If your flight school offers discounted introductory flights but fails to get the expected bang out of the invested bucks, maybe it’s time to change things. Here are five ideas that could turn that cost center into a major source of new students and customers.
1. Don’t go cheap. Many schools treat introductory flight customers like the ne’er-do-well nephew who shows up at the door to spend a few days on the couch. These customers get assigned the junior CFIs, are generally given a 15- to 30-minute airplane ride, and then are pushed out the door so more time can be spent with “real” customers. What if you clipped a coupon for a buy-one-get-one-free dinner at your favorite steakhouse, only to have them serve you yesterday’s leftovers and a cold baked potato? Would you go back? Your introductory flight customers are sampling your fare at a price they can live with. Be sure to leave them full and wanting more.
2. Make it an experience. Sure, they came to fly, but flight training is so much more than kicking the tires and lighting the fires. Give customers a good tour of your school. Show them the classrooms and the flight planning and lounge areas. Show them photos of successful solos and checkrides, and introduce them to students and instructors. Make them feel a part of your school, more like a valued guest than an intrusive interloper.
When it’s time to go flying, be sure to give customers a thorough preflight briefing so they know what to expect. Feel them out to see how eager they are to actually take the controls. Some will want to do all the flying (including takeoff and landing!), while others would rather sit back and observe during this first flight. Whatever it is, exceed their expectations. Make it fun and memorable.
3. Assign your best people. An introductory flight, done properly, is a critical step in your sales process. The CFI who takes them on this first lesson can make or break the deal. Make sure he or she is carefully trained on what to say and do, is organized, and actually likes talking to people. This person is not necessarily your best stick, but should be your best salesperson. This CFI’s job is to convey the friendly professionalism of your school and to turn that introductory customer into a two-time-a-week flight student.
4. See the introductory flight as just part of your sales cycle. It’s tempting to see discounted flights as a cost item and a waste of time and resources. Done by themselves, that may be true. But conducted in conjunction with an organized tour, thorough pre- and post-flight briefings, and candid talk about the costs and time commitments required of flight training, the introductory flight can be the welcome mat your next customers are looking for.
And don’t get bogged down thinking about how much you’re not making on your introductory flights. In fact, don’t think of the flights as operational costs at all; they’re marketing expenses. Introductory flights are the logical extension of your advertising and marketing efforts that drive prospects to your door. It’s the introductory flight that leads to the next important tip.
5. Ask for the sale! Always, always, always set the time for the next three flights at the conclusion of each lesson. This goes for the introductory flight, too. Can’t do three? How about one? Ask customers when they’d like to come back for their next lesson. Do weekends or weekdays work better? What time of day works best?
The time that students are most motivated and most excited about flying is immediately after each lesson. They’re pumped and ready to take on the next challenge. Don’t let them walk out the door without at least trying to set an appointment for next time.
William Woodbury is a flight instructor and freelance writer in Southern California.