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Virgin Balloon Flights / failure to provide balloon flights

United Kingdom Review updated:

I made the mistake of buying flight *vouchers* for Virgin Balloon Flights back in 2011.

Eight times in four years, from August 2011 to April 2015, I tried in good faith to get Virgin Balloons to honour those vouchers. Each time I and my friend booked holiday time from work, made travel arrangements, and got up at the crack of dawn to hear the same tired cancellation message on the cancellation line, with the flimsiest of excuses. We had to practically beg Virgin Balloons to 'extend' the validity of our vouchers as they expired more than once as Virgin Balloons failed to deliver.

When it became obvious that Virgin Balloons could not deliver the service it had taken payment for, I reasonably asked if I could have my money back. Very long story short, I was refused. Virgin Balloons is a very unethical company that may adhere to the letter but certainly not the spirit of consumer protection law. It is not a good company.

I wrote a review on Trustpilot to share my experiences. These User-Generated-Content sites are supposed to provide honest insights into customer experiences of various companies, to help consumers make informed choices.

More than a year after I posted my obviously very negative but fair review, Virgin Balloon Flights reported my review to Trustpilot, with instructions for it to be removed, claiming I was not a genuine customer. I am now in the process of proving my veracity and validating all my poor experiences. I expect Virgin Balloons will be surprised that I am able to do so: I suspect Virgin Balloons 'reports' reviews and requests that they be taken down long after they are posted in the hope that customers will not have retained any of the required proof, or will simply give up.

After sending my proof to Trustpilot, I checked the website's page on Virgin Balloons. Currently, Virgin Balloons has five-star reviews. I am going to stick my neck out and say that what Virgin Balloons has done is report all the honest, fair, negative reviews in order to present a false image of themselves, to misrepresent their reputation, and to mislead consumers.

At this stage, while Trustpilot still has not reinstated my review, I don't know which company I am more disgusted by, Virgin Balloons or Trustpilot, which colludes with companies - charging them apprx £800 per annum - to 'manage' their reputation via the manipulation of customer reviews.

I really hope there is some official body this can be reported to.

Vo
May 15, 2017
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Comments

  • Vi
      27th of Jun, 2017

    Hello Ms Ni F
    We were both saddened and surprised to discover that you remain unhappy with our service, as at the time of your complaint to us two years ago we had issued you a full refund via cheque of £120.
    Good customer service is at the core of everything we do and after coming across your post above, we investigated things on our system. For some reason, it appears that this cheque was never actually cashed and we’re sorry if this means it never actually got to you.
    We received your letter of complaint about your flight voucher, which had been purchased through a third party supplier, on 25th May 2015.
    Although the voucher you bought was non-refundable, having reviewed your account and the fact that we felt it unlikely you would now enjoy your flight when it did take place, we wrote back to you on 17th June 2015 and included a refund cheque for the £120 purchase price.
    The letter and cheque were posted to the same address that was on the letter you had sent to us dated 25th May, which we are obviously unable to post on here for data protection and security reasons.
    A copy of your letter, our written reply, the refund action form and the stub from your refund cheque remain on our system and we would be very happy to share them with you to show that we genuinely had taken action at the time to address your complaints.
    As we received no further contact from you after that initial letter of 25th May 2015, we assumed that the matter had been resolved to your satisfaction by the refund and that the cheque had been received.
    If you would be happy to contact us, either by post or on email with your current address, we will of course be happy to honour that refund and issue another cheque, sent recorded delivery the same day to ensure that it gets to you.
    Kind Regards
    The Virgin Balloon Flights Team

    0 Votes
  • Vo
      28th of Jun, 2017

    @Virgin Balloon Flights Virgin Balloon Flights;

    The comments made in the review posted above are 100% true, fair, and accurate.

    The response Virgin Balloon Flights has posted is inappropriate, irresponsible, and unacceptable.

    Consumers are allowed to post feedback on their experiences, to share with other consumers, and to warn them about poorly performing businesses. If Virgin Balloon Flights doesn't like having negative feedback posted on public forums, rather than harassing dissatisfied customers, it would be better to invest in an improved business model; one that does not result in so many people being ripped off and left disgruntled. Because your current business model seems to be based on building profits by selling non-refundable services that you are knowingly unable to provide, and clearly this does not make people happy.

    Virgin Balloon Flights obviously fails to understand that unhappy customers have a right to share their unhappiness. The response Virgin Balloon Flights consistently makes to negative reviews proves this lack of comprehension, and emphasises the problems the review above sought to draw attention to: An honest but negative review posted on Trustpilot was removed by Virgin Balloon Flights, in order to help create a misleading impression of the level of customer satisfaction with Virgin Balloon Flights. This is not only unethical, it is actually contrary to regulations designed to protect consumers under the Competition and Markets Authority. It compromises consumers' ability to make informed choices based on representative feedback.

    In manipulating the reviews on Trustpilot, removing negative reviews to make it appear as though there is a 95%+ customer satisfaction rating, this creates a false impression of Virgin Balloon Flights. This is one that is not matched either by actual customer experience or by other review sites, where Virgin Balloon Flights is unable to use its status as a paying customer to have reviews removed.

    If people were fairly and honestly able to gauge just how frequently Virgin Balloon Flights fails to deliver the flights customers pay for, then it is highly probable that more people would choose not to throw away money on your services. Do you think this reviewer would have wasted time and money tangling with Virgin Balloon Flights if the reviewer had been able to fairly assess the company's lack of reliability? People have the right to make informed choices: Manipulating public perception, taking peoples' money, and then taking the position of caveat emptor and 'blame the weather' is not good enough.

    Despite the Trustpilot review being posted anonymously and in very general terms, Virgin Balloon Flights made outrageous claims, refered to a non-existent refund, and lied in order to have the review removed. This is not the behaviour of a trustworthy company. And now Virgin Balloon Flights has pursued the review to another public forum to make more claims that it cannot back up, presumably in the hope that this review will also be removed.

    What you are doing, Virgin Balloon Flights, constitutes harassment.

    In making oblique references i.e. 'we know who you are, we know where you live', what Virgin Balloon Flights is doing can also be seen to constitute intimidation.

    The review above relates predominantly to the way Virgin Balloon Flights manages its online reputation. The review is posted anonymously. Virgin Balloon Flights has disclosed specific details about a customer's experience that do not actually respond to the comment posted, with the result that the reviewer has been made to feel threatened.

    At this stage, what Virgin Balloon Flights fails to grasp is that this long ago went way beyond the matter of its failure to provide either the services paid for or a refund. What this is now about is the unpleasant, bullying corporate attitude which falls very far short of "good customer service".

    [And, seriously, "the cheque's in the post"? Really? Virgin Balloon Flights consistently refuses refunds despite complaints over failures to provide service that span YEARS, and then expects to be able to shut down negative reviews by lying about having given refunds. Really?]

    0 Votes
  • No
      29th of Jun, 2017

    Lie No. 1) "At the time of your complaint two years ago..." - Virgin Balloons is once again trying to mislead people, to create the impression that it can reliably say it knows who the person posting the original review is and how that person was responded to. It obviously can't, since the complaint the review refers to dates back apprx four years and dragged out for apprx two years while Virgin Balloons refused to resolve it.

    Lie No. 2) "… after coming across your post…" Trying to create the impression that you just happened to come across a negative review? Trying to create the impression that you don't rigorously police negative reviews with a view to shutting them down and preventing honestly disgruntled customers from sharing their opinions? Really?

    Lie No 3) "… we investigated things on our system…" - the complaint is posted anonymously and it would be impossible for Virgin to 'investigate' on that basis. Virgin is just throwing out dirt and hoping it will stick in order to discredit the review and make the reviewer seem unreasonable. The review is a fair and reasonable reflection of a genuine customer experience and of Virgin Balloons action re reviews posted elsewhere.

    Lie No. 4) "… after coming across your post, we investigated things on our system…" - the substance of the review relates to the fact that Virgin Balloons lies about reviewers on Trustpilot with the aim of having legitimate negative reviews taken down, in order to distort public perceptions of the company's success rate. That wasn't even addressed in the response Virgin Balloons posted, so it is rubbish to claim anything was investigated. Is Virgin planning on investigating the appalling practice of lying about reviewers in order to have their reviews removed? No? Well don't bother responding until that happens.

    Lie No. 5) "We received your letter of complaint … on 25 May 2015." - throwing in specific details to try and make it seem like what you are saying is reliable is a well-know con-artist trick. The lie implies that Virgin Balloons speaks with authority about a specific complaint. The lie implies that the complaint comprised one letter to which Virgin responded immediately with the offer of a refund, which is highly unlikely. I challenge Virgin Balloons to produce proof of any single instance in which it received a single letter of complaint from an unhappy customer requesting a refund and responded with an immediate refund: In personal experience, a complaint to Virgin Balloon Flights about failure to get the flight paid for consists of multiple emails, letters, refund requests, and refusals until you loose the will to live...

    Lie No. 6) "we felt it unlikely you would now enjoy your flight when it did take place…" Feelings? Virgin Balloons doesn't care whether customers even get the flights they pay for, let alone if they enjoy them! If they did, they would behave with more integrity and institute a policy of automatic refunds for customers to whom they have failed to deliver flights within a reasonable period, instead of creating stress and distress in the way it responds to disgruntled customers. Failing to provide flights over several years until the flight vouchers eventually expire is a business model that guarantees customers can't enjoy their flights, so don't make out that rare, rare, rare refunds under those circumstances are an example of corporate good practice!

    Lie No. 7) "The letter and cheque were posted to the same address that was on the letter you had sent to us dated 25th May, which we are obviously unable to post on here for data protection and security reasons." Once again, Virgin Balloons is trying to create a false impression and deflect attention from the way it really treats unhappy customers. If Virgin Balloons had genuinely provided a refund, it would be able to provide proof of payment, not waffle about letters and cheque stubs. I don't believe there was any letter of any cheque. And there is absolutely nothing in Virgin Balloon Flights' posting that is done from genuine concern for a disgruntled customer's security. Seriously, it is incredibly intimidating to respond to an anonymous review by implying 'we know where you live'. Besides, nowhere in the original review did the reviewer indicate he was still trying to get a refund or that he wanted someone from Virgin Balloons to get in touch. The review was posted for the benefit of the general public, who need to know how Virgin Balloons treats customers and manipulates its online reputation.

    Lie No. 8) "...we would be very happy to share [letters] with you to show that we genuinely had taken action at the time to address your complaints." Once again, bearing in mind that Virgin Balloons cannot say with any genuine certainty who the reviewer is, it would be difficult for them to produce letters in response to that specific complain. You're fishing, Virgin! Further, whatever letters Virgin refers to would not be proof of any genuine action. I can write a letter right now and stick a date of 2014 on it and present it as evidence that I did something three years ago.

    Lie No. 9) "...we would be very happy to share [letters] with you to show that we genuinely had taken action at the time to address your complaints." - again, Virgin is trying to create a misleading impression of how it responds to customer complaints and refund requests (Please run a quick Google search for genuine examples of the action Virgin Balloons takes in response to customer complaints.) If Virgin Balloons is so happy to share copies of correspondence, would it be willing to share the multiple emails in which the customers who never got their flights requested refunds and were turned down? No?

    Lie No. 10) "As we received no further contact from you after that initial letter of 25th May 2015…" - as before, ad nauseam: it is completely false to suggest that any complaint comprised of a single letter that Virgin Balloons responded to or to suggest that a complaint would not be rigorously pursued until the complainants were exhausted.

    Lie No. 11) "If you would be happy to contact us, either by post or on email with your current address, we will of course be happy to honour that refund and issue another cheque…" - Way to try and put the responsibility for the failure to provide a refund on the customer! Right, the problem isn't that Virgin Balloons refuses legitimate refund requests, it's just that customers need to con act them… As if the reviewer wouldn't have made multiple contacts to try and secure a refund over the years. But the real lie is that Virgin Balloons would be happy to honour a refund. Really? If Virgin Balloons was happy to honour refunds, it would provide them without dragging customers through years of complaints, emails, letters, unsuccessful requests. It is obvious that Virgin Balloons has been caught out in a lie - lying about having given a refund in order to have the review removed from Trustpilot - and is now trying to dig it's way out.

    Potential customers need to be fairly warned about the likelihood that they will pay good money for flights they will never receive and to fairly know how Virgin Balloon Flights treats unhappy customers, including refusing refunds and lying about it. So long as Virgin Balloon Flights continues to do business that way, bad reviews will persist.

    0 Votes

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