FAA Customer Service: Jekyll, Meet Hyde


This is supposed to be a blog about FAA customer service, but allow me to digress for a moment. At the tragically young age of six, I was diagnosed with FFPS-form fill-out psychosis syndrome. This manifested itself in the nuns sending notes home to my parents commenting on little Paul’s art and coloring projects being somewhat monochromatic and what coloring I did was well outside the lines. But the nuns were simply out of their depth. They weren’t observant enough to realize that the reason I wasn’t coloring was because I was melting down my crayons and mixing them with aluminum dust from my Dad’s shop to make explosives. Had I had the patience to fill out an order form from my Gilbert chemistry set to get my hands on a little toluene, I’d have succeeded in blowing out the back wall of the rectory rather than leaving it with a barely noticeable black smudge. Life’s regrets begin early and remain indelible.Still, what you are at six, you probably still are at 60 and thus my toxic revulsion at filling out forms has only gotten worse. This is a bad thing for a pilot, since we occasionally have to fill out medical applications and aircraft registration forms. I’ve recently done both. As far as medical forms, the FAA has streamlined this with the medexpress online system. With one exception, it makes the process as painless as it can be, short of being eliminated entirely. The exception is remembering a password for a site you use only once every two or three years. This is actually a wider scourge of life in the digital age.No problem; just use the lost-password utility. I did that, but no joy. Tried again the next day and it worked. An e-mail query was promptly returned and-the real surprise-I got a phone call from the medexpress support staff asking if I got everything sorted out. That was a week later, but I still think it worthy of favorable remark. Stipulating that we would all like to be done with Third Class medicals, you don’t expect this kind of service from the FAA.And, in an earlier customer service experience, sadly, the agency lived down to its low expectations. This one turned into a true fiasco. When our Cub came up for registration renewal, it fell to me to get the paperwork done. To its credit, anticipating the re-registration crush, the FAA devised a streamlined method involving an owner-specific code that you could use to almost push-button the process. But that code was mailed to the previous partner manager and he lost it, so I had to start over from scratch.That meant getting the registration form, filling it out and sending it in. With registration transfer at resale, the FAA allows the pink copy to serve as a temporary certificate, but with re-registrations, they don’t. Why? Who the hell knows? I couldn’t get anyone to explain it. It’s probably some pointless bureaucratic checkbox lost to the fog of time. Being an acute victim of FFPS, I’m susceptible to filling out the form incorrectly and I did. I made some minor error in abbreviation or the like. Also, something had to have a line drawn through it to correct it. Two weeks later, back came the form, not just once, but twice-or was it three times?– each time with a dense letter explaining the problem. Because of this, the Cub was actually offline for nearly three months.Admitting that I have no patience with filling out little boxes and making sure the date is 05/30/2013 and not 05/30/13, I found the entire process infuriating because I couldn’t get anyone on the phone to clarify it for me, exactly, so I could avoid the second rejection. The phones were either busy or wouldn’t answer. E-mails were returned, but were cryptic. The online instructions I found were somewhat helpful, but that’s what led me into filling in the form incorrectly in the first place. I’ll cop to being a form fill-out moron, but I claim credit for at least engaging in self-help.Hard to believe these two disparate customer experiences came from the very same agency, but then FAA departments seem to operate as independent duchies. People involved in certification projects laugh when they hear the phrase “one FAA.” The FAA you get probably depends on who picks up the phone when you call, if anyone picks up at all. Well, at least at medxpress, they do.