Imagine that you and your significant other go shopping in a pricey store that’s known for its exclusive clientèle. Think Rodeo Drive, maybe. Walking through the door is a little exciting, if not slightly intimidating, but you make it past security and find yourself on the inside. It isn’t long before you realize that you’re out of your element, but not so far out that you can’t get by without bringing undue attention to yourself. So you persevere. You hang in there, trying on a high-end suit or two, gawking at the jewelry that cost more than your house, and you find yourself seriously considering signing up for a store account because it all looks so alluring and exciting.
Then you notice the door you came in through. It comes to your attention that seven, maybe even eight, of the customers who are leaving are dissatisfied. Most of them weren’t able to purchase what they came in for – but their wallets are a bit lighter nonetheless. There is grumbling, discontent, and a clear consensus that the service they were offered was nowhere near what they were expecting – especially for these prices.
Welcome to the wonderful world of General Aviation. That’s exactly how the public at large see us – as opportunistic, less than professional hobbyists who take our customers for a ride – both literally and figuratively.
No business that allows 70–80% of its customers to leave feeling poorly served is going to thrive in the long run. We are that business. Admittedly we bristle at the accusation, but if the shoe fits…
I experienced the slimy underside of GA myself when I first began taking lessons more than two decades ago. I’ve personally witnessed, and paid for, lousy instruction from unprofessional and somewhat unscrupulous instructors who worked for schools that turn a blind eye to the fact that their students are quitting more often than they’re achieving their goals. I stuck it out and eventually found success. Most of our customers don’t do that. They quit, and they’re not shy about telling their friends and neighbors why they quit. It’s not a pretty picture we’re painting. No it’s not.
This brings to mind my friend Tim Preston. Tim and his wife Peggy operate a Piper Cub and a Stearman from right here in central Florida. Like so many speciality businesses, they’ve moved around a bit, sometimes finding green pastures, and sometimes not. But through it all they have made a solid career out of providing excellent customer service, at a reasonable price, to customers who feel well served and speak well of them.
Saturday I watched Tim pre-flighting the Stearman while I was eating lunch on the porch of the airport restaurant. He was getting ready to fly with a woman who came all the way from Sweden to log some type specific time, and have an experience she would remember forever. Peggy took photos for posterity, the woman’s significant other did, too. Heck, the woman even went so far as to wear a video camera mounted to her head so that she could immortalize the experience of flying with Tim, in an open cockpit biplane, over the lush green landscape of Florida.
The sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that woman took away from her airport experience will make her a stalwart supporter of GA for all time. The same would be true for almost anyone who had a similar experience.
There’s a lesson in that for the rest of us. If we ramp up our level of service and increase our acceptance of honest professionalism — even while maintaining a sense of fun and unabashed enjoyment in our vocation and our avocation — we can swing a significant number of our customers and observers into the satisfied column, and do a great service to general aviation’s future in the process.
Or we can keep on doing what we’ve been doing for the past 20 or 30 years. Then again, that hasn’t been working out all that well for us, has it?
Jamie Beckett is a CFI and A&P mechanic who stepped into the political arena in an effort to promote and protect GA at his local airport. He is also a founding partner and regular contributor to FlightMonkeys.com. You can reach him at Jamie@GeneralAviationNews.com.