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.