For many, the slowdown in business brought on by the coronavirus pandemic has provided unexpected opportunities to shift energies to other important things. For Glenside, Pa.-based U-Save Car & Truck Rental franchisee Tom Mellett, that means more time in the skies with his favorite charity.
A few times a year since 2003, Mellett has been volunteering his time and his four-seat, single-engine Piper Archer plane for Angel Flight East, which makes 700 to 800 flights a year in the Northeastern U.S. transferring seriously ill patients to medical treatments far from their homes.
During the pandemic, however, the focus has shifted to flying PPEs to medical and essential workers. Mellett’s flights are mostly from the Northern Philadelphia suburbs to airports around New York City.
“Despite the disruption of life as we know it and of course the casualty associated with it, there is a side of me that is enjoying the slowdown of pace,” Mellett says. “It gives me time to reflect on what we should be grateful for.”
The volunteer flights are a welcome diversion, particularly as conditions for both his car rental and used car dealership have been the most challenging in his business of more than 30 years.
At the onset of Pennsylvania’s shelter-in-place orders in March, Mellett was caught in a double whammy. While his car rental business ground to a near standstill, he was also unable to sell his unused rental fleet — or any car for that matter — through his dealership, as in-person car sales were forbidden too.
In the meantime, he’s trying to satisfy the requirements of the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which requires spending 75% of those funds on payroll in an eight-week period during the partial shutdown. It’s a lot harder to coax employees back to work when the federal government has supplemented unemployment with an extra $600 per week, he says.
At least the local business hasn’t experienced the nightmare plummet experienced at the airports, he says. “I am very thankful that we are an independent franchise and we have the ability to shuffle the deck much easier (than the major car rental companies),” he says.
Car rental volume — if not pricing — is slowly improving, which may pull him away from his charity work. For now, he’s happy for the diversion in the skies.
“I'm a big believer in giving back and being of service to others,” says Mellett. “Undoubtedly, I get so much more out of it than the recipient.”