Stepping out of a business jet under a broad Gulf Coast sky, you discover a Golden Retriever sitting on a red carpet to greet you. A smiling dog named Sadie that happens to be wearing an orange safety vest, airport badge and headset. By the time you finish rubbing your eyes, the crew car pulls up. A screaming red 1970 Pontiac GTO ragtop convertible. With a license plate that reads "GR-RRR!"
If you rap the car keys with your knuckles a few times just to make sure it's all real and you've not landed at a fixed base operator (FBO) in your dreams, you wouldn't be the first.
Innisfree Jet Center at Pensacola International Airport (KPNS) has caught more than a few pilots and passengers by surprise. Born originally as a private facility serving hotel guests visiting Pensacola's 52 miles of sugar-white beaches and aquamarine salt waters, Innisfree takes its hospitality pedigree seriously.
It's unusual, but this Phillips 66® Aviation-branded dealer is actually owned by a hotel company, the Innisfree Hotel Group, founded by CEO Julian MacQueen. That may be one reason a reviewer on AirNav, an online airport and FBO locator for pilots, likened landing at Innisfree to stepping into a Ritz Carlton.
"The cool thing about us is that we're part of a hotel group," says Carl Braddock, General Manager, Innisfree Jet Center. "The hotel industry is nothing but service."
Braddock calls MacQueen a visionary, a pilot and a hotel industry entrepreneur who is combining his love for aircraft with the dining and lodging industry's concierge approach.
"It's the culmination of the best of everything that people can bring to the table," Braddock says. "You end up with a boutique FBO."
Hire the attitude
When MacQueen hired Braddock, he hired a general manager without FBO experience. What he got was a concierge manager, a man with a service background who spent years working for fine dining restaurants, though with a brief stint in the aircraft aftermarket parts business.
"I didn't know the FBO business," says Braddock. "Julian believes that you hire the attitude and teach the skill. We really believe in that."
Innisfree's customer service manager, Raina Melville, is also from the fine dining industry.
"What Raina and I brought to table is all those incredible things related to service," explains Braddock. "We're tuned to what people want. I don't know how to teach people that. You just have to be attuned to people: what they're saying, their body language, do they look thirsty, hungry or are they doing the 'I need a restroom' dance."
A boutique FBO, muscular GTOs
Like the boutique hotels sprouting up in big cities, Innisfree Jet Center's 24,800 square-foot facility embraces a minimalistic, ultra-modern design.
It has pilot lounges with satellite television and gaming systems, hotel-style sleeping rooms with private baths, an executive board conference room with three drop-down plasma televisions and Wi-Fi, a putting green and ping pong – plus a fully equipped commercial kitchen with chef service from Pensacola celebrity chef Dan Dunn, known for turning the Hilton Pensacola Beach Gulf Front Hotel into a culinary destination for Gulf Coast travelers.
"It's like you're in your living room; people tell us they are so comfortable here," explains Braddock. "You take people from the dining industry, then throw in a beautiful, state-of-the-art building, our concierge approach and a good dose of down-to-earth southern hospitality and that's pretty much all you need when you're a gas station for airplanes.
"Because I don't care what folks tell you about the FBO business, that's what we are, a gas station for airplanes," says Braddock. "A darn good one."
Open 365 days a year from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., Innisfree doesn't charge call-out fees for after-hours service. There is a 16,000 square foot hangar, aircraft brokerage, a jet leasing program, aircraft detailing and maintenance. And like a hotel, it provides banquet, meeting and event rental space which is proving to be popular.
Then there are those amazing crew cars, something you don't see every day at an FBO. Two muscle cars from Detroit's golden era, a deep bronze 1971 GTO and 1970 red convertible GTO that makes car buffs drool. "I thought those cars were cool as dirt when I was in high school," reminisces Braddock.
Pilot's best friend
With all those amenities, it may be Sadie the Airport Dog that's the showstopper at Innisfree.
Sadie, her golden floppy ears covered with a headset, won't move from her spot on the welcoming red carpet until the aircraft lands.
"I have seen planes land and pilots ignore passengers to get pictures of this dog," laughs Braddock. "We also do a lot of air ambulance work here and Sadie does so much good for the patients. Air ambulance pilots call ahead and ask if the dog is ready. She knows how to lift the smiles on little kids needing medical care."
Sadie may not be NATA Safety 1st-trained like the rest of Innisfree's line crew, but she has customer service down pat.
To add to a rewarding flying experience, Innisfree Jet Center provides volume fuel discounts and offers the WingPoints® Rewards Program. Pilots can get points for aviation fuel purchases that are immediately redeemable online for debit or gift cards.
Phillips 66 Aviation fuel marketer Perry Brothers Aviation Fuels in Americus, Georgia, serves the FBO.
"We are proud to be associated with the oldest aviation fuel provider in the United States," says Braddock.
In a place steeped in history – five nations have flown their flags over Pensacola – and known as the "Cradle of Naval Aviation" that's home to the Blue Angels, Innisfree is poised to carve out a destiny to match the spectacular beaches, playful dolphins, stellar game fishing and old forts found everywhere here.
"We're here to bend over backwards to serve," says Braddock. "It's that simple. We offer a luxurious experience like the finest restaurant or hotel, but really it comes down to good old southern hospitality."
For more information on Innisfree Jet Center, visit InnisfreeJetCenter.com.