Balloon rides cost from about $150 to $375 per person but, because pricing is seasonal, the company recommends that you contact them for accurate rates. Included in the price is an hour-long flight, roundtrip transfers from the client’s hotel, flight certificates, decorative flight pins, a light continental breakfast and a traditional champagne ceremony. From start to finish, the excursion takes approximately three hours.
Rainbow Ryders specializes in large groups, and each basket can fit as many as 12 passengers.
Commission is usually 10 percent except during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (Sept. 15 through Oct. 15) when commission is not offered due to the popularity of balloon flights.
I’m no early riser. So when my Albuquerque, N.M., itinerary had me waking up before sunrise to make the first activity of the day, I wasn’t exactly ecstatic about it. Luckily, the crew at Rainbow Ryders — the city’s 26-year old balloon ride operator, known for its brightly colored, patterned balloons and its affiliation with the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta — was used to dealing with grumpy, half-asleep clientele.
“Is it your first time flying in a hot air balloon?” asked my pilot, Brooke Owen. “Oh, it is? That’s great. This is my first flight, too,” he joked.
Our pilot then asked for me and my friend to help with the inflation process. As we stood holding opposite ends of our parachute-like, deflated balloon, Brooks and his crew began filling it with hot air. It was a sight to behold as we observed it taking shape against the backdrop of the eight other multi-colored balloons that popped up around us. This was no unusual spectacle, however. On a typical morning, Rainbow Ryders can fly as many as 75 people on hour-long tours of Albuquerque and the Rio Grande.
Some people in our group were a little timid when it came to climbing into the wicker basket of our aircraft. But as we gently floated upward into the crystal-clear sky, everyone seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief. It was just too beautiful and serene to be at all frightening.
To my delight, we floated over downtown Albuquerque; the “Big I” where the I-40 and I-25 highways meet; and hovered just a few feet above the Rio Grande. According to Owens, in the summertime, pilots can actually dip the basket of the aircraft in the Rio Grande and let the current of the river carry the aircraft for a short ride.
What’s truly unique about this particular kind of aircraft is that pilots can only control the vertical movement of the hot air balloon and rely on their ability to predict and navigate wind patterns, with the help of several gadgets of course — an altimeter, a GPS system, a vertical speed indicator and a barometer that measures the atmospheric pressure.
Hot air balloon burners produce a high-pitch sound audible to dogs, and it was fascinating to peer over the basket in residential neighborhoods and watch literally every dog in a backyard run back and forth in a frenzy, barking upward at us. Even at an elevation of 2,000 feet above the ground, we could hear their howls and yaps.
“On a really calm day, I was 10,000 feet up in the air, and I could hear a trucker’s CV radio,” said Owens, who has been flying for 15 years.
Despite the cacophony of barking from time to time, the flight was a relaxing, peaceful voyage and an ideal way to tour a city that I had never been to before. It was an experience that I wish I could have shared with my whole family since it would have been an appropriate activity for children as young as 5 years old, as well as for senior citizens.
Ballooning began in France in the late 1700s and, at the end of our excursion, we celebrated our successful flight in line with French tradition — with a champagne toast, of course. At that moment, I had to chuckle. My goodness, what a morning I had.