Years ago when I was writing a weekly column for a local newspaper, a reporter asked me, innocently enough, “Where do you get your ideas from?” He meant well.
As a reporter he wasn’t paid to be creative. His bread and butter came from being accurate. That was his comfort level and he did his job well. I, on the other hand, was expected to come up with something fanciful, inspirational, conversational, or controversial on a regular basis. To be perfectly honest it’s not as hard as it might sound. All you really have to do is open your eyes, open your ears, and pay a little attention to the people around you.
One recent example might be the conversation I had with one of the elder statesmen on our field, a real firecracker of a woman who is as sharp in her 80s as most folks are at half her age. She still flies regularly, and even motivates others to get out there and punch a hole in the sky on a regular basis.
I can remember when she wasn’t yet the grande old dame of the airport, though. I recall when she was a newly minted pilot who was enthusiastic and ready to roll down the runway at a moment’s notice. Yet she very nearly didn’t become a pilot. Like too many of us, she had to fight for it. And that’s not right. Not for an industry that routinely bemoans the depletion of our ranks and harbors deep-seated wishes to swell the number of new pilots in the pipeline.
We were talking the other day in the FBO when she mentioned a flight school that I had briefly flown for two decades ago. She had signed up to be a student there. And why not? She knew she wanted to fly. Enough so that she actually went out and bought the airplane she wanted to learn in and fly afterward. Besides, they were the local flight school. Why not sign up with them?
It’s worth noting that she’s still flying the little flivver. Nearly 1,400 hours after earning her private pilot’s license, it’s fair to say that she’s the real deal. The girl likes to fly.
Her early experience as a student wasn’t so welcoming, however. She wasn’t making the progress she was hoping to make, and maybe she didn’t feel quite as comfortable with the school she had signed on with as she might have hoped. Still, she couldn’t quite put her finger on what it was that was bugging her or holding her back.
Then there was the day when she was just hanging out on the couch in the lobby. There was another older, female flight student there that day. She was settling up her account at the counter. In other words, it was an absolutely normal day in all respects…until the other female student left the building.
My friend recalled this experience with real emotion, all of it negative. As she told it, the crew in the office immediately began to make fun of the student who had just left the building. Their own student, mind you. And they ridiculed her in full view of another student who was sitting right there waiting to go flying herself.
“Well, I knew that if they were making fun of her like that, they were making fun of me when I wasn’t there, too,” related the distinguished airplane owner sitting across from me. She’s probably right, too.
The upshot was the flight school lost a student that day. She may be female, and she may have been a bit older than the average student, but her money was just as green as anyone else’s. What’s more, she showed up for her lessons, she did her best, and she honestly studied and practiced in an effort to earn that license she wanted so badly. She deserved to be on the receiving end of service that was better than she was getting, and she knew it.
Now, this is the good part. My friend from the FBO suddenly decided that she could become a comparison shopper. There are other CFIs in the world, she figured. That flight school didn’t have a monopoly on them. She was right, too. She found an independent CFI to work with. He got her up to speed and soled her. When his airline flight schedule threatened to effect her training schedule adversely, he handed her off to another highly experienced CFI who got her through the rest of the requirements, prepped her for her practical test, and congratulated her when she came out of that ride with a gleaming white piece of paper that conferred on her the privileges of a private pilot.
Now here’s the part I find funny — and just. That flight school is gone. Long gone. In fact it went out of business 17 or 18 years ago. Possibly because they had the kind of manners that made their most dedicated students go shopping for a better flight training provider. Severe customer dissatisfaction isn’t the sort of thing that tends to make companies grow and prosper. And they didn’t. Yet the student they inadvertently insulted is still here, still flying, still owns her own airplane, and still inspires and motivates others to saddle up and get the prop turning as often as she can.
If my mother were here she would say the moral to that story is mind your manners. Of course she might turn right around and ask, “So, where do you get your ideas from?” And then we’d be off to the beginning again, and you never know where an imagination and a head full of memories will send me off to this time. Heck, let’s just call it a day and go flying.
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.
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