What would make you proud to ride on a particular airline? Would that be, perhaps, the coffee they serve onboard? I doubt it.
So, an airline "proudly" serves Starbucks on board all their domestic AND international flights. Does that make them your favorite airlines? Let’s be honest with ourselves, you don’t book your flight because of the onboard coffee being served. The airlines are doing it wrong! They have forgotten how to serve their customers.
Look at Starbucks. Starbucks is more than just coffee. In fact people probably don't even really go Starbucks because of their awesome coffee. They go for other reasons, like me. I absolutely love Starbucks. I am proud to say that I go almost every day and it’s not for coffee (well sort of). If I were to place a theme on the experience on Starbucks it would be "Always Making It Right, with Genuine Effect." When was the last time you felt that your favorite airline "made it right" and meant it? We'll get back to this......
I may be crazy, but I see the baristas working much like an Airline Crew. If you've ever been part of an airline crew, it’s a lot of fun with the right people. Having been part of a great airline crew, I see myself, conversely, working with my favorite Baristas at the Starbucks in Forest Park! 7231 Madison Street Forest Park, IL 60130. Their interaction triggers some amazing memories from when I was working for a pilot at an Airline. The personal interaction between baristas is exactly the way pilots and flight attendants work together. The Starbucks crew is making your drink exactly the way you want it. The same can be said about a good flight crew -- making your flight exactly the way you want it. At the end of the day, my absolute favorite Starbucks crew makes me want to let them know that they are my favorite. I bet you have told a pilot or flight attendant "Nice flight" or "Great landing!" It’s the same thing!
The Starbucks product is ultimately a lifestyle, not coffee. It has its own circadian rhythm. The first people to show up for coffee are the early bird exercisers getting a “cup o' Joe” on the way back from their morning run. Next, between 7:30 and 8:45 am, you'll see people going to work stop in and grab coffee for their commute to work. It is relatively calm around 9 am, but then at 10 am all the "Starbucks Coffee House Meetings Start." People do business here, they meet here, they have fun here. Starbucks is a lifestyle choice. Can the same be said about the airlines? Not really.
The airline experience used to be a huge lifestyle choice. Today, flying on an airliner is a commodity, and a bummer. If an airline could, once again, make their service, and your flight experience, a lifestyle choice, they wouldn’t need to advertise how they serve Starbucks coffee on their flights. You would prefer to book your flight on their planes to avoid the humdrum cattle-herding process expected of today’s travelers on other airlines. Heck, they could make flying on the airlines fun again. So, even though an airline "Proudly serves Starbucks" it doesn't make them a better airline. Today’s airlines seem to miss the point about every aspect of the “Starbucks product”. How do we make our airline and flight experiences better? Ever notice how busy Starbucks stores are at airports? Coffee drinkers make huge lines at these Starbucks for a refreshing burst of “comfort”. But the airport and airline experience are hectic outside your favorite Starbucks located next to Gate B7. Everybody has helped created this problem. How can we find a solution? Can you find the answer?
What would make you proud to ride on an airline?
The In’s and Out’s of Flying
In’s and Out’s? Shouldn’t that read, “Up’s and Down’s”? After all, flying is all about up and down, and there’s a lot of press that remind us of the Down’s in our industry. So Marc, what’s UP?
When I drive in the area of my home airport (PWK), I notice occupied cars parked by the fence or in the observation area. Sometimes the car is running, sometimes not. In all cases the driver is an active observer of any and all activity on the other side of the fence. The observation area has a picnic table, so it’s not unusual to see a single person or a family enjoying a sandwich while taking in the sights and sounds of the airport. It is clear these observers share our passion. Without speaking a word, we know what they are thinking and feeling. You can see the dream of flight in their eyes. It is clear as a CAVU day.
What isn’t as clear is the stark distinction between those that watch from outside the fence, compared to those lucky enough to gain “insider” access to this special place. To state it another way, the emotional separation between the “insiders” and “outsiders” is almost non-existent, but the physical separation is a deep and wide chasm.
This “Aha” moment hit me the other day when I drove by the observation area, and noticed a mini-van parked there. I made the turn and parked my car. I saw a man with three young children enjoying their fast food lunch. I had just picked up lunch and was pleased they invited me to join them at the table. The children couldn’t wait to tell me about the airplanes they had seen. Whether on the ground or in the air, they made sure I saw each one of them. The father didn’t know much about general aviation, but you could tell he was there for the kids…. and for himself. It was obvious we all shared the love and interest in aviation.
I finally told them I was part of the “inside the fence people” (not actually said, but you get the point), and asked if they were interested to join me for a quick tour of a community hangar and even sit inside an airplane. The answer was no surprise. We drove to the security fence, and as I pulled up to enter the access code, a sense of the anticipation and excitement in the van behind me welled up inside me.
The gate was opening and they were going to see what they thought was unavailable to them. As we walked into the large hangar, the gasp from the four of them was an indication of how unprepared they were of the realities inside the fence.
Moving out to the ramp and into the cabin of a four seat Piper, resulted in more oohs and ahhs than heard at the Fourth of July fireworks show. After a short conversation and an invitation to join us at our next club function, they thanked me and drove back through the fence and on with their day.
I could tell I had a big smile on my face. Just as flying makes my day, I had just used flying to make someone else’s day.
General Aviation needs to see growth in the “active” pilot community. I know it can be done and know the solution will come from within the community. What must be remembered is the community extends beyond the fence. There are insiders and outsiders. It’s up to the insiders to seek out those on the other side of the fence. And with a simple turn of a key, or a push of a couple buttons on an access panel, we can bring dreams to life and eliminate the fences that only serve to keep us from our potential.
Marc Epner is an instrument rated private pilot who earned his rating in 1976. After a 25-year hiatus, Marc rekindled his love of aviation in 2004 and has become a part owner of a SR-22. Marc looks for opportunities to be an advocate for general aviation through presentations, writing and flying. He is also president of Leading Edge Flying Club at Chicago Executive Airport (KPWK).
Over several days in north central Nebraska I had the opportunity to hear stories from fire fighters and local volunteers who battled 3 large fires through the scenic Niobrara River valley. During the hottest and driest summer for the US in many years, fire continues to be a major threat to many of us suffering from a drought.
The three major fires battled in North Central Nebraska were the Hall, Wentworth, and the largest being the Fairfield fire. All three fires burned approx. 70,000 acres of land, which put homes, livestock, property, and local’s way of life in danger. No one was seriously injured during the week long fires, and although several homes were lost many others were saved. Over 90 volunteer fire departments from Nebraska and South Central South Dakota assisted.
Eventually Federal firefighting crews were called to assist local volunteer fire departments. The most talked about subject of the fire was the “hot shots” or extreme fire professionals if you will. These guys would load up the gear and take off down into the bottom of the canyon where the fire was for hours. Engaging in highly trained fire suppression tactics they try and contain the fire or assist in moving it where it can be contained. These hot shots are incredible fit since they could be battling the fires for hours without much support. Some individuals said they would do pushups and sit ups once they crawled out of the river valley. Another told a story of a mountain lion which was distraught because of the fire and was considering taking his revenge on a hotshot. The hotshot simply used his torch to create a ring of fire around himself and the large cat ran off. I will let you decide if you want to believe these tall tales, I do.
Along with the feds came the aircraft. Helicopters spotted and dumped water on hot spots they got from local ponds or the Niobrara River. Spotter aircraft circled high above to direct efforts most effectively. Even large twin engine beasts dumped fire retardant near homes being threatened by the blaze. These made the journey from Rapid City, South Dakota a 40 minute one way trip. The Nebraska National Guard also assisted with Blackhawk Helicopters transporting water to carefully planned locations. I did not have the opportunity to see this airshow in action but I can imagine it was an amazing sight. Imagine for a minute an area that is fairly accustomed to aircraft flying aloft at several thousand feet but now helicopters are gathering water out of your small farm pond and a large fixed wing Aircraft just dumped an orange fire retardant to protect your house from the fire. What a sense of relief that must have been. Also consider the skill and expertise it would take to pilot these aircraft. Although they are pure professionals and to them it is just another day consider the turbulence above an extremely hot wildfire. Very intense I am sure, and then to precisely drop water where it is needed, awesome. Like my friend and coworker Al Waterloo says great people doing great things in aviation. This statement is very true here. (Forgive me for not naming aircraft by the time I had arrived most officials/aircraft had went home, I only got close to the Nebraska National Guard Blackhawks).
Now with keeping with the aviation story. I was asked to assist in charity flights for local volunteer firefighters to see an aerial shot of what they had experienced the previous week. A very small task compared to the firefighting pilots and firefighters who had been working all week. However, I had several days available so I hurried home excited to share my passion with those in my community affected by the devastation. By this time the fires were mostly contained and only a small amount of smoke remained. The flights were created for volunteer firemen and a free will donation from community members who wanted to view, with the proceeds going back to the local volunteer fire departments. The Piper Cherokee 180 and fuel was donated by Mr. Jim Jackman, (aircraft based at KANW) and scheduling which went flawlessly by Mrs. Andrea Walz, and Ms. Ashley Emerson. Over a period of 2 and a half days operating out of KRBE and KANW we flew 20 hours with over 100 passengers, and raised close to $2000 for local volunteer fire departments. For some the flight was a first and others a first in a long time flying in a “4 seater”. The stories these folks told and pointed where the fire started, the names of creeks and canyons below they sat for days keeping the fire contained, and where the infamous Long Pine fire truck was lost was just as exciting to me as flying was for them. The town of Norden was also a flyover point since part of the tiny town was lost due to fire but the large dance hall had been saved. One gentleman explained how a 500 gallon propane tank had black burn marks on the side but had not ignited in Norden. During those two extremely busy days we saw a lot of smiles from community flyers who had not spent much time doing so the previous week. This is to me is what aviation is all about being able to share flight with others especially during a tragedy such as this. In the grand scheme of things it would have been great to spend more time sharing this adventure, and the money that was raised will not cover a fraction of the fuel costs accumulated by fire trucks. However we do see a common good in a community when devastation strikes. Especially in this case many people pulled together to support our firemen using a tank full of water in the back of a personal truck, delivering food to the front lines, or moving cattle and other livestock from danger. This is just one short story. I know there is a bunch more.
If any readers have any more stories I would love to hear them. Email me at email@example.com