Most balloon flights take off within two hours of sunset or sunrise, but what time is best?
The reason why hot air balloons take off at sunset or sunrise is that at these times of day, the air temperature and the wind conditions are usually more stable.
There’s not a lot of difference between the two time periods, but at sunset, the surface wind tends to be a little calmer than at sunrise. Most hot air balloon pilots have no preferences.
If you are driving a distance to the launch site, an early start for a sunrise trip may be beneficial as the roads will usually be quiet.
Obviously, if you’re not a fan of early starts, then go for a sunset flight. Champagne on your flight is traditional but optional. If you don’t like to drink in the morning, a sunset champagne flight might suit you better.
Outside of sunset and sunrise, the winds are not as calm, and the wind is broken up by thermals which are rising columns of thermal air. This makes the flight more difficult to control, as flight is dependent on wind.
Another factor is the time of year. Most balloon flights take place between April and October. You can fly in winter, but the weather is likely to be worse. The best weather for hot air balloon flying is blue skies, light winds, and little or no rain. Strong winds and heavy rain make it too dangerous to fly, and pilots will not take risks.
Some balloon flights do operate in winter, but there is more of a chance that the flight will be cancelled due to bad weather.
July and August usually are the best months for weather, but of course nothing is certain in the British climate. If you book a hot air balloon trip a few weeks or months ahead, there is no guarantee that the flight will take place on your booked date.
In spring and autumn, the air is generally cooler, and there can be moisture present if it has recently rained. This can restrict visibility due to fog, mist or low cloud.
If a flight is cancelled due to bad weather, an alternative flight date will be arranged.
The weather patterns have shifted over the last few years. Ten years ago, the three months of July, August and September could be relied on for better weather. During the last five years though, the weather has often been good in April and October, with poorer weather in the summer months, although April has not started too well this year.
The short answer to when is the best time of the year to fly, is that anytime between April and October can be ideal, and if it is not at all safe, your pilot will make a responsible decision.
Whatever time of day or year, a hot air balloon flight is an exhilarating experience you will remember for a long time – probably the rest of your life.