)
Airport managers are essentially tasked to run airports. Their main responsibility is making sure that airports or airlines are adhering to all the rules and regulations, communicating with various parties and hiring new personnel. The objective for every manager is to run a smooth operation and facilitate an environment of efficiency.
As long as you possess a bachelor’s degree, you can find employment, although industry experts say it is prudent to hold certification from the National Business Aviation Association or the American Association of Airport Executives (or a comparable global organisation).
5. Aviation safety inspector
Average salary: $98,610 (£70,790)
Aviation safety inspectors are individuals who have work experience as a pilot, repairman or other types of aviation positions. Typically, these inspectors will have expertise in a couple of specialities that allow them to do their job effectively.
Aviation safety inspectors are responsible for overseeing the operation of aircraft, evaluating mechanics, repairing various components and coming through the safety of the aircraft and equipment. The position also consists of assessing air carriers’ operational programmes and evaluating training classes.
4. Aerospace engineer
Average salary: $118,610 (£85,150)
Aerospace engineers study, design and manufacture aeroplanes and other spacecraft. Their job also includes learning about and coming up with new techniques to operate aircraft, rockets and even drones within the atmosphere.
Interested? Perhaps this is a role you should consider if you want to have a critical position in designing, analysing and developing aircraft.
3. Air traffic controller
Average salary: $122,990 (£88,290)
Air traffic controllers are based in airport towers and regional/national centres. They are tasked with constantly monitoring air traffic and liaising with pilots to avoid collisions or pileups in the air and on the runway. It can be a difficult and stressful job requiring close attention to detail and enormous concentration levels.
On the plus side, there are absolutely no formal requirements to be an air traffic controller, making it one of the highest-paid nongraduate jobs in the world.
Instead, you are required to pass a notoriously difficult aptitude-based selection process before embarking on a lengthy training programme that can last over three years.
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1. Flight instructor (tie)
Average salary: $137,330 (£98,590)
If you have accumulated thousands of hours in the air, you can enjoy a career as an aviation instructor. This is a great employment opportunity for those who want to transition away from the demanding work and hours as a professional pilot.
Flight instructors offer lessons both in the air and on the ground. Both elements prepare students for the written and flight tests necessary to attain a pilot’s license. The position allows the instructors to work full- or part-time.
However, to qualify for this role, both pilot training and instructor certification are required.
1. Airline pilot (tie)
Average salary: $137,330 (£98,590)
Unsurprisingly, being a pilot is a dream job for millions of people, due in part to the prestige and responsibility of the role but also because of the hugely enticing financial rewards on offer.
An Airbus A380 captain piloting long-haul flights for a major commercial airline can comfortably attract a salary of $200,000 (£143,600), for instance, although this generally tends to be the exception rather than the rule.
The large majority of pilots gain their licenses privately through flying schools before applying to airlines and training on the relevant aircraft and gaining the necessary certification.
Alternatively, some offer transition training after serving in the military or flying privately for commercial enterprises. It’s not all glamour and aviator shades, though; becoming a pilot requires the ability to remain calm and professional under intense pressure, as well as remain physically fit.
Browse airline pilot jobs
As you can see, there is more to life in the aviation industry than just flying. Working in an airport can be an exciting experience where you encounter interesting people and see a surprising slice of life each day.
So, if any of the jobs on this list take your fancy, why not make sure your job hunting skills are up to scratch and submit an application? After all, you never know where in the world your newfound career could take you.
Have you ever worked in an airport? Share your experiences with us in the comments section below!
Salary information is based on data compiled and published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and PayScale. Currency conversions are based on rates supplied by XE.com on 21 April 2021.
This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 4 June 2018 and contains contributions by Andrew Moran.