Are you inspired by the Instagram photos of hot air balloons flying over Cappadocia? Did you just find out about the worlds largest balloon festival in New Mexico? It is time to plan your once in a lifetime romantic and family friendly hot air balloon adventure. You do not have to travel across the world as you can find local balloon pilots in many cities and destinations.
To get started on planning your first hot air balloon ride, read on to see the type of experience you can expect.
Hot air balloon flight experience
We took a sunrise flight with Daniel Sasser of A Flight Above, LLC – A Hot Air Balloon Company in Statesville, NC. Arriving before dawn on a crisp autumn morning it was important to come with enough layers as it was below freezing until after the sun came up.
All the balloon gear can fit in the back of a pickup truck or some balloonists will use a separate trailer instead. Once the balloon is unloaded the envelope (balloon) is unraveled and filled with cool air using a giant fan. When the balloon is almost fully inflated, hot air is added with the burners and the balloon slowly stands upright. Now is the time to get your pictures of the balloon as it is pretty hard to get a photo of yourself with the balloon once you are in the air.
Once you get the OK from the pilot you climb aboard the wicker basket for a safety briefing before the flight. With more hot air added, you are up, up, up and away. It is up to the wind on where you are going and your pilot’s expertise to get you there safely.
Pilots only have the ability to bring the balloon up or down in height as they seek out ideal wind speed and direction at different altitudes. During our flight we had some unique wind patterns called a “box” where the wind is flowing in opposite directions at different altitudes, allowing us to fly full circle, landing almost back where we took off.
While in the air, enjoy the view of the area from above. If you are lucky enough for other balloons to be flying at the same time it makes for some beautiful photos from the air. As the balloon ride comes to an end the pilot seeks out the best landing spot based on where the winds have carried you. As the balloon touches back down it can get a bit bumpy, so make sure to hold on tight.
Once you are back on solid ground it is time to deflate the balloon and pack it all up. The pilot might ask for your help at this point, which truly adds to this amazing experience. If your balloon ride doesn’t have the unique winds to fly full circle, have no fear, there is a chase crew following you on the ground to bring you and the balloon back to the launch point.
At the end of a balloon ride your pilot will invite you for a traditional champagne toast, growing out of the fact you don’t know where the wind will take you and if you are landing on a strangers land, it is best to invite them for a glass of champagne. To wrap up the experience you recite The Balloonist’s Prayer, being thankful for favorable winds, a great flight and most importantly, landing safely.
While every hot air balloon experience is going to vary slightly depending on your location or which balloon company you fly with, the most important thing is to always listen to your pilot to ensure a safe and fun once in a lifetime balloon experience.
How does weather affect a Hot Air Balloon Flight?
As you might have guessed, with a pilot only being able to control going up or down, a hot air balloon ride relies heavily on the weather and wind direction. Because of this a hot air balloon flight can be delayed or cancelled on any given day if the weather is not favorable for a safe flight. Without ideal weather conditions, you will not be able to fly. Everyone’s safety is the number one priority for a pilot.
Hot air balloons fly best under light wind conditions, in the range of four to eight miles an hour. Generally if the winds are higher than 12 mph it becomes too dangerous to setup, launch or even land the balloon, without damaging the balloon or causing an injury.
Balloons cannot be steered away from rain or storms, like an airplane and having a balloon struck by lightning could be devastating.
It is best to reach out to your balloon flight company the morning of your flight to ensure a flight is even possible before heading to the launch site. Sometimes a pilot might not be able to access the weather until it is launch time and make a last minute call.
What to wear on a hot air balloon ride?
It is important to wear comfortable clothing and closed flat shoes on a hot air balloon ride. Remember you will need to climb into the wicker basket so wear something that allows a good range of motion to get on in.
Especially in the spring and fall, temperatures can change dramatically on sunrise flights before and after the sun rises. We highly recommend a wind breaker or sweater that can be removed in layers as needed. You can expect the weather in the air to be similar to that on the ground, so dress accordingly.
How long is a hot air balloon ride?
You can expect to spend approximately one hour in the air for a hot air balloon ride. This depends on a variety of factors, including wind speed, direction and available landing spots in the area.
However, the entire hot air balloon ride experience can take 3-4 hours with setting up the balloon, packing it up at the end of the flight and riding back to your launch point.
Are hot air balloons safe to ride?
It might come as a surprise, but hot air balloons are one of the safest forms of air travel. Hot air balloons are safer than airplanes and helicopters based on the overall rare chance of accidents. In the US, Canada, EU and many other countries have strict commercial licensing requirements for balloon pilots and the balloon’s themselves must pass inspection before being eligible to fly.
It is important to fly with a reputable and licensed hot air balloon company. If you are not sure where to find a hot air balloon ride search for the country or regional hot air balloon organizations who can recommend a trusted pilot.
Is a hot air balloon ride worth it?
You can expect to spend generally between $200-300 per person for a hot air balloon ride and more for a private or unique experience.
Two things we recommend considering if a specific balloon ride will be worth it for you is the climate and surrounding landscape. You are able to fly in colder temperatures, especially during morning flights and that might not be the most enjoyable experience for everyone.
The second thing to consider is the surrounding landscape and what you can expect to see from the sky. Some recent balloon rides we took were over the Pyramids of Teotihuacan in Mexico City and over colorful fall foliage in Statesville, NC. However our first hot air balloon ride was primarily over subdivisions, still a fun experience, but not the best views.