Are Hot Air Balloons Safe?

If you are preparing to head out on your first hot air balloon ride, you are probably wondering just how high in the air you are going to be. While there are plenty of factors that go into this answer that I will get into below, the standard height is from 1000 to 3000 feet in the air.

The highest balloon flight ever was at around 22,000 feet, which is pretty impressive given the gravity changes.

Certain balloon rides might fly higher than others depending on where they are going. For example, flights over certain landmarks or landscapes might go higher than others. Tethered balloons fly a lot lower because they need to be attached to the rope.

Below we are going to take a look at some of the most popular tethered balloon flights, global balloon flights, and national balloon flights to see just how high the balloons go! Then we are going to dive into how the weather and the gravity affect the flight of the balloon and what you can expect to experience if you are flying high up in the sky.

Real Adventure Hot Air Balloon Company

Real Adventure takes their balloons to events and destinations for people to enjoy their flights. If you are hosting a big event or a county fair, this is a great example of a company you would want to hire to give hot air balloon rides. Their hot air balloons go anywhere from 25 to 100 feet in the air.

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The height that they fly the balloon at greatly depends on the weather and wind that day. The company makes sure to note this on their site and in their contract so that you are not expecting to fly at the highest height no matter what.

Liberty Balloon Company

Liberty Balloon Company is another company you can call to host balloon rides at your event. Liberty Balloons advertises that their balloons will fly 50-70 feet in the air. They say that they are able to give 100 people a 5-minute ride per hour. Liberty balloon company also offers a unique service in giving balloon assembly programs at schools to teach kids about hot air balloons, and then take the kids on a ride in the balloon.

Disney World

The tethered balloon at Disney World in Orlando Florida is the World’s number 1 ranked tethered balloon flight. This flight goes higher than any other tethered balloon in the world at an amazing 400 feet. On clear days, you can see up to 10 miles in all directions 360 degrees around you. You will have a full view of the entire Disney World property in more when you go up in this giant hand-painted hot air balloon. This flight is very cheap as well, at $20.00 per adult and $15.00 per child. Disney World does note on their website that maximum flight is dependent on weather and wind conditions and if wind exceeds 22 miles per hour the balloon will not go up that day. Make sure you check the forecast for the week of your vacation before you pencil the balloon ride into your plans.

Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown, New Zealand is a popular hot air balloon flight destination because of its beautiful views. Another driving incentive of this trip is that you will get to fly above some of the places where “The Lord of the Rings” was shot including The Ford of Bruinen, Dimrill Dale, The Gates of Argonath, and The Pillars of the Kings. This flight also has beautiful views of the Southern Alps, Lake Wakatipu, Lake Hayes, and the Kawarau rivers. This balloon will fly up to 6000ft at some points during its trip and will take around 4-5 hours to complete.

Masai Mara, Kenya

The Masai Mara, Kenya hot air balloon flights are some of the most sought after because of the area you fly over! You will be traveling right over the wildlife reserve and see thousands of wild animals in their natural habitats like Zebras, Lions, Elephants, etc. This balloon ride doesn’t fly quite as high in the air as other flights because they want to make sure you will get a good view of the animals, and the landscape is so flat that you don’t really need to go that high to see a long distance around you.

Bagan, Myanmar

This trip will fly you through one of the most beautiful and amazing historic sites in the entire world. With over 2,300 temples, pagodas, and stupas, this flight will give you an aerial view of the amazing collection of historic 13th century architecture. Not only will you get to see this amazing ancient city, but you will also be flying close enough to view the Mount Popa volcano. On this flight you can expect to fly as high as 2,000 feet in the air.

The Grand Canyon, United States

If you are looking to fly REALLY high in a hot air balloon, this is the trip for you. This trip allows you to fly at the highest passenger flight in the world at an impressive 15-18,000 feet. (Yikes!) At this height, the pilot and the passengers will be provided supplemental oxygen to breath in at different intervals throughout the trip. Grand Canyon Balloon Rides is one of the only companies in the world that will operate passenger balloon rides at this height and they are very specific about the days and weather conditions in which they operate. The cost of this flight is very expensive due to the rarity of the trip, but you will never have another experience quite like this. If height is what you want, it’s exactly what you are going to get when you choose this flight.

Albuquerque, New Mexico

This is a very fun experience to partake in, because it is the International Balloon Fiesta. This event features the flight of over 500 hot air balloons at the same time from the same field. Rainbow Ryders company offers rides in one of the hundreds of balloons from the field where they are all being let off. These balloons will fly together to a height between 1,000 and 3,000 feet in the air.

Atacama Desert, Chile

Traveling in a hot air balloon over the 41,000 square mile Atacama Desert is as close as you can get to the feeling of seeing mars. The desert is extremely dry, and in some places, it hasn’t rained for 400 years. Despite its dryness, there are thousands of animals and other wildlife like plants and small villages in the desert. You have a good chance of seeing flamingos, volcanos, active geysers, plateaus, salt flats, and much more on your trip. For this trip you will be flying at about 2,300 feet in the air.

How gravity and conditions affect balloon flight:

Basically, the buoyancy of the balloon needs to be greater than the force of gravity. This is achieved by ignited the propane burner and having the gas lift the balloon into air. The problem with this is, the higher the balloon goes, the stronger the gravitational pull is. This is why it is hard to fly a balloon above a certain height. As we mentioned before, the highest flight ever recorded was at 68,986ft. This height is astronomical (pun definitely intended) because of the lack of oxygen. At a normal ground level, the percentage of oxygen in the air is 20.9%. At 22,000 feet its only 9%, and so higher than that is obviously much much less. So, not only did this pilot need to be wearing a breathing apparatus (because after 29,000 feet you are required to), but he also needed to be wearing protective clothing similar to what an astronaut would wear. At this type of height, you can suffer from decompression sickness which can cause nitrogen bubbles underneath your skin that will break capillaries causing a painful and itchy rash that looks like a bunch of bug bites. This height could be deadly and is to some. This height is higher than most commercial airlines fly, which makes it a super impressive feat to successfully complete.

Weather affects hot air balloon flight in a lot of ways, most commonly being visibility. Hot air balloon pilots need to be able to see between 1 and 3 miles around them on all sides at all times. Wind is a big annoyance with balloon flight because once wind speed reaches over 10 miles per hour it becomes difficult to fill the balloon with air. A slight wind is preferable since the only way to steer the balloon is by using the wind. If there is absolutely no wind, don’t expect to go anywhere but up! Even if there is only a slight drizzle on the ground, the weather is always worse when you get up in the air. Most balloon companies use weather systems like METAR and TAF which are what meteorologists use. These give them more information than your local weather stations so they can predict if it is going to start raining or picking up wind speed well before it happens.

If there is an increase in wind speed or inclement weather is approaching, a balloon pilot will not fly their balloon. If you are considering a trip in a hot air balloon, be prepared to expect a cancellation. It is very normal for a trip to be cancelled and most companies are happy to reschedule or refund you. We cannot predict the weather so, whatever happens, happens!

Conclusion:

While it is normal to fly a balloon between 1,000 and 3,000 feet, you can obviously see that some instances are very different than others and it all depends on the trip. Usually if you are travelling through an area with lots of hills, mountains, etc. you can expect to travel at a higher height than you if you were travelling across a flat landscape. If you are planning to travel across a canyon or even some mountain ranges you can expect to fly so high that you may need to occasionally breath through an apparatus to avoid decompression sickness.

If you plan on taking a tethered balloon ride you can expect to not go any higher than 100 feet, unless you take a ride on the balloon at Disney World or other stationary tethered balloons.

If you were inquiring about this because you are scared of heights, this article probably didn’t make you feel any better about going up in a balloon, so you may want to opt for a tethered balloon first just to be safe.

Don’t worry! Pilots will never take their balloon in the air if they think conditions are unsafe. If your pilot cancels your flight, remember they are doing it for your own safety and protection.