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Page updated 31st July 2020.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and Department for Transport (DfT) have now issued us with an exemption from social-distancing requirements during hot air balloon flights and associated procedures, subject to strict infection control measures.
The safety of our passengers, pilots and crew is always paramount when conducting our flight operations, but Covid-19 presents us with additional challenges which we shall attempt to overcome by use of bio-security procedures.
However, it is imperative that passengers are aware of the risk of Covid-19 transmission whilst taking part in a hot air balloon experience, such that passengers can make an informed choice about the experience and decide whether they wish to fly this year, or would prefer to defer until 2021.
The picture above was taken during a test flight on the 30th July, and illustrates one of our typical balloon baskets, carrying 16 passengers. If this close proximity with other passengers is likely to make you feel anxious or vulnerable, then perhaps you should consider not flying at present.
For any flights undertaken this year (and perhaps beyond), passengers will be required to wear face masks, use hand sanitiser before boarding the balloon and again after landing, and declare themselves fit to fly and free of infection, to the best of their knowledge. Our crew are usually happy to help passengers climb aboard (who may otherwise have difficulty climbing into the basket, due to age, flexibility etc.), but at present we have advised our crew to avoid such close contact with passengers. Of course, couples may help each other to board, as usual. Multiple steps are built into the ends of the basket, similar to the one pictured in the middle of the basket above, which help with clambering into the compartments.
Whilst in the basket, passengers are grouped in compartments of four people, as you may be able to see in the image above. How will you feel if the stranger next to you coughs or sneezes? Once airborne, we are all committed to an hour or more in close proximity to our fellow passengers. If somebody develops a continuous cough, we can’t exactly throw them overboard!
Landing & Packing Away:
After landing, passengers are expected to help our crew in the folding and packing of the balloon (and the picture above is from last year, hence no masks). This is great fun, and forms part of the normal experience. Whilst we always protect elderly or otherwise infirm passengers, and do not require them to assist, we do need the vast majority to help us. The balloon is simply too heavy for the pilot and crew to pack away unaided.
Again, if helping to pack the balloon in company with other passengers is going to make you anxious, then perhaps you should be thinking about waiting until Covid-19 is less of a threat before taking your flight.
A typical scene of packing the balloon fabric (again, a pre Covid non-masked flight!):
Returning by Road:
Don’t forget that the balloon may travel many miles during your flight, typically landing on a farmer’s field. That means we’ll need to get everyone back to the start by road.
So, after landing, our ground crew locate us and arrive by Land Rover. The balloon is packed away, as mentioned above, and then everybody hops in the Land Rovers or Minibus ready for the journey back to the launch site.
These recovery vehicles, whether Land Rover or Minibus are usually full to capacity with passengers for the return journey.
This phase of the balloon flight experience is perhaps the most difficult part to control from a Covid-19 risk perspective. Imagine 9 of us in the Land Rover on a 45 minute drive back to site! So, once again, think about whether your are happy with this situation.
Of course, at this stage, you can actually help us and yourself. If you have somebody who could follow in their own car behind our ground crew Land Rover, then you could be picked up by your own family from the landing field, thus avoiding the return journey with us. We encourage you to do this if at all possible. It is safer for you and for us.
Thank you for reading this page; we hope that it has given you a better understanding of the various elements of your balloon experience.
If you already have a date booked for your balloon flight, but would now prefer to delay it, either until later this year or even until 2021, please contact us via our online ‘Leave a message’ form at the bottom left of this screen or by email at email@example.com and we will be pleased to oblige. We need to know now, and not just before your flight! Other passengers will want the spaces, so please give us plenty of notice.
On the other hand, if you are happy to proceed with your booked flight, then please follow the usual instructions and ensure that you arrive with suitable masks, hand sanitiser, good health and a willingness to participate in a safe and cooperative manner. Common sense also dictates that we shall refuse entry to any passengers who appear to be unwell on arrival or who otherwise compromise safety in our view.
Be prepared for our service to be impacted by changing Covid-19 news and restrictions. We are already seeing ‘local lockdowns’ in some towns and cities, and clearly we would have to refuse passengers who come from these areas. It’s even possible that we may require passengers to bring proof of address (such as Driving Licence). If the infection rates continue to rise, then any exemptions that we are granted may be withdrawn at short notice.
Lastly, but certainly not least, we need to ensure a safe working environment for our pilots and crew. Our pilots and crew could each come into contact with hundreds, or even a thousand, passengers over the next couple months, and that places them in a position of heightened exposure to Covid-19 infection. With so much contact, it would not come as a great surprise to find ourselves on the receiving end of a phone call from the ‘Track & Trace’ service to tell us that we have been in contact with a confirmed case and need to self isolate for 14 days.