The following applies to ballooning in general. Still, it's important that you obtain all of the details from the ballooning company you decide to use.
Flights usually are launched in the early sunrise hours (the best time) and in the evening, an hour or two before sunset. The wind is normally calm during these times -- an important factor in ballooning. Evening flights may be more prone to cancellation as the wind is less predictable at this time.
Blame it on The Weather
While the majority of flights go off without a hitch, it's a good idea to have an alternate date in mind due to last minute cancellations. A little bit of weather can have a big effect on a balloon, so an unexpected change in weather can cause a change in plans.
In general, expect to spend between $185 and $250 or so per person -- more for flight packages that include extras such as picnic lunches, souvenir photographs, etc. Private charters or exclusive flights may probably range higher still. The cost is sometimes considerably less for young children. Some companies offer group discounts and some provide themed flights for special occasions or private parties. Call for details.
Many companies have balloons that will carry five or six passengers. And there are some 10-passenger baskets out there. Few companies have more than a couple of balloons. If you have a larger group, call the company that interests you and see if they can help you arrange a group flight with other ballooning companies.
The Total Experience
When you arrive you may be invited to help prepare your balloon for flight. During the flight the balloon is followed on the ground by a chase crew. This may include other members of your party who are waiting for their turn or are just tagging along to watch. The chase crew assists with the landing and then packs the balloon up for ground transport back to the launch site. Again, you will probably be allowed to help, if you like. In all, add about two hours to your actual flight time.
The experience in one of these big balloons is almost soundless, the motion barely perceptible. The view, needless to say, is spectacular. And you'll be moving slowly enough to get a good look at everything from your open basket. Obviously, bring a camera or camcorder and plenty of film -- or digits, if you have a digital camera.
Hot-air balloons usually fly from tree-top level to about 2-3,000 feet, with most flights sustained at about 500 feet. Depending on the wind, a balloon can drift from 5 to 12 miles during a normal flight, which lasts an hour, give or take. There are no steering apparatus or brakes, so a landing site is picked only minutes beforehand. Here's where the adventure comes in! In that flights take place in rural areas, a friendly neighbor seems always ready (or at least tolerant) to have you land in his back yard. An interesting fact is that some "steering" is possible in a balloon by changing altitude to catch a favorable current.
Don't worry about making a statement. Clothing should be comfortable and suitable for the weather. The climate in the air will be the same as on the ground. Skirts and open-toed shoes are out, jeans and sneakers are in. Waterproof footwear is best for morning flights -- it's quite likely that you'll be walking through fields and meadows. Perfumes and colognes attract bugs, so its best not to use them.
Reservations are always required for individuals and groups and should be made as far in advance as possible, especially if it's important that you fly on a certain date. And remember, people flock to the skies to see fall foliage.
Deposits are virtually always required. Most companies accept credit cards.
More About Balloons
Hot air balloon companies frequently rent their balloons for tethered rides at other sites. This is great for company picnics, parties, etc. Balloons also have promotional uses such as flying banners. Many of the outfits listed here offer flight instruction as well, even if not stated in our listing. If you are looking for lessons, call and ask the company that appeals to you.