Our Unfriendly Airports

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Our Unfriendly Airports

Really inviting huh? At least this place has signs.

When it comes to customer service there seems to be a universal constant among airports – they stink!

It slays me that FBOs, Flight Schools, and other airport-based businesses are so unapproachable. “What do I mean? They are nice to me.” “I come in and they know me by name and they are always responsive.” That’s because you are established – a known entity. They should be rolling out the red carpet to anyone that takes the time to come through their doors. And they need to make it easier to find where to go for GA – most airports are a rubix cube of buildings and access roads with no clear direction on where to go for the newbie. Hey guys, how about some signage!

Howdy Stranger

Visualize a scene out of an old western; stranger walks into a saloon and instantly the music stops and you can hear a pin drop as the patrons stare daggers through the interloper – not exactly warm and welcoming! Remember what they say about first impressions?




But Why?
I don’t know why this phenomena is so prevalent, but I have some theories – hey it’s an editorial, I’m allowed to guess!

  1. My leading defense is how lean these facilities have to be to stay in business. Its not like you have room in the budget to hire a host (or hostess) to greet you and show you to your awaiting rental aircraft or introduce you to Steve Canyon, your new instructor. These places barely make ends meet even in good times.
  2. Another possibility is apathy; they just don’t care or are completely unaware of how they are perceived by the outside world.
  3. Finally, and this is least likely; they are such a small group they have become like a club, and outsiders are instantly scrutinized until they are deemed worthy.

You would think that a business that is partially (or totally) supported by people’s discretionary income, would figure out how to do this right.

Regardless as to why, it is still happening. People show up wanting to know more about flying or whatever and they leave the experience feeling like they belong in a leper colony.

The Airport Bum
Since no one is paying attention,  the job of airport ambassador generally falls on the local airport bum. (Airport bums are typically retired men that hang out at the airport for hours at a time drinking free coffee and chatting about all subjects aviation.) Some are really approachable, outgoing people, but there are an equal number that are as warm and inviting as a grizzly- hey they didn’t know they were supposed to be the airport welcoming committee.

Empty hangar – image that!

The whole thing kind of puts a damper on getting excited about aviation when you have this kind of first impression – and they wonder why student starts are down and people are losing interest.

Prison or airport?

Post 9/11
So if airports couldn’t be any less approachable, fast forward to our post 9/11 world; we have fenced off, gated, and barb wired most of our metropolitan airports to keep out the evil-doers. All we are really doing is keeping out the honest folks and making our airports resemble federal correctional facilities – nice touch!

No Clear Solution….
I obviously don’t have the answer to this problem, otherwise I’d build a chain of FBO/Flight Schools across the country and retire flying a P-51 and a Corsair…

I do offer one thought. All of us in aviation should be ambassadors for flying. If you are at an airport and you see someone new milling around looking lost – put out your hand and offer your assistance. Include them in your conversation. Make flying inclusive, not exclusive.

I left a lot of room for your thoughts – please post them below.


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