A day in the life of a dispatcher 2016-06-29 22:30:00 2018-06-17 14:40:14
Pilot George
142 60
1300 500

A day in the life of a dispatcher

29 June 2016


Between University; starting this blog and CTC Aviation, I worked at Bristol Airport as a flight dispatcher. It was a role I thoroughly enjoyed and one in which bore HUGE responsibility. Working at the airport always seemed to pique the interest of those I spoke with so I thought to myself; why not put together A Day In The Life Of / Q & A style post? I certainly never appreciated the sheer amount of effort that went in to getting my bottom in that seat and safely to the other side - with my baggage, of course. I've kept it relatively short, but if you want to learn even more, use the form at the bottom of the page and I'll try to answer your questions.

Q: Who are Flight Dispatchers?

easyJet Airbus A320

Flight Dispatchers are individuals assigned to manage the entire inbound and outbound movement of a single aircraft. They work with all parties involved in the turnaround process including, but not limited to, baggage handlers, passenger assistance, refuellers, caterers and cleaners so that the flight departs on time and above all else, safely. Ultimately, it is the dispatcher who must ensure an aircraft leaves with all baggage, passengers and cargo accounted for. Flight Dispatchers are also in constant communication with the Pilots so to ensure take-off and flight performance are not hindered by any loading of the aircraft.

Q: What time did your shifts start and how long were they?

Sunset at Bristol AirportFrom looking at the above photo you might be able to work out that the answer to this question is.. early (sometimes). Okay... well, don't let someone on check-in hear me say that as I got to lie-in compared to them, but nevertheless I typically worked a shift pattern of three earlies, three lates, three off. The number of early and late shifts varied as the business needed though. Some weeks I worked more of one than the other. The earliest shift start I ever had was 04:30, and the latest around 16:00. The latest finish was 02:00. But despite being tired and a slave to caffeine, the early shifts often produced a remarkable sunrise (as pictured). Shifts typically lasted an average of 6 hours. Some earlies were as short as 4 hours though, with lates sometimes being as long as 12. It really did vary. 

Q: Which airlines did you work with?

Photo of Thomas Cook Airlines A321 at Bristol Airport

During my time at Bristol I had the opportunity to dispatch flights for easyJet, Thomas Cook, Thomson, FlyBe (BlueIsland), BMI Regional, Brussels, Wizz Air, WOW and KLM. The only airline I didn't dispatch, due to needing additional training, was RyanAir. As one of easyJet's major UK bases I'd say I dispatched their flights the most.

Q: How many flights did you dispatch per shift?

Thomas Dreamliner at Bristol Airport

The number of turnarounds I managed per shift was dependant on a number of factors, but usually included among others:

  • The airlines I had been assigned and their turnaround times
  • The total number of flights on a given day
  • The number of staff on shift to cover them; and
  • Any delays or strikes

On most shifts I averaged 4 flights. I had a few shifts with 9.. which were manic! It was literally back-to-back!

Q: Were there any negatives to the job role?

Of course, like any other. The vast majority of the time they aren't overly avoidable. A big negative was adjusting to constant changing shift patterns. Another is finding a time to have a drink of water, or toilet for that matter, when you're back-to-back on those busy days. Most of these are just part of the hectic lifestyle that is the airport environment.

Q: What did the typical turnaround involve? 

easyJet/Swissport Dispatch Paperwork-50 minutes to departure

  • Arrive at the inbound aircraft's stand.
  • Request departures teams begin calling passengers to the gate at -40 minutes to departure.
  • Open doors to arrivals walkway.

-40 minutes to departure

  • Greet the inbound aircraft.
  • Supervise the flow of disembarking passengers.
  • Go on-board to check everything is okay.
  • Call passenger assistance company, cleaners, caterers etc if required.
  • Close doors to arrivals walkway.

-32 minutes to departure

  • Enter the gate area to access the airline system.
  • Chase check-in closure if flight not closed.
  • Print out airline paperwork and produce loading form.
  • Check for slot restriction.
  • Leave the gate area and re-board the aircraft.
  • Provide pilots with initial (planned) loading information.
  • Provide cabin manager with expected passenger figure, including expected special assistance passengers.
  • Request time for boarding from cabin manager.
  • Leave aircraft to speak with the baggage handling (ramp) team to confirm expected figure.
  • Collect paperwork from the ramp team.

-26 minutes to departure

  • Commence boarding of outbound passengers meanwhile checking ramp paperwork.
  • Watch the flow of passengers boarding and collect any gate bags from passengers.
  • Ramp team collect gate bags to load in to the holds.

-20 minutes to departure (or as close to)

  • Receive gate closure figure from departures team.
  • Read back figure to 100% confirm final passenger loading.
  • If bags need offloading due to no-show, identify bags and work with ramp team to offload.

-15 minutes to departure

  • Confirm total number of baggage loaded in to the aircraft holds.
  • Receive signed loading instruction report from the ramp team.
  • Request ramp team remove back steps.

-10 minutes to departure

  • Board the aircraft.
  • Confirm final passenger figure with cabin manager.
  • Double-check there is enough space for cabin bags and that no more offloading is required.
  • Enter the flight deck, sign-off the final passenger and baggage adjustments.

-5 minutes to departure

  • Receive completed paperwork back from pilots.
  • Ask for permission to close the aircraft doors.

-3 minutes to departure

  • Doors closed.
  • Steps removed.
  • Ramp team communicate with flight deck via headset.

-0 minutes to departure

  • Aircraft pushes on-time. 

And then it all starts again...

easyJet Airbus during turnaround

As soon as one aircraft leaves, an inbound one is never too far behind it and everything starts again. The variation in procedures from airline to airline and the odd complexity thrown in by drunken passengers also made things a lot more interesting and fun.

I hope you enjoyed this small insight and if there's one thing i've learnt from the experience, it's to respect the ground crew. They work so hard to get an aircraft off on time and I am now totally appreciative of such effort having been a part of the operation for myself. Going forward in to my career, I know that I will now have a strong level of understanding and respect for ground handling agents that, as I have witnessed first hand, is not always afforded to them when they deserve it most. 

Join My Mailing List

Be among the first to see my latest content.


What did you think of this post? Join the discussion below.