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Hot Air Balloon Flight / Failure to provide service

1 Madison, WI, United States Review updated:
Contact information:
Phone: 1-877-933-6359

My wife and I purchased two tickets for a hot air balloon ride at a total cost of $422. Hot Air Ballooning is highly dependent on the weather. Flying conditions must be just right so we expected that we may have to reschedule the flight a couple of times. Customers are told to call a telephone number to check a recorded message for the status of their flight on their scheduled day. On our third attempt the flight was cleared to fly and the recorded message instructed us to meet at the established pick-up point in the parking lot of East Towne Mall in Madison, Wisconsin. There were several other people that showed up who were also booked for that day and had heard the recorded message that the flight was cleared to fly. The plan was for the balloon crew to pick us up and take us all to the launch site in the company van with the balloon in tow on a trailer.

After waiting for 30 minutes I, and several other people there, called the office. The woman that answered the phone didn't know that the flight had been cleared to fly. I alerted her that the recorded message on their status telephone line indicated it was cleared to fly. She told me she would try and call the pilot and that I should call her back in 5 minutes. So I did. On the call back she told me that the flight had been cancelled due to weather; though it was a gorgeous day with light winds which to me seemed perfect for ballooning. She did say that she would send the pilot out to the pick-up point to explain why the flight has been cancelled. We waited an additional 45 minutes and the pilot never showed up. When I called back to the office a third time I asked for the manager. She claimed that she did not know her manager's name. Then I asked how can I make a complaint and get a refund. She said that there was nothing she could do to help me because, and to use her words, "I just work here." The next day the recorded message still indicated that our flight was the prior day was cleared to fly.

After being stood-up and after the way we were treated on the phone by their staff my wife and I decided that we were no longer interested in doing business with Great American Balloon Company. I e-mailed the only e-mail address I could find for them and asked for a refund. Two weeks went by and there was no reply. I sent a polite message to follow up suggesting that perhaps they overlooked my first e-mail message. I then received a reply from a person using the name of "Ron Lake" who said that he would get back to me after he talked to the pilot. I never received another e-mail message from him. About a month or so later I sent a letter explaining our experience and asking for a refund. It is reasonable that most companies will honor a refund when a customer is dissatisfied and has not yet received the service that was purchased; not GABC. In the letter I indicated that if a refund was not honored that I would first file a complaint with the better business bureau, then next with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection, and lastly I would resort to legal action, but hoped that GABC would issue the refund of their own volition in the interest of providing good customer service. Several months went by with no response. I filed the complaint with the BBB. The BBB contacted GABC several times before they finally responded. Next I filed the complaint with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection, and I also filed a complaint that same day with the Illinois Attorney General's Office -- Division of Consumer Protection. Both agencies contacted GABC and months went by before there was a response. What followed was a series of letters from both sides. In all cases GABC was very slow to respond, and their letters were little more than poorly written gibberish. In one of my rebuttal letters routed via the Attorney General's Office I commented how GABC to date had provided no service at all. What follows is a quote from GABC's response, "Mr. Dan has mentioned that we have provided him with NO SERVICE at all. I would like to ask Mr. Dan is scheduling not a part of service that was provided to him. Can Mr. Dan fly without scheduling a flight?" --- Really? Apparently GABC would have us believe that our $422 was for a very expensive phone call to schedule the flight. I thought we were purchasing a hot air balloon ride.

I began looking for other people that have had negative experiences with GABC. I found fourteen. Some people have waited between three to five years for a hot air balloon flight, and the company has cancelled their flights as many as 15 to 20 times. One person in the group tracked Great American Balloon Company's flight status telephone recording for 72 days during the summer of 2007. Reportedly for 72 days in a row both the morning and evening flights were cancelled due to weather. WKOW TV ran a story on their 10 pm newscast on 11/24/09 about GABC. They discovered that the business address listed on GABC's letterhead is actually a vacant storefront and the only business that was recently there was a UPS store. They tracked the flight status telephone recording for 30 days in the fall of 2009. Every flight morning and evening was cancelled due to weather. I know the weather is unpredictable during the summer and early fall in the Midwest but, 72 days in a row, and a second block of 30 days in a row seems unlikely at best. Great American Balloon Company has no physical location in Wisconsin. They operate under the following names: Windy City Balloon Port, Sky Rides Balloons, Sun Bird Balloons, and Token Creek Hot Air Balloon Company; however it is very important to note that they do not have a location in Token Creek, WI. I have come to know the owner of a different hot air ballooning company that is located in Token Creek, WI and he has no affiliation with Great American Balloon Company at all. There was a third company in Token Creek prior to all of this that did fly regularly. It is my understanding that sometime around the late 90's GABC bought the Token Creek Hot Air Balloon Company. Very soon after that the complaints against them took off like wildfire. The owner of the office building allegedly evicted Great American Balloon Company. The hot air ballooning company that is actually located in Token Creek WI today has no affiliation with GABC. On the day that our flight was cancelled by GABC, the owner of this other company reported that he flew all of his flights, that it was a beautiful day for flying, and had no idea why GABC would have cancelled for "weather." We eventually bought tickets with this other company and were up in the air within two weeks. As for GABC it has been over two and a half years, and still no flight. This issue has been coverevd by WKOW-TV in Madison, Wisconsin, TMJ4-TV in Milwaukee Wisconsin, The Chicago Tribune in Chicago Illinois, and the Isthmus newspaper in Madison Wisconsin.

The group of 14 is now in the process of taking legal action. There are several Wisconsin statutes that are applicable to what has gone on here. We have retained an attorney and will be filing the case very soon. If you have purchased a flight from Great American Balloon Company and have not been able to get your flight within a reasonable amount of time then please contact me. There is a second group taking legal action in Illinois very soon too. Regardless of where you live, and even if you don't want to join the case, perhaps you could be a witness.

As for those of you who are just researching Great American Balloon Company and considering purchasing a ticket: I do not recommend it. It is unlikely that you will get your flight within a reasonable amount of time, if at all. I can put you in touch with a different hot air ballooning company that actually does fly most of its flights. Please free to contact me. After turning our backs on GABC, we purchased tickets with a different company and had a wonderful time. Beware of Great American Balloon Company.

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Comments

  • Al
      9th of Jun, 2010
    0 Votes

    Are you able to contact me (alice.anderson0@gmail.com) to join the class action suit, and obtain info on alternative options for hot air balloon rides in Madison, WI area?
    thanks in advance

  • Pa
      11th of Jun, 2010
    0 Votes

    please contact me regarding this. I have had the same endless experience with this outfit and the past nine months with the BBB has resulted in nothing. It seems legal action is the only possibility for getting our money back. I have been trying to fly since aug 2006, going on my 5th year and so far running into the same old runaround. paul.staskowski@uwmf.wisc.edu, thanks, paul

  • We
      17th of Jun, 2010
    0 Votes

    Please contact me regarding this possible class action suit against The Great American Balloon Company. I purchased tickets for my daughters wedding present in October of '07. We have tried to fly numerous times and most cases the weather has been an issue. Several times though, the weather seemed like a great day for a balloon ride. We live in Central Wisconsin, so scheduling is tricky. Twice we had to drive to Madison with the hope we would fly as the weather a was great fall day. Ended up we drove all that way just for dinner as the flights were cancelled due to upper level winds. I am out almost $750.00 for 4 tickets and my daughter and her husband are being denied a memory of a lifetime to mark their special day. It is sad to feel that the only memory they have of this is the fact of being STIFFED!! My email is tunetimeent@gmail.com

  • Da
      9th of Jul, 2010
    0 Votes

    Hello My nane is David and I live in Illinois. I have also had the same bad experience. I have rescheduled at least 7-8 times. I have set 6 appointments in Illinios one in wisconsin and one in Las Vegas. All cancelled even though some days were beautiful with zero wind. Please contact me at davescobedo@yahoo.com.

  • Bl
      19th of Jul, 2010
    0 Votes

    Please contact me regarding an identical experience with this company. Our children bought us two tickets as an anniversary gift on May 20, 2007 and we have tried ever since to book a flight in Lake Geneva. We were scheduled again yesterday July, 18, 2010, and again even though the weather was delightful, the flight was cancelled.

    We live in Lake Geneva and have not noticed one balloon in the sky this year! Called again today & asked the fellow on the phone if flights ever occur in LG & he suggested we try Fox River Grove or Madison. Will attempt one additional booking for August 8th in Madison in the a.m. as this is more of a possibility according to their representative. Will advise you if this occurs! I don't have much faith that they actually will fly -- but at this point they have our money.

    I would still like to join your group if you decide to file a class action suit as I don't think it's right that so many are Scammed!!! My e-mail is blumaf@gmail.com.

  • Da
      23rd of Jul, 2010
    0 Votes

    Here is a quick update on the balloon case:

    As of 7/23/10 I've been in touch with 34 people that have all had remarkably similar negative experiences with Great American Balloon Company. The prep work for the lawsuit against AGABC is moving along nicely.

    For those of you that have had similar experiences with AGABC: If you are interested in joining the case as a plaintiff, or if you would just like more information about it then please let me know very soon. Alternatively if you would rather just be a witness instead then we could definitely use your support. Please contact me so we can document your experience. It may be possible to be a witness without appearing in court. The more people that we can find that have had negative experiences with the balloon company then the stronger the case becomes.

    In other news: In the two years that we've been chasing after AGABC, we've managed to fly twice with a different balloon company. On both the days that we flew with their competition, AGBAC had cancelled all of their flights, and they appear to have cancelled all flights so far this season out of the Madison area. The competition reports that they have flown a dozen times already this season, totaling about 70 people served. AGABC on the other hand --- Well, I haven't talked to anyone yet that has had a successful flight with them yet, ever. Is there something going on at AGABC? I have my suspicions but you can be the judge of that for yourself.

    The best way of contacting me is to e-mail me at:

    tetzlaff.dan@gmail.com

    Or call me at:

    608-320-1786

    Thanks,

    Dan Tetzlaff
    tetzlaff.dan@gmail.com

  • Da
      6th of Sep, 2010
    +1 Votes

    Quick update: The group is now up to 41 people. We continue to work on putting the lawsuit together.

    However, in the meantime it seems that the A.R.D.C. has taken an interest in this case. I've been told that two people that filed a request for investigation against Mr. Kent Heitzinger have reportedly recovered their money from the ticket purchase.

    The Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of the Supreme Court of Illinois has standards of ethical conduct that all attorneys practicing law in Illinois are expected to follow. Mr. Kent Heitzinger has an ownership and management interest in A Great American Balloon Company. He is a registered attorney in Illinois, and as such the A.R.D.C. seems to have expressed some interest in the balloon case.

    Here's the info regarding a request to have a lawyer investigated:

    You can write to the A.R.D.C. at:

    Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of the Supreme Court of Illinois
    312-565-2600 or 800-826-8625
    One Prudential Plaza
    130 East Randolph Drive
    Suite 1500
    Chicago, IL 60601-2320

    You’ll need the contact information of Mr. Heitzinger’s law practice to file a request for investigation against Mr. Heitzinger regarding your balloon ticket purchase. His contact information on file with the A.R.D.C. is as follows:

    Mr. Kent A. Heitzinger and Associates
    1056 Gage Street, Unit 200
    Winnetka, Illinois 60093-1745
    847-446-2430

    To file a request is quite easy, just call the 312 or 800 number and request the form titled Request For An Investigating Of A Lawyer. The form is one page, front and back. You can also obtain a copy of the form from their website at www.iardc.org.

    A direct path to the Request for Investigation form is as follows:

    https://www.iardc.org/htr_reqforinvestig_form.html

    Fill it out and mail it to the above address. It has been alleged in filings with the A.R.D.C. that Mr. Kent Heitzinger may not be in compliance with the standards of ethical conduct expected of all attorneys in Illinois due to the alleged fraud theft or deceptive business practices that may be going on at his company A Great American Balloon Company.

    The form asks if you employed the lawyer directly. I answered no, but under the question regarding what my connection to the lawyer was I wrote that I purchased a service from another company (AGABC) that he owns / manages. Under the question that asks you to describe what he alleged did, failed to do, or was improper I described my experience thus far with the balloon company. The other two people that filed similar requests received their money back. If you would like to see a copy of the complaint that I filed with the ARDC just e-mail me and I can provide you a copy of it.

    Dan Tetzlaff
    tetzlaff.dan@gmail.com
    608-320-1786

  • Me
      4th of Nov, 2010
    +1 Votes

    Hello My name is Megha and and I live in Illinois. I have also the horrible experience with GABC. I have rescheduled at my flight many times and even got an extended letter for 3 more months since I never had a chance to fly with my husband. Everytime, even on days with no wind, the flight would be cancelled. My husband had originally bought tickets before our engagement and was going to propose to me in the ride, but these people never fly. It was a scam and we never even got our money back since they're non refundable. It has been over 3 years now and nothing. Please help me get my money back. You can reach me at megha1082@yahoo.com

  • Da
      26th of Apr, 2011
    +3 Votes

    Success! My wife and I were able to get our money back.

    All together there were 57 people with similar experiences that came forward. Thank you everyone!

    Unfortunately the lawsuit fell through due to complications with our attorney's health. So we made one more attempt at going directly to our bank to get them to reverse the charge. Normally banks will only reverse a credit card charge within 60 days of a purchase. Thankfully my bank raised the bar and did the morally right thing. Even though they were not required under fraud protection laws to do it, they reversed the charge and gave us our money back. I guess persistence pays off in the end.

    We had inquired about a reversal a long time ago by phone and were told about the 60 day rule, and didn't pursue it because we didn't think it was an option. However, this year we opted to make a second attempt at it and file the fraud dispute form anyway. Our bank's form didn't provide much space for explaining the situation so we attached a letter that explained in great detail everything that we had done over the last several years, i.e. Filing complaints with the company, The Better Business Bureau, the state of Wisconsin consumer protection office, the state of Illinois consumer protection office, and even the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission which overseas the balloon company's owner's professional licensing in his other line of work. Additionally we detailed where they could find several television newscasts about the balloon company from two different television station's consumer protection reporters, and a dozen newspaper and online articles about the balloon company's exploits.

    In the end truth prevailed and they reversed the credit card charge. They issued a provision credit while they investigated the matter further. As of yesterday the provisional period concluded and that reversal was officially permanent.

  • Pa
      1st of Jun, 2011
    +1 Votes

    I am sorry to hear that the lawsuit did not go through. If there is renewed interest, I would love to be included. I was scammed back in 2008, and would love to get my money back, if possible.

    BBB Complaint did nothing :(
    Best,
    Paula
    paulacthornton@gmail.com

  • St
      22nd of Jun, 2011
    +1 Votes

    I am still ###ing furious about that ### Ron Lake and his mafioso organization taking my money. I hope they choke on their own coke and alcohol induced vomit. I'll have to try and get the charges reversed like you did, Dan. I was involved in the original suit with you until our attorney Pagel "fell ill". Funny how he just ran for office in april. Couldn't have been that sick. Sounds like he just didn't give a ###, especially since noone else could be assigned to the case. ###s. Thanks for the update.

  • St
      22nd of Jun, 2011
    +1 Votes

    I just discovered Pagel did not end up running for District 9 judge although his name was still on the April ballot. I rescind my attack, but am still pissed he bailed without offering us follow up assistance. ###.

  • Ju
      1st of Oct, 2011
    +1 Votes

    At this point it seems one of the best things we can do is spread awareness. If people are Googling this company, they should see prominently all the complaints against them so they don't waste their money in the first place.

    To that end, I've set up a Facebook page with many links to complaints against them. You can view it or contribute to it at http://www.facebook.com/greatamericanballooncompany. If you have another webpage or place you can link to it from, that will help it show up more prominently in Google.

  • Se
      11th of Apr, 2012
    +1 Votes

    Good Luck to you all. This was once a reputable balloon company until Kent Heitzinger took it over again in the mid-2000s. He has been unable or unwilling to hire pilots to fly, probably having just one occasional pilot for all four Midwest locations. His reputation in the ballooning community is such that most pilots won't work for him. Unfortunately, he gives a bad name to the business. There are reputable companies in the area and hopefully once you win your suit against him, you will take another chance and fly with one of them.

  • Rh
      28th of Jul, 2012
    0 Votes

    My parents have been trying to fly for 5 years now. What a disgrace. I wish there was a way to get their money back.

  • Da
      10th of Sep, 2013
    0 Votes

    A reporter from channel 3 news in Madison WI got in touch with me. Apparently Great American Balloon Company has filed for bankruptcy and their assets are being liquidated. I have been told that customers with unused tickets qualify as creditors and can submit a claim form to Moglia Advisors which is the company handling the liquidation. It looks like the deadline to submit a claim is soon. The form must be received by Moglia Advisors by 9/23/13 at the latest.

    The document gives the following contact information for Moglia Advisors for those persons with questions or in need of the claim form:

    Alex Moglia or Matthew Brash, at (847) 884-8282, 1325 Remington Road, Suite H, Schaumburg, IL 60173.

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