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How long would you wait?How long would you wait?

If you contacted a business about performing a service for you, deposited money for the service, and were told you’d get a phone call within a week, would you expect to receive that phone call?

Most of us would, especially when we have cemented the business relationship with cash.

Here’s where expectations and reality often part ways, especially when it comes to customer service at flight schools. A student pilot visited a flight school, spoke with the chief flight instructor about starting instruction there, and paid $500 for block time. The chief CFI said the student pilot should expect a phone call within the next week to schedule flight lessons. (It’s not clear why that didn’t happen right then and there.)

The student waited … and waited. The student sent several emails to the chief CFI, but got no response. After 10 days, the student emailed the flight school’s accounting department, copied the chief CFI, and asked for a refund of the $500. Twenty minutes later, the student pilot received an apologetic response from the chief CFI, but the damage had been done. The student perceived that this flight school no longer cared about its new customer—that it had taken the student’s money and that was that.

No one should be surprised to learn that the student pilot took back the $500 and went elsewhere.

It may be tempting to rationalize this. Perhaps the emails didn’t reach the chief CFI. Why didn’t the student call or come back to the flight school? After all, if the student really wanted to learn to fly, would that have been too much to ask?

Yes, and here’s why. The student is the customer. The customer shouldn’t have to jump hoops to get a response from the chief CFI, especially when a verbal commitment was made and $500 changed hands. If the chief CFI had fulfilled that commitment, you wouldn’t be reading this.

Two observations about sagas of poor customer service: We can learn from them. And they frequently galvanize those in the industry. Tim Poole, co-owner of GT Aviation at Potomac Airfield, Friendly, Maryland, opened his flight school—in the Washington, D.C., Flight Restricted Zone, no less—in 2009. He’d learned to fly at Potomac, but the flight school where he trained didn’t put much effort into customer service. Poole resolved his school would do better. You’ll learn more about GT Aviation in an upcoming issue of Flight School Business, but I’ll tell you this much: GT Aviation is thriving, even in the FRZ. The other flight school closed its doors in 2013, and GT Aviation moved into its location.

Dan Dyer, owner of San Carlos Flight Center in San Carlos, California, opened his flight school in 2012 after teaching at several other flight schools in the San Francisco Bay area. He said he wanted to create the type of club he’d want to belong to (the school utilizes a club format, with monthly membership fees in addition to aircraft rental and instructor fees). SCFC was named best flight school in the 2013 Flight Training Excellence Awards.

The 2014 best flight school, Paragon Flight in Fort Myers, Florida, also puts customer service at a premium. You’ll recall that we spotlighted Paragon Flight in the Feb. 10 issue of Flight School Business. It’s worth repeating Chief CFI Jeffrey Wolf’s comment: “Most of our clients are not career-oriented pilots. They enjoy flying for fun. They are successful people. Many are business owners. They can see it when someone is not treating customers well. They can go anywhere they want to get training, so if they are not enjoying it here, they will leave.”

Jill W. Tallman

Jill W. Tallman

AOPA Technical Editor
AOPA Technical Editor Jill W. Tallman is an instrument-rated private pilot who owns a Piper Cherokee 140.

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