What Is It Like To Fly In A Hot Air Balloon And Where Can You Do It?

We went to Albuquerque for the last weekend of the International Balloon Fiesta. It's the biggest hot air balloon festival in the world!

Flying in a hot air balloon has been on my husband's bucket list as well as mine for a while now. I thought there was no better way to do it than to fly with dozens of other balloons!

I scheduled our flight for the early morning launch, because I was told afternoon flights often get canceled due to poor weather.

We got up super early! It was so cold and we had to stand in line while we waited to get checked in for our flight. 

But it was so magical to see the early morning launch! So many hot air balloons! There were about 500 balloons at the festival that morning!

Unfortunately, the balloon we were supposed to fly in malfunctioned. (Thank goodness it was on the ground.) So we rescheduled for an afternoon flight.

When we came back later, it was a little windy. I was nervous that it would get canceled. We were especially disappointed with how that morning turned out because, about a year ago, our whale watching tour got canceled too.

Well, the wind stayed below 6 mph and the sky was perfectly cloudless. So, when the time was right, we climbed into a van and rode to the launch site.

I was giddy with anticipation!

The nylon balloon was brought out of a trailer and laid out flat on the ground. The lines and ropes were laid out too and checked to be sure there were no tangles. Two people held the balloon open while two large fans inflated it. Our pilot, Tony, went inside to spread out the nylon as it filled with air.

When it was full enough, Tony lit the propane burner to fill it the rest of the way. The hot air slowly raised the balloon until it was upright and the attached gondola followed suit.

Our gondola (basket) was smaller than the others. We had requested to be in a six passenger balloon at no extra charge. The other balloons could carry up to twelve passengers. Tony explained that his balloon was a bit smaller than the others but it still stood at 85 feet high!

The whole process didn't take long at all. Before we knew it, the balloon was inflated and ready to fly and Tony told us to climb aboard. A few crew members had to hold the gondola while we got in. It was like the balloon just wanted to go right away. Then suddenly, we were off!

In just seconds, we floated effortlessly at about 500 feet per minute. I was enjoying the view until suddenly I realized how far down the ground was. Tony asked us to guess how high we were and when he confirmed that we were 500 feet up, a wave of excitement surged through me.

I felt a little nervous, like I shouldn't move or I might tip the gondola. At the same time, I really wanted to jump around and rock the whole basket just to see what it felt like. I restrained myself for the sake of my fellow passengers. I didn't think Tony would like it much either.

My husband was surprised by the lack of harnesses. For some reason I always expected to just stand in the basket, and that's what we did.

There was nothing to tether us to the gondola, but the sides came up higher than my waist. (I am 6 feet and one inch tall, by the way) There were handles along the inside to hang onto when landing or in case of nervousness.

When we were floating about 1,000 feet in the air, it occurred to me that I could simply topple head first out of the basket, but then I realized that would be a tough task. It was awkward getting in, and sure enough, once we were safely on the ground, there was no graceful way to scramble out.

Apparently, ballooning is a very safe activity. The chance of dying in a car accident is approximately 26,000 times more likely than dying in a hot air balloon.

Accidents are rare because weather conditions must be pristine in order to fly a balloon at all. The few deaths that have occured in a hot air balloon flight were caused by freak accidents or, more commonly, balloons colliding. A rough landing might produce injuries, but that is also uncommon.

So, while it's more daunting than riding in a car, a balloon ride is significantly safer.

So thrilled to be floating 4,100 ft above Albuquerque!

Long before we took off, I had the idea that it would be cold and windy high in the sky. It didn't occur to me that a hot air balloon moves with the wind so you don't actually feel the wind. Even early in the morning, the heat from the burner warms you, so that's not a problem either.

We soared 4,100 feet above Albuquerque! It was so surreal, so calm and quiet. The only times I had been so high was in a fast moving plane or when I went skydiving. I had never floated like this before!

Seeing dozens of balloons in the sky around us was breathtaking. We could see the Rio Grande winding through the landscape for miles!

The flight lasted about an hour. As we drifted back toward the earth, people spotted us from their neighborhoods and waved at us. Kids were especially excited to see a hot air balloon gliding above their houses.

We landed in an open field. I had thought the balloon would just float to the ground like a feather, but as we came in for a landing, the pilot told us to bend our knees and brace ourselves.

It wasn't a rough landing, but it wasn't graceful either. The gondola dragged along the ground until it caught in the dirt and lurched us forward. Then we dragged a little more. It was really fun!

Finally, crew members caught up with us and held the basket down. The pilot pulled a cord that opened the balloon at the top and let out the hot air. As the balloon deflated, the gondola settled on the ground and we clambered out.

When the balloon and basket were put away, our pilot had us gather around for champagne. My husband and I don't drink, so we had water. By tradition, champagne is always shared after a hot air balloon flight. If I had known, I would have brought our own bottle of sparkling cider.

Our pilot told us a little about the history of hot air balloons. He said that in France, where the balloon was invented, farmers panicked at the sight of balloonists landing on their fields. They thought the hot air balloons were demons sent by the devil and came running with their pitchforks.

So, to make peace, balloonists gave champagne to farmers for disturbing their land. This custom has held strong since the late 1700s!

Floating high in the sky was a spectacular bucket list moment! I wish we could do it every year!

Maybe someday I will fly in a hot air balloon in France!


The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta isn't the only place to fly in a hot air balloon. 

It's really cool to do it at the festival, but it's also expensive. Rainbow Ryders is the only company that offers balloon rides in the festival. Rates for flying during the fiesta are about $429 per person, but it only costs $149 any other time of the year. 

You can fly during the fiesta with another company in Albuquerque for less. These include World Balloon, Air Carriage LLC, and APEX Balloons.

If you want to check this item off your bucket list without traveling far, check online for balloon rides in your state. Flights are sometimes only available between April and October and prices vary. 

This company in Utah, where I live, offers sunrise balloon rides for $280. You can sometimes find deals on Groupon too.

Our balloon pilot, Tony, said he sometimes performed marriages high in the air! 

And wouldn't a hot air balloon ride be perfect for a special anniversary or birthday?

Would you fly in a hot air balloon? Where would you want to do it? Comment below and let us know!

Hi! My name is Kait. Follow this link to learn more about me and my blog.


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