KLM’s Atilla Balci – For All Your On-time Departures

KLM employs hundreds of people, perhaps even thousands, who do their work almost invisibly. They are all tiny cogs in a well-oiled machine we call “Operations”. Take Atilla Balci, for example. He is one of 202 turnaround team leaders, better known as TLOs, who ensure that our planes are efficiently unloaded and reloaded, so that they’re ready for departure on time.

This is the second in a new series of blogs called “The ABC of KLM”. In the first, I joined two aircraft tug drivers on the platform. This time round, I’ll be accompanying Atilla Balci (64), born in Posof, Turkey, married and father of four, who also spends most of his time working around aircraft on the platform.

What exactly does a TLO do?

“In a nutshell, we’re responsible for the aircraft turnaround process, which starts when a plane arrives and ends when it leaves.”


“We do this with a team of five. To give you some idea of the pressure: some aircraft types have to be ready for departure within 35 minutes. I check if all baggage, cargo and mail is on board and correctly loaded. To do this, I stay in touch with all operational departments. I’m like an events manager. I coordinate all communications between people working in and around the plane – cockpit, crew, cargo, refuelling, catering, cleaning, baggage and gate agents.

That sounds pretty stressful. Do you ever delay flights if something seems wrong?

“Safety is the chief priority. If anything is wrong, I get to the bottom of it. In short: safety first, then punctuality.”

There’s a passenger missing from the flight we are monitoring, and there are only four minutes left till departure. Atilla instructs his colleagues to take the passenger’s suitcase off the plane.


Two minutes later, the passenger turns up. Atilla has already made his decision, the bridge has been withdrawn and the pilot has already requested start-up orders from the tower. The passenger will be left behind, ensuring that there is no delay. Many travellers have to catch connecting flights and every minute counts for them.

How did you become turnaround team leader?

“I joined KLM 32 years ago, starting out in the baggage basement. I became senior loader and then general driver, bringing pallets and containers to and from larger aircraft, before I was promoted to this job.”

Atilla interview-EDIT

Tell us about your average day?

“I work irregular hours. Sometimes I’ll be on the early morning shift, and then I’ll work the late evening shift. Every day is different. When I arrive, I report to management and check which flights I’ll be responsible for. This is where I register my iPad and the numbers of my walkie-talkie and mobile phone.


“This ensures that all team members and departments handling the flight –refuelling, cleaning, baggage, catering, cargo, mail, cockpit and gate agents – know that I’ll be the TLO in charge and which flights I’ll be handling.”

“I always want to be well prepared. Operations always run differently than planned, which adds to the fun of my job. I check the schedule to see which of my colleagues will be assisting me. Then I roll up my sleeves and head out to the platform.”


Do you have any bad days?

“I have a pretty positive outlook on life, so I don’t really have many bad days. But if you really want to know: I don’t like the rain. It messes with my hair.”

At that very moment, two colleagues come walking by and point at the rain and then their hair. Atilla enjoys a good laugh and his contact with colleagues is quite informal, so jokes are certainly allowed. “Humour helps keep your spirits up.”


Do you have any tips for KLM passengers?

“Try to get to Schiphol on time. Unexpected things can always happen when you travel. You may forget your passport, traffic could be heavy, the weather may be bad – travelling is always more fun if you can take it easy.”

Posted by:   Rogier Reker  | 
Join the conversation Show comments

Frank van der Voet

This is a great series – keep ’em coming!

Rogier Reker

Thanks Frank, we sure will!


Love all the blogs.

Rogier Reker

Ha, Aletta. All of them?;-) Big blogfan…

Bram Otte

Great blog. I am fan!

Rogier Reker

Me too!;-)

Muhammed Balci


Rogier Reker

Very nice guy!

Thomas Scheier

Without people like Atila keeping everything working there are no flights taking off or landing!

Rogier Reker

He and a few of his colleagues Thomas;-)


Thank you Thomas, i do it not in my own. It’s a TEAMWORK ofcourse between many collegs and we do our best to depart all Flights save and on time.

Sonja Boer

Come and join me for a day!! Gate Agent and on the flights we are handling together… always in contact with Atilla!!

Rogier Reker

I’ll be more than happy to Sonja!


That is a good idea Sonja,


“Atilla instructs his colleagues to take the passenger’s suitcase off the plane.” How can you find the baggage so fast, even with bar-codes on the suitcases?

Rogier Reker

Hello W8post, I think he uses the charm:”Wingardium Leviosa.” But just to be sure I’ve asked Atilla to answer your question.


Hello W8Post,
The bar-code at the Bagage ıs scanned by collegues ın the Baggagecente on a Car eve.n with a bar-Code. After we get the cars wıth baggage , we scan the car bar-code wıth the BAGMANAGER to a compartment. ( There are 4 compartments to load. ). Forexample ın compartment 2. And another car with bags we scan it to compartment 3.
After missing pax with bags, the Gateagent offload he pax in the system then we get a warning in our BAGMANAGER to offload baggage which is loaded in compartment 2. After searchıng and offloading the baggage we scan the bar-code at the baggage and offload it in our system to be sure that the flight is save to depart.


KLM is always on schedule, and I’ve always wonder how you get to manage so many things in such a short time. It’s great to know about Atilla Balci and many other people’s hard work. Wonderful job guys!

Rogier Reker

Hey Alex, there’s more coming so stay tuned!


Hey!!! Great job Atilla, as users we don’t really know what goes on behind the scenes, but I gotta say!!! Best customer service I always receive from u guys from beginning to the end, from checking to landing and picking up my luggage!!! Interesting job role, thanks!!!


Hey Mishelly,
It’s a great plesure to serve our customers.
Thank you for flying with KLM


Great job Atilla. Reminds me of working the ramp at YVR, always looked forward to the KLM MD-11 making its daily appearance. We all really enjoyed working KLM flights.


why is it when i apply a KLM position, there is always the not-suitable for position reply. is KLM practising equal opportunities like other airline or just being racist? im from asia and would like to work at KLM. please consider others that are passionate to join KLM, and not judge them by their race or religion!

Herrera Martin

Hi klm,
I work very similar. For 7 years
Like. Mr Atilla Balci and I love to work that way.
Inclusive I miss this experience….
My tipe of AC..
B 737. 400, 700…
b757. – 300
MD 80
Md 90.
A 320…
In next oportunity, love to aplay with you Klm,,,,
For. Curriculum vitae..
I Happy to applay….klm.
Thank you….


I do the same job but in ABZ Scotland. I have done the job for 11 years having started as check in staff. I live my job, hours are hard with family life, but the crew and friends at work help easy your day. Keep up all the good work KLM

Baris Dayioglu

It’s always been nice to fly with KLM. I consider KLM and Turkish Airlines on the same cozy and friendly level. Keep up the good work! Atilla Bey, başarınız daim olsun!

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