One of the pleasures of flying private airplanes is the amazing service you get at the airport. FBOs are the airport terminals for general aviation. A staffed office with a waiting lounge, bathrooms, telephones and Internet terminals, car rentals, and if you're lucky some fresh baked cookies. But unlike airport terminals the experience is entirely genteel, welcoming, unhurried. And no security screenings. You can tell the luxury aspirations of the FBOs by their names: Million Air, Signature Flight Support, etc.

The primary business of FBOs is selling fuel to rich executives. All that service is there waiting for a private jet to drop in and buy $2000 worth of gas. The FBOs are a helpful base for air taxi operations for people who think nothing of paying a few thousand bucks to hire an airplane and a couple of pilots for a quick trip to Sedona. There's always a beautiful lounge with black leather sofas for the customers and a quiet back room with a comfortable recliner for a nap for the pilots. Also, always mouthwash in the men's room so the pilot can be fresh and clean.

Ken's little plane is more like a 1973 Volkswagen than a Mercedes limousine and we're seldom buying more than a hundred bucks of fuel. But we get the same executive service when we wander in with our ratty flight bags with charts falling out of the pockets. I really appreciated that last week for our unplanned stop in Medford. We found our way to Million Air and five minutes later had hot coffee, fresh cookies, and a rental car being arranged by an intelligent and helpful woman at the desk. Nice welcome after a long flight with frustrating weather.

Of course most little airports don't have fancy FBOs. But even the places with nothing but a mechanic and a fuel pump are generally friendly and helpful. I fondly remember a few years back near San Antonio stopping for gas and being offered to borrow their old beater car ("keys are in the ignition") to go get some great barbeque. Sure beats McDonalds at the airport food court.

  2009-12-11 15:59 Z