Put the load right on me
Paul Apuna makes sure your air cargo gets delivered to its destination, with aloha
By Mark Coleman
Paul Apuna has been working for Aloha Airlines for 16 years, with most of that time spent as a customer service agent in its air cargo division. Since about nine months ago, he has been the relief supervisor for the division, which is Hawaii's largest interisland air cargo operation.
Title: Senior customer service agent
Job: Supervises up to 30 other employees in Aloha Airlines' air cargo operations at Honolulu Airport
He came to the airline after working as a tour director for Tradewind Tours, which before it went out of business was one of the largest in its field. Apuna, 57, is a graduate of Kamehameha Schools. He also studied travel industry management for a couple of years at Nevada Southern University (now University of Nevada, Las Vegas), but came back to Hawaii before graduating so he could help with his family's finances. He is married to the former Connie Diego, with whom he has an adult daughter and lives in Mililani. He also has two step-sons and a step-daughter.
Question: Your job title is customer service agent; is that the same thing as baggage handler? Is that what you do?
Answer: No. In our company, customer service agent can be a couple of things. You can be the one who checks in people at the ticket counter. Or, in our department, we work at the cargo counter to accept and release freight, things of that nature. So we deal directly with the customers, the freight forwarders. We don't deal directly with baggage, but we do deal with the cargo. I'm in the air cargo division.
Q: What do you do as a customer service rep?
A: My job description would be, I'm the relief cargo supervisor for the day and swing shift.
Q: And what does that entail?
A: That entails being the supervisor of the freight office over the operation of the freighters in the early afternoon and early evening. And then we also have international flights that we're contracted to do: Korean Airlines, China Airlines, Air New Zealand ...
So anyway, in my job, we have a crew that ranges on any given day from 20 to 30 some-odd people, and it's just to keep the operation going, and I guess I'm the buffer between management and the rank-and-file. And also we do our interisland freighters.
Q: How many cargo flights a day are there?
A: On my shift there's five, but our cargo operation is a 24-hour operation, so interisland we'd probably see -- from 8 at night to 7 a.m. -- we probably have 15, 16 flights, maybe a little more depending on the payload.
Q: Do you ever deal directly with passengers?
A: Rarely. On occasion, when their baggage is over the limit, or let's say they have live animals that are too big to accept at the ticket counter, then they bring it to the freight office and we bring it onto one of our freighters.
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Paul Apuna is a supervisor for Aloha Airlines' air cargo division. Above, Apuna, right, and Gary Jenkins lift frozen tuna onto pallets to ready them for shipping.
Q: Does Aloha have a certain number of planes dedicated to freight?
A: Yes they do. We have four planes dedicated as freighters.
Q: What kind of planes?
A: Aloha only flies 737s, the 200 series. For the passengers, we also have the 737-700 series, the long-range ones that fly to the mainland.
Q: What kind of stuff is normally being shipped as cargo?
A: One of our largest customers is Love's Bakery, so we ship a lot of bread to the neighbor islands. UPS, Federal Express, they contract us to take some of their shipments to the neighbor islands. Dangerous goods, things that can't be handled on a passenger planes, we're able to handle it, because we're a freighter -- with proper documentation, of course. And everything in between -- large animals, mail.
Q: The Postal Service, do they have their own airline? What do they use?
A: The Postal Service uses any airline that goes where they want to go. It's a contract service.
Q: What is your work schedule like?
A: Well, being a relief, two days a week I work from 5:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., and then three days a week I work from 1:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Q: Is it a very physical job for you?
A: Somewhat. It's not real physical. It's a lot more physical being a customer service agent, not so much as a supervisor. The guys that I work with, they're the ones that make the company look good, like any company.
Q: The kind of work they do involves what?
A: We're all trained to operate forklifts, aircraft loaders of various types, and so it involves building up the freight onto pallets or into containers, netting it down and then weighing it.
The job also involves the weight and balance. Every container obviously is going to have a different weight, so when it comes onto the plane, you don't just load it; you have to place it properly so the plane can have a trim to it.
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Apuna looks over a pallet of Love's baked goods packed for shipment to Kahului.
Q: Is there a guy who specifically figures that out?
A: Yes, a lot of our CSAs are trained to do that, so one of the things we do is assign different people to do it. So it depends who's working. That's what's kind of good about the people here in cargo. They're cross-trained in a lot of things.
Q: How much of your time is spent outdoors on the tarmac?
A: A lot of it is outdoors. I guess I prefer to be outdoors, even though my job calls for me to be indoors a lot of the time. We do have a tent for inclement weather, but the majority is outdoors, and it is pretty physical for those guys, and if they need any help, then we senior agents will step in to help.
Q: Working with the cargo as you do, what do you do to make sure you don't get hurt, by pulling a muscle or whatever?
A: Well, there's a warm-up process. It's an honor system, so you don't have to do it, but there's safety training that comes along with it. We have a safety department. We have a rep in our department that keeps an eye on things. Safety for the workers and for the aircraft is paramount. Without that, the job means nothing.
Q: Is there a lot of paperwork involved?
A: Yeah, there is, because when we handle the international flights, there are a lot of Customs clearances and such. So, yeah, there's quite a bit of paperwork, for local stuff as well, like cargo manifests, which will get a lot more detailed very, very soon, per TSA (the federal Transportation Security Administration).
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Apuna makes sure perishable items are stacked properly.
Q: How much does the paperwork take of your time?
A: Well, I try to manage my time. Over the course of the 8 1/2 hours, maybe two hours, but not all at one time. I try to plug it in here and there.
Q: Did you ever work as a baggage handler in the passenger side?
A: Very briefly, for about five or six months. They work very hard, too.
Q: Based on your experience, what kind of luggage would you buy? Any favorites?
A: No. I guess I'd buy the cheapest. (Laughter) Hard-sided is good, but these days, with everyone having to open your bag, it really doesn't matter. I guess it's a means of protection for your items, but who's to say it's going to be treated properly?
Q: What's your favorite part of your job?
A: I like the fact that every day is different. I mean, we have international flights as well as domestic flights and interisland flights, so every day is going to be a little different. And dealing with the different people working here, they make everything look real good. A lot of times the public doesn't really know what's going on here, but these guys make the company look real good.