Monday 6 August 2012

Fiesta or fiasco? + Updates # 1 and 2

Around this time last year, just over two years since Steve was diagnosed with mesothelioma, we pushed the boat out and treated ourselves and son Jack (who is based in Bristol) to the trip of a lifetime: a hot air balloon flight at the Bristol Balloon Fiesta, taking part in the mass ascent - one of those amazing experiences, to be treasured and remembered always.  It didn't come cheap - in fact it cost double the price of a weekday morning flight - but it was part and parcel of making the most of life while Steve was still fit enough to enjoy it.  

In the event, although the sun shone and the sky was blue, the wind speed made it unsafe and all flights were cancelled.  We have been trying to reschedule the flight ever since, but the glorious British summer has meant that five flights have now been cancelled and we are still on the ground. No one's fault. It's just the way it is when an activity is weather dependent....

In our case, there are other complications which make it difficult to arrange a flight - we have to build in time to travel to Bristol and pick up Jack, which makes it very difficult to do an early morning flight and still be awake enough to enjoy it after a 4 am start.  We also have to co-ordinate three diaries - no easy task, especially when we try to cram in as much as possible between Steve's assessments, not knowing what the following three months will bring and whether life will once more be organised around a chemo regime.  Plus Jack has a life of his own as well as work commitments which take him away from Bristol from time to time.  

So here we are, almost a year later, still trying to reschedule the cancelled flight from last August, when suddenly an opportunity opens up.  The weather forecast for this coming Thursday is looking good; by re-arranging one meeting, all of us can be free that evening and, according to Bailey Balloons website, there is availability for three people on the 18:00 flight from Bristol.  It looks like we'll be off!

Rather than wait for the office to open (we have missed out on flights before following that route) I fill in the online booking form and eagerly wait the e-mail confirmation, before rearranging our meeting with the accountant. However, when the reply comes, it is not good news. Unbeknown to us, Thursday is the start of this year's Balloon Fiesta in Bristol.  Although we paid the premium to go up in the mass ascent at last year's Fiesta which was cancelled, our voucher is not valid for this year's Fiesta.

I contact the Bailey Balloon office at once, to say that having already paid a premium for last year's Fiesta, please could they consider letting us fly at this year's event bearing in mind the number of cancellations that had happened in the meantime.  The answer was no - although our flight had been cancelled last year, the company still had to pay fees to take part and therefore do not allow vouchers for one Balloon Fiesta to be transferred to the next. We would have to reschedule.  

It's very rare that I make a big issue out of Steve's health, but on this occasion, I thought that Bailey Balloons ought to be aware of our unusual circumstances - I think having an incurable cancer counts as exceptional circumstances which might justify bending the rules just a little, especially when we have already paid the price for a special memory we can treasure when Steve's health deteriorates and he can no longer get out and about.  I explained why it was such a special occasion for us; the logistical problems of getting a date when we could fly together; how we could not commit ourselves at this time beyond Steve's next assessment, and if we did not fly before the end of this season, who knows what our circumstances would be by the time flights resume next spring?

The lady I spoke to listened sympathetically and said she would ring back after speaking to Jo Bailey (the proprietor) to see whether there was any leeway about flying on Thursday at the Fiesta, given our difficult family circumstances.  

But the answer came back, no.  I was told that that Balloon Fiesta is very popular and the only time there are three places available over this period is on the Sunday morning flight at 6 am. As Jack has tickets for a concert in London the evening before and won't be back in Oxford with us until the early hours of the Sunday morning, I had to decline.   

So there I was.  Back at square one again, trying to reschedule.  No, we could not make the next two available dates.  We have a midweek flight pencilled in before the Bank Holiday, but I won't know whether Jack can make it until I can talk to him after work tonight.  Other possible dates are further and further into the future, clashing with a week's holiday in France and Steve's next assessment in mid-September......and it goes on.....

So why the long rant now?  Well, I have just looked again at Bailey Balloons website. Checking availability, it still shows three places available on flights on Thursday evening.  Not only that, but also on Friday evening, Saturday evening AND Sunday evening, throughout the Bristol Balloon Fiesta. Surely they have updated the website by now, I thought? Out of curiousity, I clicked on the link to Bristol Balloon Fiesta flights to find that the cost of a dawn and sunset champagne VIP balloon flight during the event has now been reduced by £30 per person, presumably to attract customers. Mmmmmm. That doesn't seem to fit with the story I was told about how popular it was, and the only availability being on Sunday morning. In fact, it's giving me the opposite impression. And I'm not happy as a result. Hence the rant.  

I'm not blaming Bailey Balloons for the weather.  I imagine that the company does have to pay fees, regardless of whether flights take off at Fiesta.  I know they will re-schedule flights on a month by month basis until we can all go up together.  But time is a luxury we don't have.  What we were so looking forward to last year, and would still love to do this year, is to enjoy the very special experience of going up as part of a mass ascent of hot air balloons over the city where Steve was born and where our son now lives, something we can look back on with great joy to help us through the difficult times which inevitably lie ahead in the future.  

So come on Jo Bailey - please make a dream come true and earn yourself lots of brownie points for exceptional customer care beyond the line of duty and enjoy some good publicity in the process! 

I will update the blog with any news.......

Update # 1
Nearly three hours on since e-mailing Bailey Balloons with a link to the blog and still no response....The website has been updated, but is still showing three places available for the evening flight next Sunday .... come on Jo, you have three customers here who want to fly and that would do nicely!

Update #2
The good news is that Jo phoned back - the bad news is that she called just as I was leaving home for a doctor's appointment (now have antibiotics for the chest infection) and we haven't managed to catch each other since I returned home.  Maybe tomorrow......


  1. Jo Bailey - have heart. X

  2. Rotten lot, I doubt she has a heart if she can't make this happen for you.

    Maybe we can upset her business and warn others from booking in the future.

    How about trying another company and demanding your money back from her.

  3. I await the next update with interest - think the £30 discount online would have sent me on a rant as well.

    tut tut tut Bailey Ballons not a good show, shame on you .....

  4. Not passing judgement yet - we will wait and see what Jo says when we do finally manage to talk to her :-)

    But thanks for the support!