ONE YEAR AGO –
Scott and I finally went up in a hot air balloon, September 19, 2010, and it was incredible!! It was a wedding gift from friends in Boston after we had given them the gift of a balloon flight for their marriage earlier that same year. The intent was to go together… and we tried to do that twice and failed to go up each time due to weather.
The balloon company we chose is located in Derry, NH, which is convenient for our friends, but it meant a weekend commitment for us each time. This is normally ok, because we love going back to Boston to see friends and go out to dinner… but it is a long way to go for repeated failed plans, and rescheduling with the balloon company was a nightmare!! They cancelled on us twice, not the other way around. And we understood — balloons can go up just fine if it is windy, the problem is landing — safety first. But the owner Tony did not care that we really wanted to go up with our friends, or that we lived so far away, he kept urging us to reschedule for a mid-week flight because he, and I quote, “wanted to save the weekend flights for NEW business.” We were using flight certificates which meant our $200/person was already his.
We tried rescheduling for a third time with our friends, but we couldn’t make a mutual date work. Scott and I went ahead with our own plans because we started to get nervous about our flight certificates expiring – Tony the charmer almost didn’t let our friends go on our second attempt because their certificates had just expired – but the husbands, after several hellish phone calls, convinced Tony to do the right thing.
Third time was a charm – we had liftoff!! We scheduled a sunrise flight this time — the previous two times had been sunset flights, and we didn’t know that something like 90% of morning flights go up, but only about 50% of evening flights do – a helpful little statistic that we wished Tony had shared with us.
THE SUCCESSFUL FLIGHT –
We stayed with some other Boston friends and went out to dinner the night before the flight. We had to be up at the crack of darkness to meet at 4:30 AM, an hour before sunrise and an hour North in North Salem, NH. There were roughly twenty passengers and three balloons going up that day. We signed our waivers, got some safety tips and Scott and I were assigned to someone else’s balloon. We were not going up with Tony, we were going up with André and The Bear Ship and I was not happy about it. At this point I did not like Tony, but we picked his company and gave him our money based on his website, safety record, certifications, equipment and testimonials. Tony and his website do not inform you that he continues to take reservations beyond his balloon’s capacity and will simply subcontract you out to another balloon operator. Dislike.
The last two attempts we would have been with Tony and his modern Smile High balloon basket, but I was nervous this third time because I had previously seen the other operator’s baskets – they were tiny and looked old. But get this, August 1, 2010, one day after our second balloon attempt, we read about André in the news because he lost all his equipment in a fire at his home. According to wmur.com “… he was in the basket… in the process of filling propane tanks, when it caught fire… he jumped out, pushed the basket off his van and then drove the vehicle a few feet away, but the fire soon spread to the barn where his hot air balloons and antique cars were stored, along with tools for a drywall business… there were many explosions due to all the stored propane tanks… parts of the building went easily 50 to 100 feet in the air… and one explosion lifted a pick up truck that was fully involved 3 to 5 feet into the air.” André was really lucky to be alive.
As we loaded into the vans and headed for the launch site near Canobie Lake, we learned that a fellow balloon pilot leased André some new equipment, so short story long (and I still think there should be a disclaimer about the subcontracting)… I now felt more comfortable about going up with André. We all helped set up the balloon, 2 propane torches blowing 16,000 BTUs floated the balloon into it’s vertical position, all 7 of us climbed into that tiny little basket and up we went. Liftoff was slow, smooth, and aside from the occasional propane blast, it was silent and wonderful and not scary at all. All three pilots touched the baskets down on the surface of what I believe was Millville Lake. We floated for about an hour through the White Mountains, and you can see just how high we went in one of the pictures.
It was an unbelievable experience, but a little advice for those out there wanting to do a balloon flight – morning is where it’s at, hold on to your money until you actually fly and do not be seduced by the “Champagne Celebration Picnic” – it’s not very sexy.
P.S. – An interesting tidbit, perhaps only to my mother and I — Our first Balloon Flight was 9/19/10, and my mom just did her first balloon flight 9/19/11, in Cappadocia, Turkey.
Saturday 9/17/11, my mom was arriving at Gokcen (pronounced Goshen) Airport in Turkey when we went passed through Goshen, CT on our drive.