General aviation airports are my happy place. There’s no denying that.
Often I stop into my hangar just to sit peacefully in the usually quiet confines of the non-towered airport environment I call home.
Sometimes a friend drops by to pass the time of day, or share an interesting tidbit of information, or ask for help with something they’re working on. It’s all good. In my experience, a day at the airport almost always provides a worthwhile encounter.
Of course, some of those encounters are less inspirational than others.
If I were to rate those experiences on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 1 being a fatal accident and 10 being a party-like atmosphere filled with friends, food, and drink after a thoroughly enjoyable flight, I can honestly say I’ve seen the full spectrum.
Admittedly, the days I would rate at a 1 are rare, and I spend a good deal of my time trying to make them even more so.
Likewise the 10s are not all that common, but I enjoy them when they happen, and I do my best to encourage those celebrations of this aeronautical lifestyle.
What attracts my attention most, however, is the days that fall on the lower end of the scale, from 2 to 6 perhaps. Those encounters are more common than they should be, and it is with great consternation that I realize you’re probably having similar experiences.
Worse, new aero enthusiasts may well be having these encounters as well, and if they are, I suspect a good percentage of them are being driven away from pursuing their aeronautical dreams by the less than enthusiastic interaction they suffer.
Recently, I made the oh-so-pedestrian call to request a fuel truck motor over and fill the tanks of my little flivver before departing on a flight. Twenty minutes later I was still standing beside my mount waiting for that fuel truck to arrive. That might be understandable if there were other aircraft being fueled at the same time. The wait might even be longer if there were multiple aircraft awaiting fuel, as I was.
But there weren’t. It was early morning, but well after the FBO opened for business. The desk was staffed, the ramp was clear, the pattern was empty, yet I found myself twiddling my thumbs for the better part of half an hour as I waited to obtain the go-juice I needed to reach my destination.
When the fuel truck finally arrived the lineman was in a snit.
“Can you top me off?” I asked.
He nodded, in reply.
As he filled the left tank, paying little attention, a geyser of fuel erupted from the filler opening, leaving blue fuel streaming down the back side of my wing.
“I hate 152s,” he grumbled. I held my tongue and wished with all my might he’d finish his task without any additional spillage or verbal venting. He did thankfully. Still, I was relieved when he drove away.
I’d rate that encounter no higher than a 3. Yes, I got the fuel I needed, but it came with a lot of attitude and a completely unwarranted insult. It wasn’t exactly a Ritz Carlton moment in the annals of customer service.
On the other end of the mid-range spectrum is the story printed in the Olean Times Herald about the ferry pilot who stopped into Cattaraugus County-Olean Airport in New York and found the service and atmosphere to be so welcoming and of such high quality, he wrote the mayor a letter to let him know what a gem the local airport was.
I learned of this newspaper story, printed in a paper that’s published 1,200 miles from my home, from my friend Bernie who keeps his C-150 in a hangar near mine. He wandered into my hangar to tell me the story, and to bask in the afterglow of it.
You see, Bernie was at one time associated with that airport. He served on a handful of committees designed to assist the facility, and even from a distance of more than a thousand miles, and years down the road, he still takes personal pride in knowing his former home airport continues to offer such high quality service.
I, on the other hand, have not mentioned my encounter with the lineman to anyone until now. I’m only sharing the story with you as a contrast to what Bernie’s former home field is like. I won’t name the airport where I got level 3 service, because I don’t want to sully the reputation of the place.
There are good people there who have invested their time and money into that facility. They have no control over the surly, disinterested nature of the line staff. They merely have to suffer through the experience, as I do, as you will if you visit. That’s not fair to anyone. It’s just bad business.
On the other hand, Cattaraugus County-Olean Airport is benefiting from some excellent coverage, as well as at least one very impressed customer who isn’t the least bit shy about sharing his impression of what he considers to be excellent service, and my friend who is telling everyone he knows about what a fine, upstanding operation they run at his former home field.
On a scale of 1 to 10, one airport knocked it out of the park in terms of sales, service, marketing, and customer satisfaction. The other one stumbled badly, failing in just about every way possible. One was an 8 or better, the other was a 3, or worse. Ironically, both facilities invested essentially the same number of man hours to the task of serving their customer.
Attitude matters. A smile, a kind word, and a genuine appreciation for your customers costs no more to provide than a snarl, an insult, and a lack of interest. But one will garner repeat business. The other won’t.