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Airport bird hunters, other strange jobs

Airport hunters, traipsing through sewers, or clamping down on sandwich-eaters. It’s all in a day’s work for our 10 favorite odd jobs in travel.
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Why didn’t someone keep the birds away?

At least, that’s probably what the passengers of US Airways flight 1549 — which was forced to land on New York’s Hudson River January 15 — are thinking. After all, it was apparently geese getting sucked into one or both of the plane’s engines that caused the plane to go down (with, thankfully, no fatalities).

Airports have known for a long time that birds can pose problems to airplane engines, and have come up with different ways of combating the issue. Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, for example, has a robotic hawk to scare birds away. But if you’d like to get a job keeping the birds at bay, inquire at Zürich Airport, which employs three hunters to shoot the potentially damaging creatures.

And airport hunters are just one of the strangest jobs in the travel industry. When we searched the globe for the most offbeat tasks, we came up with some surprising professions.

For example, who knew that falconers and their birds of prey are some of the biggest clutch players of the travel world? A falconer in Santa Barbara, for instance, keeps pesky seagulls from invading the Four Seasons’ pool. Falconers are also working hard in Italy to keep pigeons from freckling monuments with their droppings.

In fact, many offbeat travel-industry jobs involve keeping Mother Nature at bay. In India, “monkey men” at a plush resort spend their days chasing primates prone to stealing guests’ cookies. “We are convinced that the monkeys have ‘tea parties’ on the other side of the resort’s stone wall,” says Rishi Kapoor, an executive with luxury tour operator Abercrombie & Kent, which partners with the Amanbagh Resort.

Happily, not everyone is just chasing critters behind the scenes — and for some people, what started as utilitarian jobs somehow turned into entertainment or guest perks. In St. Thomas, an engineer who helps protect guests from falling coconuts has become an essential part of happy hour. And that falconer at the Santa Barbara Four Seasons is about to become the hotel’s version of Jack Hanna, putting on his own show. “Guests kept coming up to him while he was working and asking questions,” says Gena Downey, the hotel’s spokesperson. “It prompted us to think about having him talk to guests regularly.”

It’s not always about creating a spectacle though: sometimes it’s about the service. In the past few years, other hotels have created quirky positions to enhance the guest experience — say, a “tanning butler” who applies sunscreen to pool-goers, “bath sommeliers” who fill your tub, or “bibliotherapists” who choose your reading material. “Anything that hotels or resorts can do to differentiate themselves, to create a ‘wow factor,’ is essential in today’s very competitive market,” says John Clifford, a travel agent and president of San Diego-based International Travel Management.

Our favorite jobs, though, walk the line between necessity and absurdity — say, being a tour guide for Paris’s sewer system — or are positions that sound fun but aren’t always easy. Take, for instance, what may be the most festive-sounding transit job on the planet: driving a karaoke-equipped taxi in Finland. “Drivers have to have ‘long’ nerves,“ admits Karaoke Taxi cofounder Arla Kulmala, “so that he or she can listen to singing all night long. Drivers also have to be a little bit crazy, in a good way,” she says. “It helps them understand customers better.”