I though it would be interesting to see what pilots expect in return for the show they put on for the sponsors and crowds that attend balloon events. Often we travel hundreds of miles, put our equipment at risk and work our butts off to please the crowd. What do you expect in return?
I posted that question to the balloon mailing list on the Internet several months ago. I received 72 responses to my post. The comments are below are taken directly from responses received, comments in italics are mine.
The breakdown of people responding was as follows: pilot 37; crew 23; organizer 9; observer 3.
I was not surprised when I found that the majority of the people who responded stressed the treatment of the crew people who attend these events. Crew people must be treated with respect and should not be excluded from any activity at the event There are, however, limitations such as the pilot who brings a huge number of people to an event for the freebie meals, T-shirts, etc.
The second most important topic I noted was the importance of communication between the event organizer and the invitees. The invitation should cover all of the areas of concern. If a specific item is important to a pilot and the invitation does not cover that topic, pick up the phone and call. If you have a concern and you don't get the information in advance you have no one to blame but yourself.
The third most significant item people mentioned was honesty. "Don't give me a weather briefing designed to get me to fly when there is a thunder storm bearing down on the area." My suggestion here is to always get you own briefing.
The following is a summary of the comments made on the specific topics I addressed plus topics others offered. I took the easier topics first and left the hard stuff for last. It was real hard to separate crew from meals but I did my best. There is some overlap.
Propane: Pilots are expected to show up with full tanks or pay to fill their tanks if they show up empty. The event is expected to provide propane for each event flown. The invitation should specify whether propane is provided.
Entry Fee: The entry fee, formerly called a show-up fee, should be refunded when the pilot arrives with his balloon. This fee was to guarantee the pilot would attend and if the pilot did not show, the money was kept by the organizer. Most feel that this fee should be kept in the $25 to $50 range. The invitation should specify whether this money is refundable or non-refundable.
Hotel Room: At a minimum one paid hotel room should be provided for out of town pilots. Extra rooms for crew should be available at the same hotel at a reduced rate. Many events provide one hotel room per pilot including the local pilots which is seen as a big plus. This way the local pilots can socialize without worrying about driving 15-20 miles home for the night and rising early to get back in time for the morning briefing. Specific suggestions for hotels included, "Clean rooms with plenty of towels and maid service early so they are not knocking while we are napping."
Crew parking at launch site: It would seem that you should be able to get all of the people necessary to crew into the chase vehicle with the exception of some of the special shapes. If a special shape requires more crew then crew parking passes should be available to these people. Crew passes for the volunteer crew available for out of town pilots would be an added plus. Some events simply do not have a place for extra vehicles. Only one vehicle is allowed in the launch area. This should be communicated in the invitation.
Show up (Travel) money: At smaller events it is understood that this might not be available in the budget. Those events with larger budgets should certainly consider paying this benefit. Some organizers always include $75 to $150 per pilot in their package.
Key Grab/Prize Money: Either the highly competitive pilots are not on this list or they simply did not choose to respond. For the most part people would rather see a $5,000 first prize be eliminated and the money used for other things like crew meals or smaller prizes to more people. I had many ask where the Suburban keys are on the pole. That race is still there but you'll have to find it yourself. I want to keep this report totally anonymous. One item I thought was a good idea was the event winner's balloon being featured on the following year's T-shirt. There is nothing a balloonist likes more than seeing his picture wherever he turns.
Pilot pack: Lots of comments here - positive and negative. "I don't need any more junk!" was one of the strongest comments. Many offered positive suggestions as follows:
A detailed road map showing any red zones is an absolute must
FAA Sectional covering flight area - FARs require this be carried. Do you have one?
Champagne and soft drinks
Flash lights with batteries
Loud, shrill whistle on a lanyard
Tie down straps or bungies - you never have enough
Thank You cards and a prize drawing information for landowners
Extra nylon loc-tites - the doo-hickies you put basket banners on with
First aid kit
One of the best perks I have seen at a balloon festival has been a sack of ice available for my cooler before every flight. At that event I don't have to empty the hotel's ice maker or search out a Quick Stop to buy ice.
The NO-NOs include notepads and pencils or pens, plastic awards, Amway or Mary Kay products and key chains.
Pilot gift: A lot of people responded that they have closets full of jackets, vests and T-shirts. That is certainly a valid point. When I mentioned jackets I was thinking of a jacket I received that was quite unique and valued by everyone who was there. I still treasure it and wear it 4 years later. If you were to attend 15 to 20 events a year and got a jacket at every event I can see your point. Many pointed out that they treasured some of the more unusual gifts such as:
Objects of art crafted by a local person - signed/dated/numbered
Gift certificates for "In The Air" or "Stumpf's Ballooning Equipment"
Really nice thick terry cloth bathrobe with the event logo
Books - "The Eagle Aloft: Two Centuries of Ballooning in America" "Around the World on Hot Air and Two Wheels" by Malcolm Forbes
Stubenware glass balloon from Corning Glass Works
A pewter Revere bowl engraved "First Overall". Everyone got the same one.
A 24 X 36 silk-screened poster that is a real nice work of art.
A blanket with the event logo.
Meals: Bear in mind that I am talking about an event that begins on Friday evening and ends after the Sunday morning flight.
Friday: Virtually all that responded on meals felt that the Friday Welcome Party was the most important meal/party of the event. It is the first opportunity to get together with old friends, make new friends and meet the organizers and sponsors. The meal does not have to be a big spread, but it should be enough to satisfy your hunger and carry you through to the next morning. Also, it does not have to be in some big fancy ballroom. Many pointed out that they have more fun tailgating or dancing in the parking lot to someone's car stereo.
Saturday: Many budgets allow for breakfast and dinner. If the budget allows for only one meal make it dinner. If breakfast is possible, something simple like bacon, eggs, toast and coffee is sufficient. It is important to have servers instead of self serve unless you have an unlimited budget. Servers can limit those who fill their plates up until it looks like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It is disgusting to many to see this happen because much of this food is not consumed and ends up in the trash. The Saturday evening meal is considered the second most important after Friday. This is everyone's chance to socialize and have fun with new and old friends. A dance band or DJ is a nice plus, but please keep the volume down so people who want to sit and talk can do so without having to shout over the din.
Sunday: It has become kind of a tradition to have a big buffet spread for the Awards Banquet. Here again servers are recommended. Why is it that some people have to see how much they can get on their plate or plates - like it was the last meal they were ever going to have. Several responded that they thought this meal could be less lavish than some they have seen. They felt that many people skip this banquet anyway because they want to get an early start home. Also, hitting the road after consuming all that food could lead to drowsiness during the drive home.
Crew hotel rooms: Very few events will provide for hotel rooms for crew people, however, most will have rooms available at a special rate. Before you leave home you should know whether rooms are available, how much they cost and who is going to pay for the rooms. Some pilots pay for an extra room for crew, however, most of these situations involve "family" crew. Most responded that they make it clear up front that the crew people who travel to the event with them will be responsible for their own lodging.
Crew meals: This one topic was commented on more than any other item in the survey. Almost 99% of the people who responded felt that the event should supply four meal tickets at a very minimum and six would be highly appreciated. Regardless of how many tickets are supplied, extra tickets must be available at a reasonable cost for those who have more people than four or six. There were several comments made about some pilots who show up at an event with 15 to 20 crew people and expect them all to be fed. One guy had over 50 people show up and they all tried to get food. Here again it is suggested that the meal tickets should be one of those things covered in the invitation. If you expect to have more people than tickets available, talk to the organizer before sending in your application and see if you can arrange to purchase extra tickets for your excess crew. Do not just show up with 20 people and expect them to be fed. This is a two way street. If you notify the organizer at entry time that you have a special shape balloon and need 20 tickets there probably will not be a problem. If the organizer simply cannot come up with extra tickets then leave 10 or 12 people home. The secret is know in advance.
One way to cut down on the complaints of not enough meal tickets for crew would be for the organizer to provide meal tickets to their volunteer crew people provided for out of towners. If a person volunteers, spends time training to crew and shows up to crew, he or she should be worth a meal or three. Observers, if you have them, and launch directors should also get meal tickets for each meal.
Other crew considerations: If you have prizes that are raffled off at the banquet please make sure that you have an equal number of prizes for pilots and crew. Also, one prize per person. One person cited a rally where one person won about 6-7 different prizes.
"What are the plans if some or all flights are canceled due to weather. Do sponsor rides get first crack at which ever flight is not canceled?" This should be covered in briefings.
"We don't like pilots who never take their balloon out of the truck. Some even show up without their balloon, attend all the parties and go home. These are the ones who are first in line at all the parties because they did not have to pack up and refuel."
"We like events where safety is #1. Selection of the Balloonmeister is very important. Fun is a close second."
"Prize money should come after the event pays for all the other details that make crew and pilots feel valued."
"There are certain events that are a must for me. It is not because of the pilot gifts, hotel rooms or food, but the PEOPLE: the pilots, the organizers and the local crew!"
"We received party tickets and a T-shirt. We had an absolute BALL. Then the shock of shocks, we received $$$$ at the end of the week for our services." (An Observer.)
"Here at our event all pilot activities, social or otherwise, have ‘A CREW WELCOME' sign out and we always will. We even hosted the Crew Olympics and awarded a $500 first prize for the quickest crew."
"I was never in it for the money or prizes. I was in it for the fun."
"As crew, I have had meal tickets taken out of my hand, been told that I will need to find my own meal tickets, been told to go out and buy my own meals because it was ‘Pilot's Only'. Pilots have told me they do not share anything with crew because they bought the truck and balloon, if the balloons were not there the rally would no exist for the crowd, the chase truck drinks a lot of gas and the event does not pay for gas on chase."
"In one year after crewing for over 100 flights I got up for one 20 minute flight, a race for money, at a festival. Wow, that was incentive to work harder. Maybe next time I can talk in the basket."
"In most circles ‘Crew Chief' means you are either married to or sleeping with the pilot."
"As an experienced crew person I would offer three words of advice to pilots. RESPECT YOUR CREW!"
"I expect organizers to respect my crew the same as they do me and my balloon."
"If my crew is not allowed, I do not attend the parties or banquets. When asked why I did not attend I told them ‘You can't fly without crew and as such, no fly no rally.'"
"For a non-refundable entry fee we bring $30,000 or more worth of equipment so they can raise money for some cause or other. That's like asking the clowns in the circus to pay their way to get in."
"If you feel the compensation you will receive is not adequate, don't attend. Organizers quickly change the way the look at balloons, pilots and crews when they cannot get anyone to attend their event."
"I never knew pilots got any of their money back. I used to crew for a private pilot who was always looking for a way to make a buck. He used to come home from ABQ with a wallet full of money because he charged for rides."
"Build camaraderie, not wallets."
"What if you invited 5 people over for Bar-B-Que and they each showed up with 5 additional friends. Would you have enough to feed the additional 25? Wouldn't you feel a little put out? Find out in advance how many you can bring along."
"I will gladly pay my own way and I am sure that most other crew members will too. I do understand that a balloon event is hard to coordinate, but don't tell the crew that they can't take part in all the festivities. This is what we live for!"
"If there ain't room for my crew, there ain't room for me. We'll tailgate on the field instead."
"We pay show-up money rain or shine, have prize money, give T-shirts and event posters to all pilots and sometimes crew. We have a waiting list for our festival."
"How to keep good volunteer crew? Treat them like royalty. Respect them, fly them as often as possible and they have as much fun as we do."
"It's because they don't have the funds that they have to make it up in personality. I love going to those events."
"I never take more than 4 crew people and usually only 1 or 2. Fifteen is a bit much and 11 of them better have transportation and a place to stay ‘cause I didn't invite them."
"I always ask for local crew. They know the roads that may not be on the map, they often know who owns the property we land on and I like to make friends."