The FBO – Your Customer’s Charter Concierge Desk
In the years that I’ve published The Air Charter Guide, I’ve discussed airplanes, pilots, the FAA, passengers interactions with flight crew, catering, and almost everything affecting the choices of charter buyers and users except perhaps one – the FBO or Fixed Base Operator, through whose lobby they always pass to board your charter jet.
So, is that it? Is the relevance of this business to the charter passenger limited to an address, a curb drop, a place to use “the facilities” and then grab the car? And what about the view from the other direction: is the charter passenger to the FBO just “passing through,” or is he/she a prospective or even current customer worthy of business focus beyond a reflexive greeting and the normal courtesies extended to busy strangers on the go?
Two years ago The Air Charter Guide initiated a study to try to answer this question, and found that as many as sixty percent of charter passengers care considerably about FBOs. Motives were (intuitively) split between the departure and arrival FBO, with the quality of the waiting area or lobby seizing top vote, closely followed by the availability of a good cup of coffee, the parking/drop off situation, and other smaller items that facilitated the transition from “ground side” to “ramp side” where the airplane is boarded. At destinations, the feature list progressed from these to other items like availability of conference rooms, computers, on location rental cars and other passenger amenities. (More on that later) For us, the striking commercial discovery was that of the fifty or sixty percent who expressed such interest they also admitted that they “frequently to always” choose the FBO that they want their charter provider to use! Since aviation wisdom usually credits the pilot with these decisions, we checked with the FBO. While no one put this in the “stupid question of the week” category, I was surprised by the frequency of responses like: “yeah, sure, we’ve always known that.”
In fact, in many cases the FBO is one of the first parties involved in finding a charter for the uninitiated. A frequent telephone sequence starts with passenger to airport manager, then a call to the suggested FBO ( the airport manager didn’t know a charter operator) where the FBO, ever anxious to please, does a little impromptu research from materials at hand and dispenses a phone number or two. It won’t surprise you to hear that The Air Charter Guide tries to cultivate its circulation to be available to the gal at the desk at precisely this moment.
Though it will never occur to the local tourism bureau, in a few but disproportionately important cases the FBO may actually become the destination. Consider a large US company with multiple offices spread across the country, a board meeting, an M&A get together with parties from New York and Sacramento, or other similar scenario. “Your place or mine?” well maybe the answer for political neutrality as well as travel logistics is “neither.” Maybe the best choice becomes right smack dab between the two parties, so that everybody can spend no more than a couple of jet hours getting to the meeting in Wichita, do what they have to do, and still get home at a reasonable hour. This is, in fact, the very reason that FBOs construct such lavish facilities with conference rooms, conference phone systems, projection screens, and the other normal acoutrements that have become important for a modern business meeting.
Without realizing it, the service expected and usually received at today’s FBOs by air charter passengers is an extension of the handling and general treatment by the flight crew and the charter operator, and it’s usually a big improvement on a pickup or drop off at “the hangar,” which is a little too Spartan for the uninitiated flyer. A good FBO can “take the baton” from the pilots in a properly coordinated charter trip and facilitate all the little items that transform a good ride into a great trip: sending the rental car onto the ramp so no one has to walk through the rain, collecting bags and getting them into the trunk, helping with driving instructions to your hotel. Depending on the service ethic (usually pretty high) of the desk crew, they can save the day: the car didn’t show up, or went to the wrong location. Some one is late for a meeting, so the FBO drives the team over there in the van. Or the meeting runs late, and they’re going to miss dinner – the FBO arranges some catering or even just some sandwiches. I’ve witnessed many front desk attendants searching the aircraft tracking systems, patiently informing an anxious wife or business partner of the whereabouts of the people they’re picking up
It’s really impossible to list all the things that a good FBO does in the course of a day to smooth out the wrinkles in the dozens of itineraries that pass through their doors. But it’s worth considering this: after all the work at selecting and evaluating a charter operator on the part of a buyer, and the service and skill that you put into conducting their flight, the ground crew doesn’t always get the credit it deserves. Think of the bus stops that the airline terminals have now become. And take careful notes at your next FBO. Chances are you’ll be greeted by an attentive, pretty girl who knows exactly where your passengers are when you arrive and won’t let you forget your Jepps book on the counter when you get up to leave. Is she and her FBO a significant part of your charter trip? You bet. – FCG -
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