In many ways I’m a creature of habit. Of course, some habits are more obvious than others. For instance, I eat every day. More than I need to, in fact. That’s a habit. Not a particularly good one, and not one that I am proud of, but it is a habit, so I include it on my list.
Another is that I write my General Aviation News column every Monday morning. You can count on me being at my desk bright and early, putting fingers to keyboard in an attempt to find some nugget of truth, or insight, or entertainment to share with you.
Today, that didn’t happen. It’s late afternoon now. I frittered away my morning in search of excellence. And I’m happy to say I may have found it.
This winter has been weird in Florida. The temperatures have stayed up for the most part, but that’s no surprise.
It’s a meteorological law that my big ol’ sandbar of sunshine remain warm and cozy all year round. The winds have been vicious, however. Maybe vicious is too strong a word, especially for those from the midwest who have acclimated themselves to wind speeds we soft eastern folk think of as howling. But they’ve been brisk when measured against the lazy days of summer when we can barely tell which way the wind is blowing here in the interior of the state.
Be that as it may, the forecast for today looked awfully promising last night, so I changed my Monday morning plan and lay my head on my pillow last night with a thought that I’d launch off this morning for Keystone Airpark in Keystone Heights, Florida.
This is not the part of Florida you’re likely familiar with. It’s far from Disney World, the home court of the Orlando Magic, and even farther from the storied Joe Robbie Stadium (now known as Sun Life Stadium) in Miami. Key West is far away, and well into either the future or the past when viewed from the wilds of Clay County.
This is the land of pine forests, pulp mills, state prisons, the University of Florida, and one whopper of a military base known as Camp Blanding.
Years ago I lived quite near Keystone Heights and visited the airport now and then. It was quiet then as it’s quiet now.
But the potential that lies on the surface of that sandy soil is intoxicating. It’s also easily transportable. All you need is a bit of imagination, some persistence, and a willingness to be absolutely, without a doubt, the most amazing customer service representative imaginable.
That’s who I met this morning, the most amazing customer service representative imaginable. And I met her in the oddest of places…the FBO lobby at Keystone Airpark.
I flew in from my home base of Winter Haven, some 108 miles to the south of Keystone Heights. The flight was simply gorgeous. I passed over the Green Swamp, kept Orlando on my right and motored right past Lake Harris where Leesburg Airport sits on its northern shore.
I passed Ocala and Gainesville and flew north through a sharp blue sky that was as still and calm as you can imagine, arriving at my destination after a one hour flight that didn’t feel nearly long enough.
Inside the FBO I was met with the kind of southern charm you’ve read about in books and seen caricatured in movies, but never really believed. Well, I can tell you, that kind of civility used to be a way of life in these parts. In some cases it still is.
The woman behind the counter rose from her seat as if she was effortlessly levitating, then moved into the lobby to speak with me one-on-one. She transported herself as slowly and fluidly as her accent manipulated the words she spoke. It was a heartwarming scene, I can tell you.
Without being asked, she retrieved the business card of a man she told me I should meet, passing it on with no pressure or suggestion that I should do anything other than accept it as gracefully as it was offered, which I did.
The FBO building is small, hardly big enough to hold a dozen people standing shoulder to shoulder. But the welcome I received was genuine, coming with a big ol’ smile and a long list of potential activities.
She listed fly-in breakfasts that had just happened, as well as the schedule for future occurrences. She bragged on the flight school, the racing cars, the museum down the taxiway, and the area in general. She told me about the high school in town that’s offering aerospace classes to teenagers. She offered me the courtesy car so that I might wander off airport property to explore if I was of a mind to do so.
The woman behind the FBO counter, who was a complete stranger, made me feel like a long-lost relative who deserved to be treated as if I was as close to royalty as I could be. And I liked it.
If you have ever shopped at Nordstroms, or stayed at a Ritz-Carlton, or eaten at Joe’s Stone Crab on South Beach, you know the drill. It’s about service. It’s about attention to detail. It’s about caring more about the person in front of you than your urge to surf Facebook for the 89th time in your shift, just in case something interesting happened…somewhere…to somebody.
That’s what makes customers want to come back. And you can bet I’ll be back in Keystone Heights at my next opportunity.
Keystone Airpark may not be the name that springs to mind when you think of excellence in service…but maybe it should be. Stop in if you get the chance. You’ll see what I mean.