FBO Etiquette

I’m low time and haven’t stopped at any airports overnight or even parked except to get gas. This whole FBO thing is a mystery to me. I’m the type that hates to impose on people and I get the feeling pulling up to a big FBO with jets out front in my rental 172 is not the thing to do. Or is it? If FBOs make their money on fuel sales then I would feel guilty taking advantage of their services for 20-30 gallons. Is there tipping, secret handshakes, code words involved? Your experience in this area is appreciated.


Use Airnav.com to get a feel for the FBO’s on each field. All else being equal I go for the least expensive fuel.

I have been to many of the big FBO players (Signature, Million Air, Mercury) etc. and for the most part they all do a good job. Each location is different in service level. Just try to park away from where the jets pull up for quick turns. I like to taxi right to tie down so my plane is not towed by people who can bang up the plane.

I tip for any line person who goes out of their way to help me. If they take my luggage to the car or pull the rental car up to the plane and put my luggage in, I tip $4-5.

I normally do not tip the fuel person, unless they are doing the same things as mentioned above. I also stand with the plane as the fuel is going in. I take time to note the quantity of the fuel, I like to see the 100 LL sticker on the truck, I look at the color of the fuel going into the plane, and I look at the condition of the fuel truck (rust means water somewhere close). Finally, I watch so the fuel hose is not used to scratch the wing. (I carry my own wing fuel cover for this purpose)

Why do I do all of this? Well about six months ago at my home field Jet A was pumped into a plane needing 100 LL. The pilot was not there during fueling, the truck was clearly marked Jet A and the gas receipt also had Jet A on it. The pilot did not sump the fuel before take off and he crashed on climb out.


Think of the FBO as a fancy gas station. A gas station would prefer if you pull in driving a large gas guzzler but will also happily sell you fuel if you’re driving a gas/electric hybrid.
My feeling is that when I land somewhere I tend to fill up even if it’s only a few gallons because that supports the local FBO.
They are there to serve you and you ought not to feel guilty using their services as long as you fill up. I do think it is inappropriate to expect the FBO to treat you like royalty if you buy nothing.
If they give you a courtesy car to go get lunch, put some gas in it.
Like Mason if a lineperson unloads my bags and takes them into the terminal I tip him.
If I’m going somewhere and need a car I call the FBO and ask them if they have rentals available. If they do I use them instead of going directly to Hertz/Avis etc.
There is no doubt that FBOs make more when you pull up in a Bizjet but in my 40 years of flying I’ve rarely felt unwelcome when taxiing up in a piston single or twin. Most FBOs seem to value their reputation and provide good service no matter what plane you’re in. If I find a FBO that doesn’t feel that way I avoid it in the future. If it is part of a national chain I let the chain know about my displeasure.
I also second Mason’s suggestion that you check out FBO ratings on Airnav.com.

Tim, welcome to COPA. And thanks for the memories!! Turns out that your post reminds me of my early days flying my Cirrus as a new pilot. After training, the whole cross-country planning process had me guessing in many ways similar to you. It was a very confusing trip to Santa Barbara where I misunderstood the controller and flew straight-in to runway 25 instead of 15 that I knew I needed help. Couldn’t find anything in the charts, approach plates or airport information that helped me. Then I asked a local flight instructor, Bill Graham, and he made all the difference – and it wasn’t in the air!
Go buy and fly with a copy of Flight Guide, the little brown book that comes in 3 volumes for West, Central and East sections of the country. Each airport has a comprehensive directory of useful information:

Note that each airport page has lots of flying info (frequencies, traffic pattern and layout) as well as two really useful categories: ON FLD and General. ON FLD is the list of FBOs on the field with a brief list of services, phone number and Unicom frequency, and most valuable is a key to it’s location on the field layout diagram. Where else is that available, eh? Also, while this example doesn’t have it because it is a Class C airport that has an additional page not shown, most airport pages have arrival and departure VFR procedures in the General section. These are the secret handshakes between pilots and controllers to expedite the common, everyday kinds of VFR flights into and out of an unfamiliar airport. For instance, San Carlos describes the Woodside and Bay Meadows VFR departure procedures. Pheww!

So, for my Santa Barbara trip, Flight Guide explains that VFR pilots arriving from the southeast should expect to follow the US101 freeway and enter left base for runway 15 – ah, that’s what the controller told me but I misunderstood! Finally, someone has published the tribal knowledge from the locals! And it clearly showed me how I could taxi to Signature on the ramp on the opposite side of the airport from the terminal area. Peace of mind!

Back in my early days of flying, I planned trips with the following steps:

  • www.aeroplanner.comwww.airnav.com to plan fuel stops for cheap gas, and to look up food and lodging choices

  • occasional phone calls to smaller airports to confirm FBO services, typically hours of service, status of self-serve pumps, crew cars for getting lunch

  • Flight Guide reivew of potential airport stops, seeking to understand the arrival patterns and FBO location on the field

Great memories of learning. Hope you enjoy the challenge and fun of flying your Cirrus to interesting places.


Jerry’s and Mason’s comments ares spot on, but a few more to add:

If you visit a small FBO with no ramp charge, and you use any services (parking, rest rooms, WX, crew car, lounge) try to buy at least some avgas. This is how they pay for and maintain these services.

If you use a crew car, especially at a small FBO put some gas in it or at least offer to give the counter person some money for it. At larger FBO’s with ramp fees and huge mark-ups on avgas, I am less inclined to do so.

If you are planning on leaving the plane overnight or longer, call ahead to find out if there is space, any charges and the availability of any of the other services that you may need. You may avoid some nasty surprises.

Be polite to everyone!

P.S. Welcome to the COPA web site.[:)]

In reply to:

Well about six months ago at my home field Jet A was pumped into a plane needing 100 LL. The pilot was not there during fueling, the truck was clearly marked Jet A and the gas receipt also had Jet A on it. The pilot did not sump the fuel before take off and he crashed on climb out.

What kinda plane was it? I thought the Jet A nozzle wouldn’t physically fit in the tank of an Avgas plane.


In reply to:

If you use a crew car, especially at a small FBO put some gas in it or at least offer to give the counter person some money for it.

Most FBOs are great about letting you use a car to grab a lunch or even to use overnight to get to your hotel. I’ve even had some line guys let me use their personal car to grab some grub. I agree with Marty that you should offer some money or at least add some gas. Lots more convenient/economical then a cab.

One warning. Always bring some plastic gloves with you. Some crew cars are new and spotless. Some are real clunkers where the steering wheel has this unique sticky stuff (you know what I mean!). I don’t want to know how that stuff gets there, but I either wear plastic gloves or use a rag to hold the wheel. I then boil my hands when I get back just in case. [;)]


There may well have been changes but I can assure you that older GA aircraft that use AVGAS have filler necks that can accept JET A. Some major mistakes have been made often with fatal results.
Airplanes that are marked “turbo” have a high rate of these incidents. Linemen apparently interpret that to be the same as turbine.
I asked about this very issue at the fuel seminar we had at M2 and was told that modifications have been made in nozzles and filler necks to preclude this but there is no doubt that it can and does happen.