How safe is hot air ballooning?

Around the world, hot air balloons are used to give tourists a bird's eye view of the landscape, often presenting the best photo opportunity of the trip. Many people have this activity firmly attached to their bucket list, but recent incidents have led people to question just how safe hot air ballooning really is.

For those who haven't developed a serious case of sweaty palms after watching this all take place, the activity sees a small group of people hoisted thousands of feet above ground level in a laundry basket lifted by a bag of hot air. More heat makes the balloon rise, less makes it descend and the direction is determined purely by the wind.

A pretty daunting prospect, but one that wouldn't still be so highly recommended to tourists and enjoyed by thousands each year if it was so unsafe. Still, tragic incidents like the one that killed eighteen tourists in Egypt on February 26th, 2013 don't exactly put minds at rest over safety concerns. So, is air ballooning really that dangerous or just misunderstood? 

Context

While it doesn't necessarily make the situation seem any better, it's important to realise that February's incident that saw a balloon plummet 1,000 feet to the ground is in fact the deadliest in recent memory. The worst before that happened in 1989 when 13 people were killed after two balloons collided in Australia. In 2012, a balloon carrying 32 people across the Ljubljana Marshes of Slovenia crashed and killed six passengers on board, but very few incidents have recorded fatalities above this figure.

Most of the time accidents are not fatal and will be as a result of high winds, resulting in major but not life-threatening injuries like broken arms and legs. In which case, a gap year travel insurance policy could cover the extent of the damage although they will probably require an additional premium. Like with most so called 'dangerous' activities, context and history must always be considered, despite how risky it may seem.

Flight system

Some compare hot air ballooning to flying without the added protection, but this is far from the case. The participants are in a sense floating like a feather. The pilot injects some heat into the balloon to get the basket airborne and to float it in the atmosphere, so there's no speed involved. If the fuel runs out, the basket can still be landed safely - with the balloon acting like a giant parachute. All pilots should be trained to bring the vehicle down without fuel, so the only difference sees hot air replaced by cold.     

Standards

The latest incident may call for international standards to regulate the ballooning industry, but no such guidance is provided at the moment. In developing countries, the regulations are looser than those in the UK, although most large operators follow strict safety guidelines.

For tourists looking for reassurance before hopping into the basket, the advice is simple; only book up with reputable operators. Google is key here, travel magazines as well. Holidaymakers are often advised to trawl through as many travel guides as possible in order to compile a list of the safest operators to go for. From there, any information regarding experience and pilot qualifications that can be gained by a quick email or phone call might help to sort the wheat from the chaff.

Five years experience is pretty good going, as is any record boasting zero incidents in a lengthy time period.

Holidaysafe is an award-winning travel insurance provider catering for a range of specialist adventure and sporting activities, including hot air ballooning. Read more about the company at www.holidaysafe.co.uk, on Twitter @holidaysafe and on Facebook.