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A guide to planning your balloon flight. Wait till you reach Luxor before making your booking as this will get you a better ticket price – and just to make sure that all the companies are still operating when you get there as this is a very competitive business.
This guide has been written in its entirety by Frazers (Jan), who is another TA member and who is actually a balloon pilot who has flown in Luxor. This guide has been written to give people comprehensive information regarding what to expect and DOES NOT promote any particular company. If you wish to participate in a balloon flight, the choice of company will be yours, and yours alone.
You can contact Jan herself via her profile page via the link given above, where you will also be able to access all her previous forum posts in respect of ballooning.
Wait till you reach Luxor before making your booking as this will get you a better ticket price - and just to make sure that all the companies are still operating when you get there as this is a very competitive business.
Currently there are 8 companies offering flights in Luxor, some with a lot more experience than others. The ticket price is also very variable depending on how you book. Many of the main UK holiday companies offer ballooning deals, each of them using different companies. But at present if you book through them the ticket price is quite high - for example, currently with one of the major ones it's 90 GBP per person. However if you book directly with the balloon company or with one of the many local travel agents who offer deals, the ticket price is much lower - currently 300-400 Egyptian pounds i.e. about 33 GBP to 44 GBP. Those are the prices for adults and children go cheaper. And if you're making a group booking say for a large family outing, you can often get a very good deal indeed. Also remember that many of the balloons flown in Luxor are the largest sizes operating which can take over 20 people in each basket. Some of the companies do have smaller balloons with smaller baskets which can be hired just for your family party but obviously at a higher cost for this exclusivity.
Those who are better to stay on the ground for health and safety reasons are the following: pregnant women; children under age 6; anyone with a broken limb; anyone with mobility problems who would have real trouble crouching down in the landing position; anyone with a pre-existing medical condition like epilepsy or stress asthma; anyone who fears they may be an osteoporosis sufferer or generally whose bones break easily. Generally a passenger should be able to enter and leave the basket unassisted so that in an emergency situation they wouldn't be a danger to others.
Make sure you check with your own personal travel insurer that your policy covers ballooning - some don't. It's also possible to ask to see what insurance the balloon companies carry, especially if you book via one of the main travel companies as their representative can check for you. But otherwise many of these documents are only in Arabic so you would be none the wiser - and bear in mind that some companies probably only insure their equipment, not the passengers. So you must be sure your own travel insurance covers you for ballooning - check before you leave home.
Some companies do have more experience than others and, as stated above, some probably carry more insurance than others. One way to choose is to talk to your travel company representative about why they choose to use one particular company instead of the others. They will tell you the reasons for their choice which may influence your decision. Also whoever you book with, make sure you make it plain when you book whether you are prepared to fly only with them or not. This is very important because on occasions there may be overbooking and then your booking might get passed on to another company on the morning of the flight. Some people are perfectly happy with this, rather than miss out on the chance of a flight. However others are only happy with the company they have selected and don't want to fly with any other company. So make it clear when you book which of these camps you fall into!
Suitable clothing for the flight is as follows: proper flat shoes, not flip-flops; trousers not shorts; depending on the time of year long sleeves may be more suitable; and sometimes a hat is advisable as some balloon burners reflect back quite a bit of heat on to the passengers' heads; plus take your camera but try not to be loaded down with kit or this will have to be left on the mini-bus instead.
At present the flights normally last 45 to 50 minutes, though they can be longer if there isn't a suitable landing site available at the end of 45 minutes. But also bear in mind that the whole experience lasts about three hours from pick-up to drop-off. All the companies work in the same way. You are picked up in a mini-bus from your hotel very early in the morning before sun-rise and then driven to the boats which will take you across the river Nile to the West Bank where all the flights start. On the boat you're given tea or coffee plus a cake or biscuit while your pilot gives you the safety briefing for your flight. LISTEN CAREFULLY TO THIS BRIEFING. Once across the Nile (takes about 5 minutes) you are driven in another mini-bus to the balloons' launchfield, or the balloons' airport as they call it. Here you will be directed where to stand safely until it's time to get into your particular balloon basket. OBEY ALL INSTRUCTIONS FROM THE TEAM LOOKING AFTER YOU.
The decision to fly, on whether the weather conditions are then absolutely suitable (wind speed etc.) is now being taken by a Government military official who is in charge of the ballooning airport after he talks to Air Traffic Control at the main airport on the East Bank. Once he's made up his mind that it's safe to take off, all the action starts on the launchfield. The crew for each balloon usually help carry all women passengers into the basket while men get to climb in themselves. And once in position, the pilot in charge will probably talk to you all again to make sure you're happy and to ensure that you can all hear him. After the take-off, all you'll want to do is to take pictures, and a good pilot will continually rotate the basket so everybody gets the same views. As the take-off site is in the heart of the West Bank archaeological land, you will normally get good views of the major temples like the Ramesseum and Hatshepsut's temple - plus you may float over the Colossi of Memnon or right past the Valley of the Queens. Don't expect to go over the Valley of the Kings as this direction is towards the desert where landings are tricky and parties need an armed escort to return according to security rules at present. But the views of the main part of the West Bank are usually stunning and if you're with the first flight of the day, you'll usually see the sun rise over the Nile as well.
At present each company can only fly one balloon at a time and once the first flight has landed the second takes off immediately but that flight will usually have missed the sunrise. And not every sunrise is clear, sometimes the sunrise can be hazy so don't expect a perfect sunrise every time. However every flight has different views to offer and it's rare to find a disappointed passenger afterwards. After 45 to 50 minutes the pilot will select a safe landing site, usually in a cropped sugar cane field and normally you will have a perfect stand-up landing with the crew ready to steady the balloon on landing. However, if it's windy the balloon could topple over and possibly drag which is when you must take up the safe landing position in the basket as instructed by the pilot (and this is why it's important that all passengers are able to crouch down if necessary). Once landed, you remain in the basket until the pilot tells you it's safe to get out - and then afterwards, everybody gets a certificate to commemorate their flight and often a T-shirt as well. Often the company employs somebody to DVD the flight and copies can be ordered & delivered to your hotel later. You are then driven back to the boat and then back to your hotel.
Finally, very occasionally, the wind can blow the balloons over the Nile to the East Bank, but if this happens, the views are still tremendous of places like the Luxor and Karnak temples, and then when you land you're even closer to your hotel!
There have been accidents involving balloons in Luxor, fortunately none fatal, but with some broken bones. So do bear in mind ballooning is not risk-free. And so if you are totally risk-averse then don't do it. But putting this into perspective, you're probably more at risk of a traffic accident crossing the main Corniche road in Luxor than you are flying in a hot air balloon. However, before you fly do feel free to ask pertinent questions of the operator you're considering such as: what is their accident record; how new is their equipment; how well trained are their pilots (how many hours do they have on their pilot licenses); and ask your travel company why they choose to recommend one company above another. And after all that ENJOY IT. And if by any chance you don't, tell who you booked with what was the problem so they can improve in the future and write about it on TripAdvisor so everybody can benefit from your experience, good and bad.
At present there are still 8/9 companies all battling for business & with so few tourists around it's getting fairly cut-throat. Ticket prices are sinking ever lower BUT BEWARE if you buy a ticket that costs less than about 300 Egyptian Pounds make sure you ask before you hand over your money how long you'll be flying for. Some companies are now trying to do flights for only 30 minutes or so - so that they can land quickly & get their next balloon up asap. In this way they might squash in 4 or even 5 flights in the 2-hour flying slot before the temperatures get too warm after sun-rise & they should be back on the ground. In my view, as a pilot, this is not a very safe practice as the latest flight of the morning runs the risk of encountering thermal winds which makes for bumpy landings or worse... The better companies are still charging more but they guarantee to be in the air at least 50 minutes & mostly are up there for an hour - which means they're lucky if they operate 2 flights per morning, hence the higher prices. So all in all while it's not a good time for the balloon companies, it's the perfect time for anyone who fancies trying a balloon flight for the first time over a quite wonderful setting which is just as good as ever. All the above information still holds good including the vital stuff like advice on safety & insurance. Enjoy!