There are three basic types of people you meet in the typical FBO’s pilot lounge.
If you’ve read many of my columns for General Aviation News, it will not surprise you to learn I like hanging around FBOs and pilot lounges.
My enjoyment of this pastime stems from working as a lineboy at my local airport one summer and from, well, hanging around FBOs.
Each facility is different, of course, but there are certain similarities and “features” we’ve all come to expect at an FBO.
A coffee pot is one, as is a seating area populated with magazines and other reading material, plus an area devoted to vending machines and food.
Standard fare often includes candy bars and peanut butter-filled cheese-flavored crackers, plus some way to dispense soft drinks. If you’re living right, the crackers have a sell-by date younger than your airplane, and the soda machine isn’t out of your favorite flavor.
There’s also some kind of flight-planning room, perhaps with a large VFR planning chart covering one wall.
If the FBO has been around for a while and primarily caters to flight training and the lighter end of general aviation, the chart will have a long string nailed into it at the airport’s location, often running to a pulley in the ceiling and terminated by a lead fishing weight hanging down to the floor from the pulley. That’s used to give pilots a rough magnetic course and distance to their next destination. (Pro tip: Don’t just let go of the string when you’re finished with it; gently ease it back to its resting state.)
But the sanctum sanctorum at any FBO is the pilot’s lounge. Ideally, it’s a separate room down the hall, near the water fountain and the bathrooms. It has a television tuned to the Weather Channel, a couple of worn recliners and a couch. There’s a sign on the door saying something like “Pilots Only.”
This room is the heart and soul of the FBO. It’s the real reason the FBO exists, which is not to pump fuel, as many believe.
It’s where all who enter are more or less equal, at least at first. It also is where you get to meet interesting people. From flight instructors, student pilots, corporate crews and transients, there’s always someone new and different in the lounge. Everyone has a tale to tell and a lesson to share.
Based on decades of in-depth study and detailed observation, I’ve concluded there are three basic types of pilots who populate the pilot’s lounge.
It’s usually easy to tell the student pilot from others in the lounge. For one, his or her entry is tentative, as if the student is acutely aware the certificate in their pocket isn’t what everyone else has. They’re not even sure they’re supposed to be in this hallowed room, but no one is telling them to leave.
The student can be hard to identify at first. Close inspection, however, reveals a nearly new, unscuffed flight bag with fresh charts, a plotter and an E6-B flight computer, and a high-end headset, also nearly new.
The student typically finds a quiet seat in the corner and pulls out a FAR/AIM copy, an airplane flight manual/pilot’s operating handbook, or a chart, and begins to study. Occasionally he or she will look up and glance around the room, to see if anyone is eyeing them suspiciously and about to ask them to leave. No one does, since they have every right to be there, too.
We’ve all been this person at one time or another.
Ace of The Base
Another type of person found in the typical pilot’s lounge is the Ace of The Base. He — they invariably are male — is easy to spot: He carries a flight bag, but his is larger than the student’s. If possible, it’s probably newer but much heavier, stuffed with all kinds of gear and gadgets; none of the bag’s contents is new, but all of it is relatively unused.
Rather than tentative, his entry into the lounge is busy, officious. He’s wearing a high-end pair of sunglasses — even inside — and some kind of military-style jacket, festooned with decorations identifying him as a pilot. The decorations usually consist of patches celebrating aircraft types he’ll never fly, like an F-117 stealth fighter or an Airbus A380.
He has a couple of expensive writing instruments stuck into the jacket sleeve’s pencil holder and maybe a small airplane-shaped pin or two adorning the collar. (He also wears this jacket when at parties and bar-hopping, and always goes home alone.)
The Ace probably has a VFR-only private ticket, with around 100 hours in his logbook, having passed his checkride the second time maybe five years earlier. He’d like to get his instrument rating, but he’s also prone to airsickness, which remains a closely held secret.
He has no plans to fly today, and is just hanging out before he has to show up for his fast-food job.
Don’t be this guy.
Just Another Pilot
This guy or gal might be carrying a kneeboard or an iPad, but isn’t really interested in it. He or she nods at the students when they walk in, perhaps with a slight, knowing smile.
This pilot is stretched out on one of the recliners, with one eye closed and the other kinda/sorta watching the television. She’d like to get a quick nap before the next leg, but really is just thankful to be in something that isn’t moving at a bunch of knots. A vending-machine water bottle is in one hand while a cellphone occupies the other.
He or she might be wearing something approaching a uniform, perhaps a shirt featuring epaulets but lacking stripes. Comfortable shoes and loose-fitting pants are the norm, with a cheap pair of sunglasses perched on the head.
When he looks around the room, the crow’s feet around the eyes evidence more than a few late afternoons spent flying westbound.
Be this person.