Hot Air Ballooning in Egypt

The West Bank of the Nile at Sunrise
There is something indescribably magical about soaring through the air in a hot air balloon over the temples and tombs of the ancient pharaohs, while watching the sun rise up over the Nile. Sailing across the Valley of the Kings and hovering before the Temple of Hatshepsut, there may be nothing more magnificent than seeing the West Bank of Luxor from a bird’s-eye view.

Ballooning in Luxor

In recent years ballooning has become a very popular tourist excursion and big business in Luxor. Tour operators compete with one another on prices, so tourists often can enjoy a balloon ride cheaper in Egypt than anywhere else in the world.

Balloon flights take place when wind conditions are at their calmest, which tends to be at sunrise and sunset. While some balloon companies cut their flight time down to 30 minutes in the air, others guarantee you a minimum of 45 minutes or longer of flying, but the length of the trip often depends on the weather.

For many tourists who visit Egypt, ballooning in Luxor is the highlight of their trip, but before setting out on your ballooning adventure, understand that it is not a risk free activity.

Ballooning Accidents in Luxor

Every year ballooning accidents are reported in Luxor. In only the first half of 2009, there have been three serious incidents, the most recent accident injuring 13 tourists when their balloon struck a mobile-phone transmission tower, crashing near a village.

In February 2009, three hot air balloons carrying 60 tourists all crashed on the same day in separate locations, injuring seven tourists.

While there have been no deaths, only injuries (mostly broken bones), the government has been forced to ground all balloons a number of times while they investigate issues of safety.

Accidents can result from encounters with power lines, mid-air collisions, pilot error, equipment failure, dangerous landings due to excessive speeds, and striking an object on landing. Most accidents are weather related, although balloons are supposed to get clearance from the airport before flying.

Ballooning and Travel Insurance

As balloons are certified by the Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority, all pilots are licensed and required to provide documentation if asked. Where things become decidedly less straightforward is in the area of insurance.

Governments have started to advise their citizens to consider the operator’s safety arrangements carefully before ballooning in Egypt, but finding out what a company’s safety record and passenger insurance coverage is, can be a challenge. Most companies will not provide tourists with this information in advance of their vacation and there is no formal place to go and find the information online. Often would-be vacationers resort to the advice of fellow travelers on blog sites.

All the major balloon carriers claim to be covered with full passenger insurance, but they don’t supply the amount. Further, most companies are insured in Egyptian pounds, so if an operator tells you the coverage is 12,000 keep in mind that it is only around $3,000 U.S. And in the event of a successful claim, only so much money (2000 EGP, approximately $350 U.S.) is allowed to be taken out of the country.

A number of tourists in ballooning accidents in Egypt have reportedly been forced to rely on their own travel insurance to cover the costs of injuries and missed flights.

Many tour operators no longer recommend balloon companies in Luxor for safety and insurance reasons, and require those taking a balloon excursion to sign a waiver. The bulk of balloon rides are arranged once vacationers have already arrived in Egypt through local operators. Most people, therefore, go up in a balloon on a whim, never thinking to question whether their insurance will cover them.

Some travel insurance policies cover ballooning, while others do not. Some policies cover ballooning as long as it is part of an organized tour, while others provide coverage only if the trip was booked from your home country. As coverage varies, it is best to make sure your health and life insurance are in order before leaving on your vacation or you could get stuck paying for any necessary medical attention.

On the day you go ballooning make sure you are carrying your travel insurance with you. In case of an accident, most insurers require you to contact them before receiving any emergency treatment or again you may be responsible for your own fees.

If you are uncertain about your own insurance, but want to go ballooning regardless, at the very least, ask to see the balloon operator’s insurance policy and check the expiry date before stepping into the basket.

Ballooning Tips

One of the most common balloon-related injuries is a broken ankle; therefore, it is important that you wear flat shoes, preferably running shoes. Balance is vital, as when landing the balloon, you will have to tuck into a landing position, which requires you to squat down, holding on to a rope while leaning back as far as you can.

Wearing a long sleeve shirt is also a good idea. In the event that you are positioned in the basket near the burner, the heat from the flames can be unbearably hot against exposed skin.

Going up in a hot air balloon is a unique way to see Luxor. Planning ahead and using a little caution could mean the difference between the experience of a lifetime and a nightmare.

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