Do you know what’s better than riding in a hot air balloon alone? Riding in a hot air balloon with friends! Friends make almost everything better. Almost. But how many of your friends can you take with you in a hot air balloon?
The average commercial hot air balloon carries eight passengers including the pilot. Smaller balloons will carry one or two passengers, while larger balloons can carry upwards of thirty passengers. The world’s largest passenger hot air balloon, the Cameron Z-750, can carry thirty-two passengers.
Technically a hot air balloon can carry any number of people, someone just has to figure out how! But who wants to ride in an overpopulated hot air balloon anyway?
Odds are you’re reading this article because you just got a really exciting Groupon for a hot air balloon ride, but you don’t know who you can invite. Maybe you want to have a good reason to not invite that person.
Well, the first thing you should do is go check the website of whatever hot air balloon company you’re riding with. They should have the exact answer to your question.
On average, a commercial hot air balloon will carry up to eight passengers including the pilot. That means you and your six best pals can go on a magical hot air balloon ride!
But some balloons can get much bigger than that, and some will be smaller. Let’s take a closer look!
Why Size Varies
It turns out that hot air balloons are pretty expensive! Smaller balloons that carry one or two passengers easily cost more than $20,000. That’s the same cost as a lot of cars!
Balloons that carry up to four people can cost more than double that, and the price continues to rise as the balloons get bigger!
These prices also don’t account for ground equipment, paying the crew, maintenance costs, or fuel costs. So, running a hot air balloon company can get pretty costly.
Because of this, larger and more established hot air balloon companies can afford larger balloons. They probably also have more demand, so having larger balloons suits them perfectly.
On the other, smaller companies with less demand tend to have smaller balloons. The cost is just too high for them to go in on a larger balloon.
Almost all companies will have a handful of smaller hot air balloons for passengers who are interested in a more intimate experience.
In any case, you can expect an average commercial hot air balloon to hold eight passengers including the pilot. Don’t forget to check with your particular balloon company beforehand to get an exact answer!
Balloons at Festivals
If you’re attending a hot air balloon festival, you can expect the balloons to carry more passengers. Normally the companies at these events are more established and have tons of large balloons in their arsenal.
Because there are so many potential passengers at a festival, it doesn’t really make sense to run smaller balloons. The larger balloons are just more effective with the higher demand.
It is possible that you may find a smaller balloon to ride at a hot air balloon festival, but odds are you’ll have to go private if that’s what you’re looking for.
Private balloons tend to be much smaller than most commercial hot air balloons. This is because of the cost but also because of their intended purpose.
The Purpose of Private Balloons
Most people who privately own a hot air balloon don’t normally plan on taking five or eight people up into the air. They normally go with themselves and a co-pilot.
These private balloons are usually meant to be just that, private.
Many who own a hot air balloon enjoy the privacy of being in the clouds by themselves or with a close friend or family member. They aren’t into ballooning for the group thrill.
And, of course, we’ve already mentioned the high cost of buying and owning a hot air balloon. While there are some private owners who have the capacity to own more expensive balloons, many do not.
Most private owners of hot air balloons simply do not need a balloon that carries lots of passengers.
Larger Private Balloons
Of course, there are some exceptions to this. I happen to know a family with three children that love to balloon together! Now as their children are getting married, they are talking about getting a balloon that can carry more passengers!
There are also some balloon owners who will occasionally loan out their balloon to a local festival or community event. This is one way to help finance a larger balloon without committing to a full on business.
In these cases, having a larger hot air balloon really makes a lot of sense.
There are also some balloonists who just so happen to have the money and enjoy taking their friends up with them. I’m sure we would all appreciate a wealthy friend with a large hot air balloon!
In any case, while most private balloons tend to be smaller, there are some exceptions out there!
Does Size Matter?
The answer is yes, of course, size matters. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that bigger is always better. Size matters because you’ll want a different sized hot air balloon based on why you’re ballooning!
We’ve already discussed a couple of different reasons why you would want a different sized balloon (commercial vs private), but those aren’t the only reasons why size matters!
More Space Equals More Comfort
Talking about how many passengers can fit on a hot air balloon has to do with a lot more than basket size. The heavier a balloon is and the more weight it’s carrying, the more buoyancy you’ll need to fly.
But for this point, we’ll just assume that you have enough buoyancy to lift as many passengers as you want to.
The bigger the basket, the more space passengers will have to move around and feel comfortable. Most hot air balloon rides tend to be cozy experiences, and that’s just something you’ll have to be comfortable with.
But there is a definite line between cozy and cramped. Too many people squished in a basket can make a flight very uncomfortable, especially if it’s a group of strangers.
In this case, having a little more space in a basket is really nice. Carrying a lot of passengers is really impressive, but it’s better to carry a lot of comfortable passengers.
For this reason, riding in a larger hot air balloon is definitely nice!
Some larger balloons will even have little seats for their passengers. This is normally only the case with balloons that carry over twenty passengers.
There are even some balloons like the Great Park Balloon (a gas balloon) in Irvine, California that offer access to wheelchairs! Now that is the definition of making space for everyone!
Having more size in a hot air balloon certainly makes it a more comfortable experience for everyone involved!
Smaller Balloons are Easier
On the other hand, there are also some really good reasons to ride in a smaller hot air balloon. While larger balloons can carry more people and may have more space, they’re much more difficult to deal with.
Smaller balloons take a lot less effort to transport from place to place, are easier to set up and put away, and are easier to land! So if you’re going to be involved in any of those stages of the ballooning process, consider going small!
Aside from transporting the balloon’s basket, you also have to transport the envelope. You may be surprised by how heavy a balloon envelope can get! And don’t forget about the fan, gas, and everything else!
Once you get everything to your take-off location, you’ll have to set it all up. This includes laying out the envelope, getting all the lines untangled, and doing the cold inflation of the envelope.
Then comes the nice part, the flight! But at the end of the flight comes my least favorite part: the landing.
Landing in a smaller balloon is easier mostly because you don’t need as much space. While you’ll still want a wide open space, you won’t be needing anything too dramatic.
Once you’ve landed, you’ll need to help put everything away. This includes deflating the envelope, folding the envelope, and putting everything into the transportation vehicle.
The point? If you’re helping with all the logistics of a hot air balloon ride, it may be better to pick ease over company.
The Biggest Balloon (Yet)
The largest passenger carrying hot air balloon to date is the Cameron Z-750. This balloon can carry up to thirty-two passengers. While there are other balloons now that can get up to thirty-two passengers, the Z-750 was the first to do it.
Since 2012, all other hot air balloons that carry that many passengers base their design off the Cameron Z-750. This speaks to the genius of this amazing balloon.
To create a hot air balloon that carries thirty-two passengers, you’ll need to do some serious engineering. That’s exactly what Cameron Balloons did to create the Z-750.
The envelope was constructed using over 9,000 square feet of ripstop and Hyperlast fabric. Not only is this a massive amount of fabric, but it is also a durable combo.
This process included producing over ten miles of thread all made in house by Cameron Balloons! When fully inflated, the balloon stands over 130 feet tall!
The Z-750 is operated by Jérôme Hallier in France and carries the Groupon logo. It was originally flown by Cameron Balloon pilot Colin Wolstenholme to pass certification.
Why it Matters
Having a hot air balloon that can carry a lot of people is cool and all, but why does it matter? Or does it really matter at all?
For an avid balloonist, it’s just really cool. I mean, a hot air balloon with thirty-two people? That’s cool. But even for the non-initiated, this is still an impressive accomplishment.
The history of hot air ballooning is a story of constant improvement and progression. We have certainly come a long way since the early days of hot air ballooning in France.
There is so much to be achieved in hot air ballooning. Records have been set in distance, speed, altitude, duration, and navigation. The total number of passengers is just another horizon for hot air balloon fly into!
Consider for a moment that a sack of hot air can fly in the first place. Then remember that not only can a sack of hot air fly, but it can actually carry people. And not just one or two people, but thirty-two!
The Cameron Z-750 in another part of the legacy of hot air ballooning. It is a witness that balloonists can do anything they put their mind to!
The Sky is the Limit
The Cameron Z-750 is far from ultimate accomplishment in ballooning. There is still so much progress to be made. The sky truly is the limit when it comes to hot air ballooning.
One way to answer the question posed in this article’s title is that there is no limit to the number of passengers a hot air balloon can carry. Really all you need is the right science, materials, and a pinch of determination.
That’s right, a hot air balloon really could carry any number of passengers.
Of course, there are some legal limits to how many passengers can ride in a hot air balloon, but scientifically we don’t really know the limit. There might not be one.
You see, the science behind how a hot air balloon flies is pretty simple. You just need more buoyancy than the weight of the balloon and poof, you’re flying!
As you’ve probably guessed, it’s not that easy. There are some definite challenges to be faced.
First of all, you have to create enough buoyancy! Spoiler alert: people are heavy (but not you, you’re skinny). Hot air in the envelope is what creates the buoyancy, so the more weight in the balloon, the more hot air you need.
The more hot air you need, the larger the envelope you need. That also means you’ll need more gas which adds more overall weight to the balloon.
Then there’s the matter of not ripping the envelope. The more pressure you put into the envelope, the harder that becomes.
On top of all of that (or, more accurately, below it), you have to consider the basket. All those passengers are going to need a place to stand. The more people you have in a basket, the stronger the basket needs to be.
At a certain point, you’ll need to start using more materials and heavier materials to keep all those passengers in the air. This will also add to the weight of the balloon which will necessitate more hot air.
And that brings us back to the beginning of our problems.
So, it’s really up to all those balloon engineers out there to figure out how to do it! If the history of ballooning gives us any indication, it’s safe to say that we’re far, far away from our biggest balloon yet!
And who really knows? One day there could be hot air balloons that can carry hundreds of people. The sky really is the limit!