magine planning a trip and not having to worry about the extra hours spent getting to the airport, standing in line at security and waiting to board your flight, then once you're bored you have to sit on the plane waiting for everyone else to board and then for the plane to taxi, and then you’re stuck in your uncomfortable seat for hours and then you finally land and have to taxi to the gate, wait to get off the plane and journey through that airport – you probably have to ride on a train – deal with getting to a car and maybe, possibly, you finally get to your final destination.
It's Exhausting. Now imagine parking right next to the hanger door, walking through an open, friendly waiting area and then right out the door you are mere steps from the plane. You walk up the steps to the plane and choose any of the comfy, plush seats with the few other people on the plane –whom you know because they are your friends or family and you booked this private charter to fly together. Sounds delightful, doesn’t it? Wendy Smith and her husband Joel have created this amazing experience– along with their team – at Aero Air Charter.
EARLY LIFE TRANSITION Wendy didn’t speak English when she moved with her family from Puerto Rico to Pensacola when she was 11 years old. “This was a tremendous culture shock for me,” she said. “I couldn’t even speak English and since I didn’t know the language kids used to think I was deaf and mute. Everything was hard about that transition here. ”She picked up the language quickly, though, and went on to graduate from Washington High School and the University of West Florida. Like many people who grew up in Pensacola in the 1980s and 90s, she couldn’t wait to leave. But, she also always felt the pull back. Wendy graduated from UW with a psychology degree and assumed he would need to go on and get her masters degree. Her mother had another suggestion for her. “My mom asked me one day, ‘well what are you going to do after you graduate?’ And I said, ‘I have to get my masters.’” Her mother suggested she consider being a flight attendant. “That never crossed my mind even though I always wanted to travel, and so I did it. I thought I was gonna do it for two years, but I ended up doing it for 10 years. I moved to Boston for one year and then I moved to New York for nine years,” Wendy said. She had family in New York and was able to live with them while she traveled for work and traveled back and forth to Pensacola because she was dating her husband Joel who had started a small business that eventually became AppRiver. Wendy and Joel first met in high school, dated off and on for 10 years and have now been married for 21 years and have two sons, ages 14 and 19.
NEXT STAGE TRANSITION After flying Aero as customers, the Smiths were approached about purchasing the business. At first, Wendy was hesitant. “We dug in and did our research and the more we dug in, the more we realized it was a diamond in the rough, ”Wendy said. They bought the business, rebranded and purchased and updated another plane. They now have three planes, including one that Wendy calls “J Lo” because it is “sexy. ”When the pandemic hits, Aero works on relationships. “COVID gave us the opportunity to build relationships with aviation brokers, which is about95 percent of our business. They are extremely important because a broker is not going to put their passengers that they’ve had for years on just any carrier. So it gave us the opportunity to build relationships with them and for them to get to know us and trust us,” Wendy said. “And the ladies on our team are the reasons why – even though everything is over the phone or online, their personalities come through. They’re so genuine that people feel that and that has made a tremendous difference – I’m super proud of them.`
`THE LADIES OF AERO– THE TEAM When you walk into Aero, you feel the good vibes – and that can’t be manufactured. The team knows how to have fun while working hard. “There is a time when we do laugh, but when we need to get down to work, we are focused straight ahead,” said flight coordinator Denise Roesle. “It’s all focus and safety-conscious and getting the job done, but it’s also light-hearted for the most part. It's Important that you are happy when you come to work,” said operations manager Lisa White. The team gets rewarded with some perks such as travel, lunches and a really nice Christmas party. But it's the day-to-day that keeps them happy. The team sees the Smiths as having the right balance of engagement but also trusting their team. “They are proactive but hands off, that’s what I really, really like,” Roesle Said. “They ask how we are doing and if they can help with anything, which is good. ”And the team knows that the Smiths care. “When they ask how we are doing, I feel like they sincerely care what the answer is. They are not asking ‘how you are doing’ just to pass the time, they sincerely care,” White agreed.“ Joel says he surrounds himself with A players and A players bring other Players to the game. He says that we form the A Team. ”The team grew through association. Each person was brought on by someone else on the team who knew them and worked with them. They Were all connected somehow, including the pilots and other members of operations and maintenance. Wendy encourages a focus on experience for the Aero customers– she wants them to experience an elevated, boutique flight experience. “She gives us wonderful feedback that helps us be better,” White said while also describing that part of getting to participate in perks like travel is so that the team can experience what they are selling. “They want us to experience what we are selling. Whenwe traveled to New York I quickly realized the biggest benefit that private travel gives you is the time saved. It Was amazing.”