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What is a Purser?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 23, 2024
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A purser is a person who assists passengers and handles important documents. An individual in this role may work on either a ship or an airplane, but the two careers are distinct and not interchangeable.

An airline, or flight, purser usually oversees the flight attendants to ensure that passengers are safe and comfortable. He or she may confirm that all baggage us safely secured and all passengers are served refreshments efficiently. The purser also makes sure that safety procedures are carefully obeyed at all times. Sometimes called the cabin manager, he or she may also be called on if there is a disturbance in the cabin, and may need to complete detailed reports after the flight lands.

A ship purser on a cruise ship manages the ship attendants to ensure the safety and comfort needs of all passengers are being met. He or she may also help guests prepare customs declarations and other paperwork. Some may work at the ship's information desk during some of his or her time on the job, answering questions about sightseeing trips. The security of passengers' belongings stored in the ship's safe and/or safety deposit boxes is the ship purser's responsibility, and he or she is also responsible for freight documentation and payroll records.

Previous experience as a ship attendant is usually required before becoming a ship purser. Other experience working with the public in the travel and tourism industries, such as experience as a concierge, may be considered for employment. A concierge helps hotel guests with appointments, information about attractions and maps. An airline purser usually must complete an approved employee training program. Both positions require excellent people skills, and knowledge of a foreign language is an asset as well.

The first recorded use of the word "purser" dates back to the early 15th century, although the word was used as a surname in the late 13th century. The term is derived from the word "purse," and signifies one who is in charge of the purse. One of the most well-known pursers in modern popular culture is probably the television character Burl "Gopher" Smith played by actor Fred Grandy in television's 1970s/1980s series The Love Boat. Grandy's portrayal was beloved by many Love Boat viewers.

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Discussion Comments

By anon948650 — On May 01, 2014

I would love to be a cruise ship purser; it's all I ever wanted to do. It's the fact that you are helping people to enjoy their travel experience. Also knowing that you are getting great job satisfaction. Unfortunately, life took a different turn. But to anyone thinking of this career, go for it!

By anon316918 — On Jan 31, 2013

Can a purser be a receptionist at the same time? How many administrative staff are there on a cruise?

By anon248355 — On Feb 17, 2012

Is there someone who can help me and present what is it that a purser actually does? I am thinking about becoming a cruise purser, but I am hesitant. Truly, I am afraid my boyfriend and I won't be on the same ship!

By wisepoet — On Oct 27, 2011

I couldn't be a cruise ship purser. There would be too much stress.

I'm thinking about a Disney cruise I took last year and our ship was the Disney Magic. Do you know how many people are on that ship? I lot. And there would be way to much stress thinking about the fact that, you have a lot of important documents etc. that aren't even yours. So if something happens to them, you're toast.

By anon167538 — On Apr 13, 2011

An airline Purser is the manager on board an aircraft and is therefore responsible for all passengers and all other flight attendants and loading with the pilots. All other stewards and stewardesses report to the Purser, who would not necessarily be responsible for luggage, more so overseeing the whole operation, completing documents and paperwork and ensuring safety and security procedures are adhered to.

It is usually a requirement for a junior crew member to have flown for a few years to gain experience before being able to apply for Purser. - Jorge

By JillT — On Feb 12, 2011

I actually know someone who worked as a purser on a cruise ship. He has worked in the travel industry for many years – he started out as a travel agent, and then got a job as an attendant on a ship. He later applied for a as a purser with the same cruise line. He was responsible for doing all the things mentioned – he did everything from handling immigration issues, to storing travelers’ belongings and working at the information desk. He did so well as a purser that the company later promoted him to chief purser. Now he supervises other pursers, and in addition he manages payroll for the entire crew, as well as visas and work permits for the crew members.

By Denha — On Jan 29, 2011

I think most airline crew purser jobs these days are just part of the flight attendant's position on a plane. When I have flown, there have usually been a couple of flight attendants more in charge of baggage than the others, but no one whose job was specifically to care for my luggage and possible valuables.

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