Branson West

‘Again, your challenge is not just to improve. It is to break the service paradigm in your industry or market so that customers aren’t just satisfied, they’re so shocked that they tell strangers on the street how good you are.’ – Jack Welch

Left base: Runway 21, Branson West, MO

The plane is running excellently in the cold winter air. We’re three and a half hours from Chicago, after having to wait most of the day watching the clouds go by. We had a very nice view of them given how low they were. Eventually we got our window and launched west toward the setting sun. Flying this way allowed us to get out from under the low stuff and allowed a climb to more civilized altitudes.

Turning to the south we cruised through the sunset and winter-clear starlight until we arrived in the neighborhood of Branson West. Thanks to our high altitude we were able to be on flight following the entire trip down. Having big brother keeping an eye on the sky and giving a heads up if anyone gets close is a welcome reassurance when the entire field of view is covered with a maze of lights. Stars, streets, signs, radio towers. It’s easy to miss another plane.

Our goal for the day was to get to Austin, but that isn’t going to happen. It’s 19:30, we’re four hours away and the fog and low clouds are due to come around midnight. That’s a bit too much for this VFR pilot.

Though I’m not yet IFR rated, my flying is definitely better as a result of the training my instructor has been giving me. I’m way ahead of the flight and feeling good as I turn final into KFWB. It’s definitely a shame to be leaving the smooth air and diamonds in the sky behind, but there is only so far this little friend can take us in one leap.

I land. Sort of…

Let’s just say it wasn’t one for the highlight reel. Didn’t bend the plane though and my navigator didn’t judge it nearly as harshly as I.

We pulled onto the taxiway, started to head toward the flight office and were pleasantly surprised to hear, “3SP, Branson West Unicom, just head down the taxiway to the end and pull off to the lit up building, we’ll be waiting for you”.

Normally this wouldn’t come as a surprise, but we were over seven hours late and I knew that operations were advertised as closing at five. We turned off the taxiway and saw the familiar orange vest and glowing wands of a rampy guiding our ship those last few meters to a safe resting place.

Tired from the long day I ran the shutdown checklist and smiled watching the rampy scurry around the plane throwing down a couple wheel chocks. Then came surprise number two.

“Hi, welcome to Branson West. Are you Rich?”

“Why, yes I am! I’m surprised you guys are still here.”

“Yup, we’re here. We aren’t those other airports! I’m Jamie, glad you made it in, I’ve been waiting for you and another plane.”

Jamie, the airport manager and not just a rampy, had stuck around well after the nominal closing time to make sure his customers got the service they needed. He and I had exchanged a couple emails as I enquired about the costs of stopping there (in short: much less than anywhere else in the area) and how we might be able to get some food quickly (he offered to have someone run to a nearby restaurant to get us some eats that we could inhale during our fuel stop).

Our original plans having been chucked overboard, we now imposed on him to help us find a hotel and a sit down dinner. He, of course, succeeded in that task easily and even had the bulk of the paperwork for a rental car pre-filled out and waiting for us in anticipation of our need. While we finished making arrangements he ran back out to the ramp and gassed up the plane so it would be ready the next morning.

Compared to any other airport we’ve been to, the level of service was the best. Taking into account that he stuck around after hours to deliver it made it just that much more notable. We’re looking forward to stopping back for another load of fuel on that way home.

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