Friday, May 30, 2014

Skywatch-Skywaltz: Balloon ride cancelled, no refund

April 2015 Update: My ride was rescheduled and I got second time lucky. Here's the flight experience.

------------Original Post ------------------------------
For today's skywatch friday, its the story of aborted hot air balloon ride experience.

I had written earlier about the hot air balloon ride in Pune, being organized by Skywaltz. After paying Rs 16000 for the ride, another 20k had to be spent on flight ticket, stay, car rental and other misc expenses (for 2 people).

This post is an update on what happened on the day of our flight.

About 1 week after our booking and 10 days before the day we were supposed to fly, operator called us and informed us about deteriorating weather condition in Pune and asked if we can pre-pone it to next few days. That meant re-booking our flight at an additional expense of about 12000 per person (last minute return ticket costs a bomb).

I had to decide between 2 options:
Option 1: Take my chances- probably everything will go well and we'll have memorable moments. Or flight will get cancelled and big chunk of money (travel+stay+car etc) goes down the drain.

Option 2: Cancel the balloon flight and related arrangements. Loose 6-7k in cancellation of air ticket and other bookings, but get to save rest of the amount. But if balloon takes off on the day, I would end up regretting my cancellation.

With some debate, I told the organizer I can't make that ad-hoc re-scheduling, will stick to the plan and take our chances.

Skywaltz facebook page continued to promote the event and solicit bookings, without any updates on weather, previous cancellations or other critical information.

Last weekend, we went to Lonavala as per plan. It was a big relief that weather was normal- no rains, no strong winds. Visited Lavasa and few other places around Lonavala and we were eagerly awaiting for the flight next day.

Previous night we received instructions as to where to come. (Depending on wind they decide from where to take off, so this location is not fixed)

On the day of flight, we woke up early and drove to destination ahead of given time. We met the skywaltz crew on the highway and were driven few kms inside to an open area.

The entire balloon and its accessories would fit on the back of a pickup truck. They unpacked it, spread out the balloon skin on the ground and started filling cold air to inflate it.

Everything looked normal and we were waiting for the moment when we will be in the basket.

We were given a briefing- not to go too close, be mindful of the ropes, ride would take about an hour, landing position to be taken moments before touchdown and so on. We were told the pilot is waiting for final weather report.

Sun started raising near the horizon. We were supposed to see sunrise from the air inside the balloon. We were still on the ground.

Now the balloon looked big. Filling of cold air was almost done. Next step would be to erect it fully and ask passengers to board it. There was light wind teasing the balloon. Everyone got busy taking their pics with balloon in the backdrop and instantly uploading on social media networks.

Few moments later, we were called again and without wasting much time, were told upright that flight is cancelled. This was reportedly because wind report wasn't favorable. If we take off, landing could be difficult later and there could be injuries to people.

We were told marketing team will get in touch with us about the money we'd paid. We were dropped off on the highway.

That's 20k+16k to watch how a balloon is inflated. I could do a AFF Skydiving with that money!

Disappointed, we drove back to resort, checked out and returned to Pune. We could have checked few more places in and around Lonavala, but weren't really in good mindset to enjoy anything.

1.5 days since the cancellation, no communication from the marketing team about refund. When I call, I am pointed to the terms and condition that says there's no such thing like a refund. Once you pay them that money is gone for good, irrespective of the service.

If flight is cancelled due to bad weather, those who'd booked on that day will be given another slot next season. This means to recover my 16k I should now spend another 10-12k for another trip to Pune.

I asked how many slots I'll be given next season- can I get 10 continuous slots- such that if I camp in Pune for 10 days there's very high possibility that on at least one of these 10 days balloon will take off. I am told only 1 slot will be given next season, nothing more.

I ask them what happens if it gets cancelled next time also. "Sir it won't happen" was the immediate answer. "How can you be sure?" I challenge him- will I be given one more slot subsequent season, I should try my luck for third time and this will go on forever? With some hesitation, I am told that if it is cancelled second time also then I will get refund. (Why not call this out in Terms and Conditions?)

I understand Skywaltz's temptation to hold on to the money. But they loose lots of goodwill in the process. If they give prompt refund, customers will be happy and would naturally book again next season. By holding on to the money, they hurt people more, given that they'd already be disappointed with the cancellation.

Transfer of booking to another person is allowed.

I was looking forward to share my experience and promote balloon ride and skywaltz a bit. But now all my focus will be on recovering the money and I don't want to recommend this to anyone- as they may also face similar situation and end up blaming me for suggesting this. Book at your own risk.

Note: Skywaltz is legally correct- Booking terms clearly stated that there's no refund, the uncertainity of flight due to bad weather was well known and crew did make their best effort to fly. Nature is in no one's control and safety is important. All that is fine. But skywaltz is overlooking one basic factor- every happy customer can bring in 2-3 more customer and each disappointed customer can turn off 10-20 potential customers. So while they can hold on to a customer's booking amount, unknowingly they'll be loosing more money, as other prospects hesitate to book hearing negative experience.

That is the story so far. Month of May hasn't been very kind on me- after loosing money after car is hit with a tractor, this is second debacle.

Also this leaves us with another question- with so much technological advances, why can't we control a hot air balloon effectively? With some navigation aids- may be a rudder or a flab- mechanical or otherwise, why can't a hot air balloon be made maneuverable similar to say a helicopter?

Related: My Skydiving Experience * Scuba diving experience * 10 Adventure activities you could try in Karnataka


Anu Menon said...

That is atrocious! If they do not provide a service they should atleast give you a refund! Especially for out of state customers. Usually if weather conditions are not favourable - they let customers know atleast a day or two in advance. You could have planned to do something else in Pune if they had given you a heads up and you didnt want to waste your flight tickets.

Kavitha said...

Even if the money is the problem, why don't they have good policies in place. These kind of places lose the credibility, and so is the people in such activities!

But then, are people efficient enough?!

Aarti said...

Oh damn!!

Yogi♪♪♪ said...

That is terrible. I can't believe how you were treated. Good luck in your efforts.

The pics you did take look great though.

Photo Cache said...

the sky is beautiful.

ladyfi said...

You got some beautiful shots! But it isn't right that they don't refund you the money right away.

Spare Parts and Pics said...

Sorry to hear about the balloon ride cancellation, but you got some great sunrise photos!!

Natasha said...


I hav had aa similar experience in Europe where the flight was cancelled due to weather & my 200 Euros were not refunded but i was given a validity for 2 yrs and not even a transfer to my friends or family.

With the past experience, I was a bit hesitant in trying hot air ballooning with Sky Waltz. However i decided to take a chance to take a flight with skywaltz at Lonavala in the month of April 2014.
It was one of the best experience & a life time moment to cherish.

The Staff at Skywaltz was extremely cordial and welcoming.

Their first priority is SAFETY of its passengers and abiding by that makes a company more reliable.

I was informed about the cancellation policies of Skywaltz via email which i think was very fair as the weather is not in anyones control.

All around world the limitation for ballooning & its controllability depends on weather.

From your pictures it seems that the company did their best to have the ballon inflated and try to have it airborne but when the safety is a concern then cancelling is worthwhile.

There is a lot of cost incurred by the company in the process of getting the balloon airborne.

Hot Air Ballooning & An aircraft is pretty different.. IF you want to experience Nature first Hand ..Ballooning is the right option to do so..and it
of course has its limitation and needs to be considered.

Itz at least nice of Skywaltz that incase of Cancellation due weather they have reschedule & transfer to friends and family policy.

Btw Nice Pictures..

eileeninmd said...

Sorry, about the balloon ride being cancelled.. They should give you a refund.. Your sunrise shots are just lovely.. Happy skywatching and have a great weekend!

Shrinidhi Hande said...

eileeninmd: Thanks

Natasha: Thanks for the detailed comments and sharing your experience. Yes, skywaltz crew were polite and helpful, risk of bad weather was well known and their policy is crystal clear.

My only point is, a happy customer could bring 2-3 more customers and a disappointed customer will turn off 10-20 prospective customers. So it is in their own interest to give a refund. Else they would loose prospects without even realizing it.

I also understand the limitations of balloon ride- but I am sure over time it will become more manegable.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

SP&P: THanks

Ladyfi: Thanks

PC& Yogi: Thanks

Aarti: It was a known possibility. Not everything happens exactly as per our wish. Let me see. Thanks for your comment.

Kavitha: They do have clear policy that refund won't be given (no mention of second time cancellation though)

Loss from prospects who're turned off will be greater than money earned through not giving refund.

Anu: I won't term it atrocious. The risks were known and policy was clear. Just that they could have put customer first. We were told that there's a risk of cancellation. We went ahead and took our chances, which flopped.

Anonymous said...

i hope you are able to go the next time.

Mridula said...

Did you share this blog post with them? I have done a ride with them on invitation. But then being a paying customer is a different game altogether!

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Anon: Thanks

Mridula: I have shared it on their FB page. Nothing much.

There're enough people in India, so service Industry can afford to have a few disappointed customers

Mahe165 said...

The pictures look good and exciting, But as always we should read all the related documents carefully to avoid any hassle later on!!!

Shrinidhi Hande said...


Varun Gaur said...

Shrinidhi, it's disappointing to hear what happened. Can you tell me how many people they would take in one flight? Do they have people on ground who can click pictures? Thanks!

sujata unde said...

could you please send me exact location of this place at lonavala? it will really helpful if u wold send me google map link

Shrinidhi Hande said...

@varun Gaur: ABout 6 to 8 people per flight...

No, didn't notice any photographers from their side.

Shrinidhi Hande said...


Not sure if there's any specific location- any ground wide open is good for this. They select location the previous night based on wind conditions, weather and other parameters..