It takes a team effort to keep a flight school business thriving and its customers moving happily toward their flight training goals. Downtime is the shared nemesis of the training aircraft fleet and the customers who fly its aircraft.
This commonality of purpose usually results in everyone on both sides of the counter doing everything possible to keep aircraft flying and students learning. Some disruptions—weather, unexpected maintenance requirements, illness, or business travel—are unavoidable.
But what should you do if a student pilot simply forgets to show up for a scheduled lesson or notify the school of a necessary expected absence? Your policy should have two goals: avoiding financial losses arising from lost flight and instructional time, and “incentivizing” your customer to respect your scheduling policies.
A related issue is punctuality: If late arrivals for lessons make it impossible to carry out the day’s lesson plan, the impact is no less negative than a no-show would have been. Whatever policy you decide upon for dealing with this issue—such as imposing a minimum fee for a missed lesson after the first or repeated absences—it is important that the policy be disclosed clearly at the beginning of your relationship with your client.
Style of presentation counts. An upbeat delivery of the message will be appreciated all around. Don’t bury the provision in rental-agreement fine print, or announce it anonymously with an ominous notice tacked to the flight school bulletin board. Make sure that the terms are communicated directly and personally to each of your flight trainees by their instructor or other regular company contact. Include it in company policies set forth on your website.
Explain that absences hurt the business’s ability to operate at peak efficiency, and they impede training as well, possibly increasing the student’s long-run training costs.
Sending an email or text reminder a day before the scheduled lesson may help avoid inadvertent absences. Better yet, a friendly reminder call from your office staff may brighten your client’s day.
Anyone is susceptible to forgetting an appointment on rare occasion. However, if a customer develops a pattern of failures to appear as scheduled, it may be time to inquire about any underlying problem. Is there a lack of commitment to flight training? Is your team doing something that is causing the customer disappointment with the experience? Do your staff instructors hold up their end of the punctuality bargain? (Any failure is unacceptable. Consider issuing your customer a refund of a past lesson’s fee, and an apology.)
Your client’s impression of your product is need-to-know information. Consider surveying the clientele on occasion about their general satisfaction with your business. Include a question about scheduling in the information you solicit. Invite suggestions on how your flight schedule might be improved.
It was noted that a flight school and its customers have a common purpose in keeping the aircraft flying and students learning. Another idea to broaden your clients’ access to flight time and head off lost revenue time for your aircraft is to keep a “standby” list of customers who may be available to fly on short notice (provided doing so would benefit their training, such as for pattern work).
This approach can add a positive tone to your policy of dealing with no-shows by letting customers know that you will attempt, before imposing any penalties, to make idle time available to another customer—in which case any late charges would be waived for the no-show pilot.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.