First helicopter ride: what you need to know

Heyyy guys! Really excited to share these helicopter pics + musings/advice with y’all.

I think helicopters are just the coolest. Love the way they sound, look, move, everything. Low-key wish Michael was a helicopter pilot instead of fixed wing (haha don’t tell him tho).

So for a while now I’ve wanted to ride in a helicopter.

Finally after years of FOMO I finally got the chance while I was in Hawaii. It was totally worth ALL the hype! Today I’m going to share with you guys all the info + helpful things you should know if YOU’RE getting ready to ride in a commercial helo for the first time. It *can* be (doesn’t have to be, tho) a big investment for just an outing/day of fun so IMO it’s important to learn all you can to make the most of it.

THE EXPERIENCE

So this is how our helicopter experience went:

We originally booked our helicopter tour with a different company than the one we ended up flying with! Due to some scheduling conflicts (and a weird vibe from the other one), we switched.

On the day of our scheduled flight we arrived at the assigned building and filled out paper work + got weighed + had a safety briefing. You’ll want to have everything you’re bringing onto the helicopter on your person. Meaning, if you want your phone or sunglasses with you, you’ll need to carry them/put them in a pocket because your backpack or purse will be stored at HQ. Things may move pretty fast once you’ve arrived, so be prepared.

We were then escorted to lobby and had the option to drink coffee and eat refreshments while we waited a few minutes. When everything was ready we were lead to a golf cart. We hopped on and zipped along the tarmac to our helicopter. They looked so tiny compared to all the military helicopters constantly buzzing around San Diego. I was like, is this thing really gonna hold all of us??

Of course, it did. The ground crew helped us get situated with our harnesses and headsets and pretty soon it was time to take off. The first second it lifted off the ground was wild. It was such a different feeling of flight than I’ve ever felt in a plane. It felt SO unsteady at first — for a hot second I was like, okay this is it. This is the end. 

That feeling soon subsided as I learned to roll with the feeling of the machine. We opted for a doors-off flight so all the views were magnified. It was probably the most free I’ve ever felt in my life.

We zipped around Waikiki Beach and headed counter-clockwise hugging the coast around Oahu. We saw a perfect blend of coastal + mountain scenic points. Our pilot took us to Sacred Falls which is a really popular spot to see in a helicopter. We got decently close to it but it felt SO close because we had the doors-off. Doors-off is so THE way to go.

Our pilot was amazing. He really was a pilot AND a tour guide. He was so knowledgeable about Oahu and the history of the island it was fascinating to hear everything he knew. I thought I’d get mildly annoyed if the pilot was talking a lot but it was the best to hear his stories and insight.

As our tour started to conclude we crossed over the inland part of the island and made our way back to the airport. On the way back we flew over Pearl Harbor which was very surreal.

The landing was graceful and done in a heartbeat. I was so sad to be back on land again.

It was the best time ever. Here are a few of my pointers for your first time flying in a helicopter:

a QUALITY COMPANY

The most important thing to ensuring a good time for your first helicopter ride is of course, making sure you come back alive. There have been a few high profile commercial helicopter crashes this year that unfortunately resulted in deaths. Do your homework and vet whatever company you’re interested in going with. If they’re legit they’ll proudly boast their accreditations and ratings on their website. I feel like this is obvious…but also feel obligated to include. A lot of companies will also list their pilots and how much experience they have. If you’d like to feel extra secure when you book you can probably request a certain pilot.

Some of the companies I vetted really felt like they were herding cattle and trying to squeeze in as many people as fast as they could. Not ideal. I feel like you can generally pick up this vibe from their website and customer reviews.

READ THE REVIEWS! — go on yelp or Google reviews and read the reviews for whatever company you’re interested in. Probably the most important indicator of whether or not you’ll get your money’s worth out of this experience. I was about to book with a different company because they’re website looked really nice but they had such mixed reviews that I reconsidered.

COST

The price can very a LOT depending on what company you go with, and most importantly how long your tour is. When I was shopping around I saw some company’s advertising a $99 rate (which is a good deal) but that was for a 20 minute ride. By the time you factor takeoff/landing you’ll only be in the air overlooking something cool for like 1o minutes. Def something to consider if that’s OK with you or if you’d like to budget in a longer ride.

LENGTH OF TOUR

Everyone has different expectations and goals of a flight (just to experience it, a romantic date, sightseeing specific things, etc) so a half hour tour may feel perfectly fine to some or not nearly enough for others! Obviously the shorter your flight is, the cheaper it will be.

We decided to do an hour tour because we were in Hawaii and it was kind a bucket-list item for us. There were also a lot of things on Oahu we wanted to see and we needed that length of time just to get to them! I felt like the hour flew by (yes, pun totally intended) but could definitely see this length of time being too much if you’re starting to get motion sickness, anxiety, etc.

If an hour is too much, a 4o minute tour is kind of the best of both worlds — a cheaper price but still enough time to see a lot.

WILL THERE BE OTHER PEOPLE ON YOUR FLIGHT? (v important)

Okay so no one pictures a third wheel (LITERALLY) sitting awkwardly next to them on their romantic date in the clouds. However, unless you buy out the entire helicopter you may have some one (or two) up there with you.

First, determine if your helicopter has 3 or 4 guest seats (we aren’t including the pilot’s). If it only has 3 guest seats (and you’re a party of two) then there will be a chance of only one other person with you. This is probably your best bet of scoring a “private” tour. You may get lucky and have the helo all to yourself if there isn’t a solo travel/adventurer who booked a single seat.

If your helicopter has 4 guest seats, there’s a good chance that another couple could be booked with you. And not only that, but someone will be stuck with a middle row seat in the back.

Some helicopter companies offer private tours but of course you have to pay extra for that.

WHAT TO WEAR

It will be windy and brisk once you’re in the air even if it’s hot and muggy on the ground. Long pants and a long sleeve shirt are a safe bet. I wore a jacket and I’m glad I did.

If you have a doors-off flight the wind can really whip around any baggy clothing you’re wearing. So anything that has a hood or a loose wind breaker can get irritating if they aren’t tight against your body.

Wearing close toed shoes is a good idea. I’m not sure if our helicopter company mandated this, but it feels kinda like they would.

If you have your doors on for the flight you’ll want to wear dark/black clothing so your body will be less reflective in the windows for photos.

 

SEAT SELECTION

Chances are you won’t be able to pick your seat because there has to be proper weight distribution on the helicopter. I assumed Michael and I would sit together but they actually had me up front next to the pilot and Michael in the back.

I was bummed at first but honestly the seat up front next to the pilot is the BEST!! I was so thankful at the end. Sorry Michael but the views outweighed the benefit of hand holding.

If you’re unhappy with your seat assignment you can always talk to them and see what can be done. If you can have input, keep in mind what direction the helicopter will be flying and what views you’ll see from your assigned seat. For instance: we flew around Hawaii counter-clockwise. So, the back far right seat just had an ocean view whereas the left seats had an unobstructed ocean/beach/mountain/scenic views.

When you book your tour they’ll likely ask you how much you weigh. It’s tempting to lie and pretend those last 10 pounds don’t exist but they legit have to know your exact weight for safety reasons. When we got there they had a scale and they weighed us! Your weight doesn’t flash on a screen or anything it’s all very private and they didn’t even tell us what we weighed.

PICTURES

The views from a helicopter are INSANE. It’s all so surreal and happening so fast. I knew I wanted to get a ton of pictures + video but I also wanted to live in the moment. Sometimes it can be hard to balance both, ya know.

We brought our DSLR but didn’t use it ONCE. We went with a doors-off flight (HIGHLY RECOMMEND) so the inside of the helicopter was pretty blustery. If you bring your DSLR you’ll need to take off and secure your lens cap before you even get off the ground. If you try to take off your lens cap midair it’ll fly right out of your hands.

We had our 50mm lens and the interior of the helicopter was just too tight to get any pictures with the DSLR. As for the scenery pics, we found our iPhones captured everything perfectly.

Our company supplied us with plastic neck lanyards to secure our phones in. They had a hole cut out around the camera so we still got good pictures. I’d call ahead of time and make sure your company does this. If not, I’m sure you can get a plastic lanyard at Walmart. If you have a doors-off flight the chance of losing your phone is high.

RANDOM THINGS

If you’re booking a helicopter tour while you’re on vacation — BOOK EARLY IN YOUR TRIP. I originally wanted to book the helicopter ride as the “grand finale” to our vacation but this can be risky. If you get rained out and you’re at the end of  your vacation, then tough luck. By booking early you allow yourself a grace period in case the weather acts up.

You’ve probably seen photos on Instagram or Pinterest of people hanging out of helicopters like looking around or their legs dangling out or something or their arms outstretched out. IDK how they got those shots but they are not realistic. The wind is so strong with a doors-off flight that I could barely outstretch my arm past the doorway. Additionally, we were specifically instructed to keep all body parts inside the helicopter. Maybe they asked the pilot to slow down so they could get those shots?? LOL

If you’re prone to motion sickness I’d consider taking some kind of motion sickness medicine before you go.

If you have long hair you’ll DEFINITELY want to secure it in a ponytail or bun.

OK guys that’s it! This was a long one. I feel like helicopter rides are becoming a really popular and accessible thing. I know San Diego has a ton of them at all different price points. I’ll never ever forget this experience and am already scheming on when/how I can go again. LMK if any of you are planning to do the same! Xx.

more aviation related posts: when Michael took me flying, aviation winging party, flight deck operations aboard the USS John C. Stennis

6 Comments

  1. August 26, 2018 / 4:12 am

    This is a fantastic post! THANK YOU for the awesome tips!!

  2. August 26, 2018 / 4:12 am

    This is a fantastic post! THANK YOU for the awesome tips!!

    • Kathryn
      Author
      August 27, 2018 / 6:18 pm

      SO glad you liked it!! thanks for reading Xx

  3. Kim Pincombe Cole
    August 29, 2018 / 12:13 am

    Can you share which company you used? I’m going to Oahu/Honolulu in 10 days & I’ve been comparing companies. We definitely want doors off and a 1hr flight, so this one would be perfect!!!

    • Kathryn
      Author
      August 29, 2018 / 1:03 am

      Hi Kim!! So fun, I’m sure you’ll have a blast. The company we used was Novictor Helicopters – highly recommend! & our pilot was Bruce. He was amazing as well. Hope this helps Xx

  4. Susan Steele
    September 1, 2018 / 11:34 am

    So informative and helpful for a future trip!

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