Quest to Replace the Ramp Rat


We received about 200 responses to Brainteaser #162’s essay question:

Now that ICAO has eliminated “ramp” from the aviation lexicon, what do we call the kid who runs the fuel truck, since we can no longer use the term “ramp rat?”

In scouring the responses, we eliminated all names to protect senders from apron personnel (one of the suggested terms) revenge.Answers ranged from the mildly absurd — fuel ghoul, muu-muu monkey, rampy, avonator and petrol pediagog (we’re not sure what that one meant) — to the fairly derogatory apron airhead. See if your windshield doesn’t get “accidentally” cleaned with a gritty oil rag after shouting, “Hey, apron airhead, get the windshield, willya?”Five responses referred to the subjects as apron asses, although one respondent said apron arse, indicating a British influence. Either way, we didn’t consider them nice and leaked the contributors’ names to a secret airport attendant (another suggestion) website.Most responses began with the word apron, as in apron angler, apostle, accomplice, artist, athlete, acrobat, jockey, gofer, tugger, hazard, and two senders suggested apron stain, which we couldn’t figure out, either.

Some were just weird, as in apron astronaut, aholics and avgassers.Many suggestions to replace ramp rat could be considered sexist, such as apron matron, babe, maid, lady, queen and Annie. But sexism ebbed both ways, with apron Ronnie or Andy and the somewhat disturbing boys in aprons. One reader, swept up in new-age ICAO correctness, suggested service person. Sorry, not a lot of romance in that one.One suggestion, apron alderman, no doubt came from Chicago, and we’ll agree to call that the winner only if the winded city reopens Meigs Field. No? OK, toss out apron alderman and too bad about your Cubs not winning the pennant … again.Many answers involved animals, as in apron arachnid, alpaca, anaconda, bunny and antelope, plus apron ant — which garnered 11 votes (more than Newt Gingrich received in the Iowa Straw Poll, although, inexplicably apron newt was not a contender in our contest). One vote was cast for apron anteater, easily consuming the 11 apron ants. Also crawling up the ark’s ramp were apron lizard, cat, rat (too much like ramp rat to be considered a viable replacement) and apron anemone. Two readers suggested apron aardvark, while three offered apron alligator and four liked apron armadillo. One suggested fuel ferret, and two readers offered a generic apron animals to replace ramp rats.Still, no clear winner.Two suggestions floated through the letterbox with equal conviction: Apron ape and apron stringer each bought in 35 votes, tying them for winner of the term to replace ramp rat in our brave, new, ICAO world.

We should be comforted by this bi-readership equanimity, I suppose, but I believe that unlike the Kumbaya, pitch-in togetherness found in, say, the U.S. Congress, these two equal forces — Apes and Stringers — may cancel each other out, leaving those of us without strong opinions to line up and wait for a breakout term or accept the wisdom of one reader who opined, “I think we should still call them ramp rats, and they should still accept advice from airport bums and grizzled geezers who have been flying longer than the rats have been breathing.”Excelsior, fellow airport bum! Ramp Rats of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your minimum-wage jobs in an unstable economy.Note: The Brainteaser author was a ramp rat at Watsonville, Calif., Municipal Airport (WVI) from 1977 to 1979.