Working at Gift Experience South Africa has some pretty memorable moments in it. Some of my favourite are hearing feedback from our customers. I love to hear their stories – how their experience went, the excitement around the occasion and sharing their photos with them afterwards… Talk about job satisfaction!
I recently went to go and see some of our experience providers in Johannesburg and surrounds and this trip opened my eyes to even more stories, but those told from the perspective of the experience providers dealing with our customers. I have to share my favourite with you!
My all time favourite is the one told to me by Stephan, the owner of one of the flying schools we work with on the East Rand. He told of how the one weekend, a very old gent in his 80s arrived for his hands-on flight accompanied by his grand-daughter and family. The old man used to fly Sabres and other fighter jets when he was in his youth during the Korean war and, while old and limited in mobility, was still an active driver and it was his dream to sit behind the controls of a plane again. We’d chatted with his grand-daughter prior to her purchasing this experience as a birthday gift for him and I recalled her checking whether he would be able to fly. We’d done our homework and the answer being in the affirmative, here he was about to embark on a grand adventure full of reminiscing.
With a little assistance, Stephan and the very helpful instructors managed to get him inside the cockpit of Stephan’s personal plane and Stephan took the controls and taxied them over to the runway. As they’re waiting to depart, the old gent turns to Stephan, a healthy sized gent himself, and says; “Sonny boy, in my day I flew fighter jets and I’d really appreciate being able to do this take-off by myself.”
Now, each plane has dual controls for instruction purposes and, while it’s common practice to allow students to keep a light hold of controls during take-off and landing, the instructor will normally handle this part of the flying experience. Generally though, taking off is a little easier and less complex than landing and students are allowed more leeway in participating for their first flight in the take-off. Stephan, giving it some thought, agreed. Although he admitted to me afterwards he was very nervous about the arrangement and had his hands close to the controls throughout. Needless to say, the old gent sent the small two-seater into the air with a textbook perfect take-off. Stephan couldn’t fault him and settled back to let him have some fun at the controls.
A few loops above scenic areas later, and the old gent once more put in a request. This time for a very tricky “touch-down” which involves bring the plane in to land and just before the wheels hit the runway, taking off again – it involves a high degree of skill and Stephan once again was put on the spot. His precious plane in the hands of an aged ex-fighter pilot…. Would his reflexes be quick enough? He needn’t have worried. It seemed that all those years and years of high intensity flight training had never left the old man, despite decades having passed since he last flew a plane. Stephan admitted he couldn’t have bettered the touch-down himself.
The two of them ended up having so much fun, a 25minute flight stretched into 90minutes of sheer joy as loops, mid-air stalls and many more touch-downs took place. I must admit, I wondered what his family must have thought of it all! This old gent had a birthday experience that took him flying back across the years to some of his best flying memories and Stephan? Well Stephan met a legend that day and he’s still telling people about him.
Stories like this one remind me of why I do what I do. These feel good stories where we, alongside our awesome experience providers, help people to have extraordinary experiences and have stories like these to tell make this job so worthwhile.
Want to try a flying lesson? Why not hint at your next Christmas or birthday gift and tell them to get it here: