The magical time that is Balloon Fiesta is upon us. Soon, our skies will be filled with more than 550 balloons, flown by pilots from 17 different countries. This year’s event will kick off Friday with Albuquerque Aloft; more than 140 pilots will launch their balloons from schools in Albuquerque and Rio Rancho. This program has grown year after year, and there could be no better way to start Balloon Fiesta than with this tradition and the thousands of local smiling students, their families and our educators.
Following the Friday morning launch, we’ll get started bright and early Oct. 5 with opening ceremonies before we launch the first mass ascension. Along with the excitement that opening day brings can also come kinks. Although this is the 48th event, every year proves to be different. Last year, for several reasons, some of which were out of our control, many guests had trouble accessing Balloon Fiesta Park on opening day. The frustration and inconvenience many of you dealt with then is an experience we never want for our guests. With thousands of guests trying to get to the park before 7 a.m., we know it will get congested, but we’ve worked very hard over the past year to help ease that congestion and accessibility.
When the 2018 event wrapped up, our team got to work. We reached out to guests who had purchased Park and Ride tickets on opening day to re-activate their tickets for future sessions during the event. We teamed up with the Civil Engineering Department at the University of New Mexico to conduct a traffic study, identifying improvements to traffic and Park and Ride. We discovered ways to increase efficiencies at our existing Park and Ride locations. We traveled to similar large-scale events, nationally and internationally, to identify and possibly apply best practices. We also added more signage near the ride share drop off and pick up location, making it an easier area to navigate.
Major changes that this year’s guests should be aware of include: walk-up park-and-ride purchases will no longer be available and can be purchased online only. Check-in times at park-and-ride locations will now be separated into two waves: Guests can purchase tickets for 4 or 5:30 a.m., 3 or 4 p.m. for afternoon events. This will make for a smoother, less congested loading process. We’ve created a new loading and unloading area for guests accessing Cottonwood Mall and Intel Park and Ride, which is located outside of Balloon Fiesta gates, northeast of the Balloon Museum.
In addition to traffic and Park and Ride changes, we’ll also be introducing new public safety procedures. Metal detectors will now be present at the guest entrance gates, more concentrated bag checks will be implemented and we’ve added additional public safety officers to help manage the field. Additional information about what can and can’t be brought to Balloon Fiesta Park can be found on our website. Guests who bring no items or fewer items in a clear bag will be able to use the express line and get into the park faster.
Our 24-person volunteer board of directors, 20 full-time staff and many volunteers work year-round to make this the world’s premier ballooning event. It’s our city’s and state’s largest tourism event and welcomes thousands of visitors from around the world, and we realize that its success could not be accomplished without the supportive community that surrounds it. As a local, we look to you to be ambassadors of Balloon Fiesta, and we call upon you to help spread the word about these significant changes, as well as help with the implementation.
Please follow our social media channels, download our official mobile app and visit our website for important information that will improve your Balloon Fiesta experience.