Balloon company goes bust

Former customers of the defunct Soaring Adventures of America Inc., a hot air balloon ride company that operated out of Wilton since 1980, will have to wait for any possible reimbursements until after a federal bankruptcy judge rules on their case, according to the state Department of Consumer Protection (DCP).

The consumer protection department is normally the place to go for consumers who are owed refunds based on purchases they made for goods and services they never received, but that is held up in court because the company has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, a spokesman for the DCP said.

The company had a bad reputation among customers. It received many poor customer reviews on the online business rating sites. At the Better Business Bureau of Connecticut, there were more than 300 customer complaints made in recent years.

A common complaint was that someone would purchase a balloon flight and then be constantly postponed, never making good on their money paid in advance.

“There was a pattern of complaints, and there was a business review, and this company had its accreditation with us revoked in November 2016,” said Howard Schwartz, spokesman for the BBB, based in Wallingford.

The company was confirmed to be out of business on June 28. The owner, Robert Wilkinson, could not be reached to give his side of the story.

From the BBB’s perspective, the company had a pattern of substandard marketplace performance, and did what it’s not supposed to do.

“It is heartbreaking when consumers have difficulty reaching a company that accepted their money, didn’t deliver the product as promised, and leaving people to fight to get their money back if it is possible,” Schwartz said.

Consumers can find out about a business’s marketplace record and see if there are any consumer complaints or a pattern of complaints in a company’s BBB Business Reviews, he said. The reports also allow consumers to read complaints and reviews so see what other consumers’ experience was like.

“We find there is a correlation between the most complained-about types of businesses and business inquiries, which is when consumers check out a company’s review before signing a contract or putting down a deposit,” Schwartz said. “The statistical conclusion is that consumers tend to be less likely to file a complaint if they do their research first.”

Connecticut Better Business Bureau urges consumers to share this sort of information with family members, friends, neighbors and colleagues, to help prevent them from running into problems.