In the 1920s, the first airfields were often grass runways with huts on their edges.
The first airfields
They were run by the authorities, who provided customs clearance and made available the equipment necessary for air travel: placing lights along the runways, taxiing the planes, and providing wireless and weather service. It was the airline's responsibility to oversee the preparation of the aircraft and the coordination of passengers, luggage, and freight.
The first air terminals
At Air France, created in 1933, these new jobs were coordinated by the station manager, formerly known as an aerodrome leader, with the assistance of a runaway manager. Passengers were greeted, checked in, and accompanied to the bottom of the gangway by employees. They were weighed first: aboard these low-powered planes, each pound counted.
Then traffic increased. At Le Bourget, Air France's main hub, 14,000 people came through in 1923; this increased to 100,000 in 1936. The air terminal – the term "airport" appeared in 1936– was expanded and modernized in 1937. It had services that were appreciated by travellers (kiosk, hair salon, shoe shine), and was a forerunner to modern airports. Air France increased its employee presence there, and offered new facilities: a lounge for its high-status passengers, and for everyone, shuttles providing free connections to the centre of Paris.
The Invalides, "a door to the world"
Everywhere that Air France set up a destination (85 in 1939), it complemented its services with bars, restaurants, and sometimes hotels – like in Africa (Dakar in 1938, Bamako in 1941, Algiers in 1942).
After the war, these airport facilities were not able to absorb the increase in traffic. To relieve its Parisian hubs (Orly at this point was a complement to Le Bourget), Air France relocated some passenger services to the centre of Paris. The Invalides air terminal was a large building – with shops and currency exchange desks – where hostesses helped travellers fill out their paperwork and check their luggages before transferring by coach to Orly or Le Bourget.
Equipment to help with traffic
It was a temporary system. The future would see modern hubs, adapted to the crowds of passengers that were coming with the widespread adoption of jets and wide-body aircraft. Orly (1961) and Roissy (1974) installed equipment to assist in the flow of passengers and baggage such as escalators, telescoping jetways, and baggage carousels. In Orly, Air France launched the first real-time check-in system. Passengers now needed to show up just 25 minutes before take-off.
These were valuable improvements as passenger flows continued to grow exponentially– even just in Paris: from 3 million travellers in 1962 (Orly), to 40 million in 1987 (Orly and Roissy)!
One airport, three professions: runway, traffic, and passenger activities
To face this increase in traffic, Air France optimised its organization, which is now articulated around three professions: runway, traffic, and passenger activities. Runway and traffic teams include all employees who work on preparing aircraft, as well as handling baggage and freight. Passenger activities include employees in contact with customers – from check-in to boarding, as well as lounges – including "high-contribution passengers", handicapped passengers, and unaccompanied minors (UM). As the true alter ego of flight attendants on the ground, they also convey the airline's brand image.
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