I’d dreamt of going on a balloon flight for many years. I’d imagined soaring high amongst the clouds with fabulous views in all directions. I’d imagined the adrenaline flowing as the balloon rapidly gains height with only a thin layer of thatched wicker under my feet. I’d imagined flying over hills and places of interest never sure where to turn my camera next.
In reality however, it was all rather disappointing. I’d booked a half price deal at £99 per person through Virgin but the customer service wasn’t great for starters. We were five minutes late for the 6am meeting (not flight) time and they were about to fly off without us! The pilots then took pleasure in treating us like naughty school children for the rest of the morning.
The flight itself started brightly enough, climbing steeply over York Racecourse with a distant York Minster standing out proudly through the early morning mist. We then seemed to level out at what I would guess was no more than 500m. This was to be the literal ‘high point’ of the flight so my expectations of floating amongst the clouds were never to be realised. Nor the rolling hills, nor the places of interest.
For the remainder of the one-hour flight (yes the ‘3-hour flying experience actually only involves one hour in the air!) we peacefully drifted over the uninspiring villages and farmland outside of York at a height rarely over 100m. Highlights included looking down on our reflection in a river, flying within inches of the tree tops, a lovely village church and a new housing estate which looked alarmingly like a Monopoly board.
Finally, and almost thankfully, the landing site approached and a possible moment of excitement was upon us. We’d been briefed about the ‘danger’ involved with the landing due to the risk of the basket tipping. Was this to be my adrenaline fix? No. A bumpy but otherwise utterly safe landing ensued. After packing up the balloon with the other customers, we were treated to half a vial of champagne… at 8am in the morning. To show how far we hadn’t travelled, the drive back to into York took 15 minutes.
So, as you may have guessed, I’m struggling to endorse balloon flights. It was an enjoyable morning overall and I am glad to have had the experience. But… I’m also very glad I didn’t pay full price and think there are far more exciting and rewarding things on which to spend a hundred quid. A flying lesson, at around £60, is one of many activities which provide a much richer assault on the senses and will live far longer in the memory.
If you are keen to go on a balloon flight I would recommend that you make sure you’ll be flying over somewhere with an interesting landscape whichever way the wind is blowing e.g. from the heart of the Peak District, the Grand Canyon or on safari. Or you could always pack a length of bungee cord to spice things up!