Beginner's Guide to Ballooning

The Basics

Need a lift? Ballooning gives access to breathtaking scenery usually reserved for the birds. Festivals, races, and romantic sky-high getaways make ballooning an activity that can be enjoyed up in the air or by watching from the ground.

The best times to balloon are early in the morning or at night, when the air is not as active. This forces riders to make a tough decision between viewing a stunning sunrise or equally dramatic sunset. Balloon season usually goes from March-October, but some guided balloon rides offer flights during the winter.

Each balloon ride is unique because each flight is at the mercy of the wind. There’s no steering on a balloon, but you can control how high you go. Most balloons can rise as high as 458 metres or as low as treetops. A one-hour flight can travel as far as 25,000 metres.

The general rule to assess whether or not you’re equipped to balloon is to see if you can climb over the basket, which is usually 1.1 metres high. Those who are pregnant, have recently undergone surgery, are in a wheelchair, or have a serious medical condition that would prevent them from riding should not take part. If you are afraid of heights, ballooning may not be the activity for you. Even if you can’t ride, remember that observing a balloon in flight is an experience in itself!

Holiday Options

Guided balloon flights are abundant all over the world, but are especially popular in the UK, Canada, and the US. Look up hot air balloon rides in a phone book or online. Make sure beforehand that the flight company and pilot are both certified before booking. Many companies have minimal insurance that covers injury and personal belongings, but regulations vary from country to country.

Before your balloon adventure, check to see if the weather is suitable for flight. Most balloon services have a weather hotline to call beforehand and will reschedule your flight for another day. Even if it seems pleasant out hours before your launch, rain and fog pop up unexpectedly and could make your trip a miserable experience.

Guided balloon flights sometimes come with extras, such as a complementary photo from the sky, a drink and snack, and a certificate that are all included in the price.

Balloon flights usually last an hour, but most services ask that guests reserve 4 hours in order to inflate and deflate the balloon, as well as get you back to the launch site. The chase crew, a group of people that help you land safely, usually provide transportation.

Balloon festivals and races can also make for a memorable holiday. The Bristol Balloon Fiesta, held in August, remains one of the largest balloon launches in the world. With over 200,000 spectators, Germany’s Warsteiner International Montgolfiade remains the largest annual European balloon festival.


Most tours have an age restriction on children and usually require that they are at least 6 or 7 years old. For those too young to ride, keep in mind that there is no age restriction when it comes to watching! Children under the age of 12 are advised to have an adult with them on a balloon ride.


For a flight, many services ask that you book in advance but may have spots open if there are cancellations. No special clothing is needed to fly, except that many balloon companies advise that guests do not wear sandals or high heels. The temperature will get slightly colder as the balloon rises, so you might want to bring a jacket. The only item allowed on most balloons is a camera and film in order to reduce weight. Also, it is suggested that you bring a hat to protect your head from the burner and ensure that you don’t land on the ground with a new hairstyle.


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