Just a few years ago if you’d asked me about going on a hot air balloon ride I’d have looked at you like you were a crazy person and exclaimed “never!” without hesitation. I suffered from Acrophobia (a fear of heights) and was paralyzed with fear every time I booked an airplane flight. The thought of ever voluntarily floating in a hot air balloon was out of the question. Fast forward to present day 2017 and I’ve made some progress on conquering that fear, having now been on more than 100 flights; I am no longer nervous at all about getting on a plane.
Naturally it was time to tackle that fear of heights a little more. I’m not even close to thinking about bungee jumping or skydiving but a hot air balloon flight didn’t seem quite so scary anymore. Phoenix, Arizona has so many colorful sunrises and sunsets it seemed like a great place to take my first flight. I got in touch with Arizona Balloons Inc. and made a reservation for a sunset flight.
After meeting in the city our pilot Taylor Aldous (he’s been flying balloons since he was 16 years old!) took a mixed group of 10 people out to the Sonoran Desert. Upon arrival there were several other companies already launching balloons and we all watched as Taylor and his crew prepared ours. Big fans and hot flames were blown into the giant balloon to get it inflated. Even with 10 people and the pilot in the balloon there was enough space to move around and not feel crowded.
A Smooth Takeoff
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling a little apprehensive about how rough the take off would be, and how smooth or bumpy the flight would be. To my surprise the take off was gentle and even though the wind had us moving at 5-10 mph throughout the flight the entire experience was smooth, no bumps, no sudden jerks or feeling of falling. I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would.
What A View!
Up on in the air we floated over the desert, irrigation canals, roads and highways. Before long we’d made it to an altitude of 7,500 feet! The views of the desert, Phoenix and Lake Pleasant were out of this world. The skies were so clear we could see over 150 miles; all the way to Humphrey’s Peak in Flagstaff, the highest mountain peak in Arizona.
How Long is the flight?
The balloon ride lasted just over an hour. The landing was as smooth as our flight thanks to our skilled pilot. Once on the ground we had to wait for the van to locate and pick us up. During that time Taylor pulled out a table, champagne and snacks for the group to relax and celebrate the ride.
We all watched as the sun set below the mountains in the distance. The moon was out shining before the sun had even gone down and it made for some memorable photos as well. I can confidently say a Phoenix hot air balloon ride is a wonderful way to see and enjoy the beauty of Arizona’s desert landscape.
Now that I’ve had my first successful balloon flight I’m hooked! I can’t wait to try it again, and I’ll be adding some of the world’s best locations for hot air balloon flights to my ever expanding bucket list.
How Safe are Hot Air Balloons?
If you share my healthy fear of heights you might be wondering how safe hot air balloons are. Between 2000-2016 in the United States there were just 37 fatalities from accidents according to the NTSB. In contrast, there were 728 fatalities from airplane crashes and 24 from helicopters over the same period. Hot air balloon accidents are a very rare occurrence, just like other forms of flying.
The Balloon Federation of America estimates there are around 150 to 200 commercial hot air balloon operators in North America. While international regulations can vary from some to none, in the U.S. hot air balloons have required annual inspections or every 100 hours of flight time if operated commercially. Pilots are required to complete a flight review every two years.
Take Your Own Ride!
Phoenix has daily sunrise flights all throughout year. Sunset flights are limited between November through March due to the extreme temperatures. If you book your flight during the right time of year and have a little luck, you can catch one of Arizona’s famed sunrises or sunsets, which are often very colorful and beautiful.