Balloon flight numbers ‘all hot air’ as only 7% of Virgin trips take off

A spokeswoman for Virgin Balloon Flights admitted Perthshire had suffered 'long spells of unsafe ballooning weather' last season.
A spokeswoman for Virgin Balloon Flights admitted Perthshire had suffered 'long spells of unsafe ballooning weather' last season.
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Only a small proportion of hot air balloon flights in Scotland actually take off, according to data compiled by a disgruntled customer.

Entrepreneur Ian Wittet, whose wife was gifted a voucher for a flight by his daughter, started to note the number of flights that left after having booked excursions with Virgin Balloon Flights cancelled due to bad weather and finding himself unable to book another date.

Ian Wittet says he rang Virgin Balloon Flights twice a day for five months without managing to book a date to take to the skies.

Ian Wittet says he rang Virgin Balloon Flights twice a day for five months without managing to book a date to take to the skies.

Wittet, from Edinburgh, rang the company’s “flightline” number twice a day for five months. He found only 7 per cent of flights from Perthshire actually took off. New dates were booked up months in advance – well after his voucher had expired.

A spokeswoman for Virgin Balloon Flights admitted Perthshire had suffered “long spells of unsafe ballooning weather” last season, but said other sites in Scotland had seen more than a quarter of flights take off.

The voucher was given to Wittet’s wife as a Christmas present. A few months later, he spent £117 on a second voucher so he could join her on the flight. However, the couple’s initial booking in Perthshire in June was cancelled due to bad weather.

Wittet said: “I logged on as instructed and tried to find another date in June, but was unable to do so as their weekday evening flights were all booked. Their morning flights were at 6am, which is not an option for us living in Edinburgh, but most of these were also fully booked.

“I kept trying and learnt that actually it was not possible to book a flight at a date we could do and because they do not make dates available early enough for us to plan ahead, it became clear we could not hope to fly until September – and then only if we managed to find an available date by logging on at the end of August. We never did find one.”

Wittet rang the flightline recorded message service twice a day from 11 June until the end of October, which gives passengers information about any cancellations. He found while during that period Virgin offered a total of 179 flights from Perthshire, 167 were cancelled and just 12 flew. Wittet said: “Each flight takes 12 people, so no wonder we could not find an available flight. There were potentially 2,000 other frustrated people all trying to find a flight that actually flew.”

He was eventually given a refund, but is now looking to start a class action against the company.

A spokeswoman for Virgin Balloon Flights said vouchers did not expire if customers continued to book, even if flights were cancelled. She said: “Hot air ballooning is a fully weather dependent activity and this is clearly explained both throughout our website and by our customer service team for those who purchase flight vouchers by phone.

“After any cancellation on our part, we automatically ensure a customer has at least another six months to book onto another flight, extending the vouchers if necessary and as often as needed until that customer gets into the air.”