Spotting a hot air balloon soaring through the skies is a welcome sight for many, but nothing can beat the tranquil and exhilarating experience of taking to the air yourself with family and friends. Since March last year, many exciting activities have been restricted, and hot air balloon fans have experienced their own fair share of disappointments. From cancelled flights for birthdays and anniversaries to annual events like the Bristol Balloon Fiesta needing to televise its celebrations for audiences under lockdown, there have been many challenges.
However, the good news is balloon rides have been back up and running in line with government guidelines, allowing people from all across the UK with a passion for flight to enjoy a unique adventure. Although hot air balloons are no longer grounded, in the following sections, we’ll explore some of the precautions being taken to ensure the safety of balloon passengers, their pilots and the dedicated and hardworking ground teams that make these special occasions possible.
Protective measures in place
Flying by a balloon under normal circumstances is a safe and far less turbulent experience than many passengers expect. As balloons travel with the breeze, travel is far more relaxed than in other light aircraft.
To answer the challenges of COVID-19, it has been necessary for balloon operators to instate additional safety measures. Ground crews and pilots are now using face masks and hand sanitiser, and all hot air ballooning vehicles and supporting equipment is being rigorously disinfected in between flights.
To remain resilient and keep operating, balloon companies are taking courses in infection prevention and control. To provide their passengers with peace of mind, they are also obtaining highly rated certificates of distinction for their safe practices, like the Visit England Good to Go Award and the AA Covid Accreditation Award.
Additionally, passengers must take responsibility for their health and others around them by wearing face masks during their flight and cancelling their flights if they experience COVID-19 related symptoms prior to their trip.
Under advice from the UK government and in line with the road map to emerge from lockdown safely, hot air balloons rides can now accept bookings. Back in April, two to five people were able to make ascensions in smaller balloons, and towards the end of May restrictions eased further, allowing larger balloons with shared passenger baskets to return to the skies.
Along with unexpected changes in the weather, which can also cause cancellations, scheduled flight dates can’t be guaranteed due to the constantly evolving situation regarding COVID-19. To avoid disappointment, most flight companies are allowing passengers to only book in their balloon experiences 40 days in advance.
All current flight guidelines are, of course, subject to changes to meet the advice of government and experts at the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). If you’ve booked a ride in a hot air balloon over Bristol or Bath, be sure to keep checking the latest advisories issued and keep in contact with your flight provider for the most up-to-date information.