"Don't Get Taken For a Ride"
So you want to buy a balloon ride... the thought of floating peacefully above the treetops has you searching the internet looking for someone that can provide you with a romantic adventure or simply 'cross another thing off of the bucket list'. PLEASE take a few minutes to read the information below to help protect yourself against some companies who are preying on people just like you.
The ballooning, skydiving, soaring, and sailing industries have been plagued in recent years by nationwide 're-sellers'. These companies usually have a very well put together website offering flights in your area at a very appealing price. More often than not, these companies have set up a very similar website in every metropolitan area they can think of. There are some 'legitimate' companies out there with similar practices, but generally speaking, if you do not do business with a local company you will be 'taken for a ride', and I don't mean a balloon ride.
The majority of these companies do not own a balloon, have pilots on staff, or even know anything about the area they are 'doing business in'. They tell you they will sell you a certificate for a flight that you can present to one of their many qualified pilots in your area and you will have the time of your life. In reality, they take your credit card information and then they try to find a pilot in your area that will fly you for what is left of the discounted rate you paid after they take their share off the top. You may get lucky and they may find one, and if so, you may have to travel quite a distance to take your flight (having to travel to larger metropolitan areas to get to a participating pilot is not uncommon). Other times, they will sell you a certificate knowing that you will never be able to redeem it. Many of these companies have been sued several times, filed for bankruptcy, and then re-opened under a different name. Do some research before giving anyone your money or credit card information... Google the company you are considering.
Some common practices to watch out for:
Look at the pictures on the website. A company that is selling balloon rides in Topeka, Kansas that has pictures of their happy customers with mountains or the ocean in the background likely can't even tell you where Topeka, Kansas is.
Search for a balloon ride in another city several hundred miles away. If you can find a similar site, a site that uses a lot of the same wording, the same 'customer reviews', the same phone number, sometimes even the same pictures as the site in your area, it is not a good sign.
They will likely have a toll free number, this is because you are not calling a local company, but don't let a local number fool you. Some of the companies are starting to use local numbers that forward to their nationwide call center.
Talk to them. Anybody selling you a balloon ride should be able to tell you the pilot's name, their business address, and give you local references. There are some larger companies in major cities and tourist areas that employ several pilots, but here in the midwest, every company is a 1 or 2 pilot operation that does business from their home and they shouldn't have to 'look anything up'.
We aren't trying to sour you on the idea of a balloon ride, the fact of the matter is these companies have soured our reputations and made things much more difficult for us not only from a business sense, but on a 'human level' as well.
Buy a balloon ride, it IS a wonderful experience, just be sure to do your homework and make sure you are buying a ride in a balloon that actually exists. Buy safe, buy local.
I, Tony Goodnow, pilot at Lighter Than Airway, born and raised in Topeka, Kansas - home of the Prize Package cheeseburger and the old Chief Drive In that is now a Wal-Mart can personally assure you that the companies listed on the previous 'Reservations' page are legitimate companies and members of the LTAirway team.
We are members of the Great Plains Balloon Club, a group of ballooning enthusiasts who share a passion for the sport and encourage anyone interested in ballooning to follow their dreams and keep the true spirit of ballooning alive and well. We also believe that maintaining an active membership in the Balloon Federation of America, a unified voice representing balloonists across the U.S., is a vital step to keep ballooning as an activity that can be experienced by people from all walks of life.
A special "Thank You" goes out to all of the landowners across the country who allow balloonists to launch and land on their property. If it wasn't for your hospitality none of this would be possible. We are at the mercy of the winds and consider ourselves lucky to meet so many wonderful people when we drop in uninvited. We hope you have had a pleasant experience and have some photos and special stories of your own to share with your friends and families.