“ Sightseeing Type: Tours „
When I went to New York just before Christmas last year I wanted to do something exciting and different. I'd never been on a helicopter before and I wanted to see all the sights in New York and so before I went started googling different sightseeing trips around the city. I stumbled across Liberty Helicopters which operate helicopter tours over the city and I immediately knew it was something I had to do!
Liberty Helicopters are the only company who operate tourist helicopters in New York City so they are really your only option. They have been operating the sightseeing tours since 1990 and are well established with a good safety record. They operate from two heliports, one which is known as their VIP Heliport is in Midtown, around 34th Street and is their most popular. The second is downtown at Pier 6. They operate many different tours all at different prices and often do 'specials' where you can get good discounts. Suffice to say it isn't cheap and you don't get your helicopter to yourself but it is well worth the money.
Liberty Helicopters use American Eurocopter AS350 helicopters which seat 7 passengers and the pilot although to be honest they only ever usually seat 6 pasengers. When they have the desired amount of people for the tour, they ask you how much you weigh (really) and make sure the helicopter is equally balanced out weight wise. Luckily when I went me and my friend were the lightest so I managed to sit at the front next to the pilot (the front is the best place to sit for views and experience).
--Tours and Prices--
At the time of writing (prices do vary) their Lady Liberty tour is the shortest at 6-8 minutes long and the cheapest at $105 per person. You only really get to take some skyline views in and the view of the Statue of Liberty. The Big Apple tour is longer at 12-15 minutes long and for $135 per person you get a lot more sights to behold including of course the Statue of Liberty but also the Empire State close up, the Chrysler Building, Ellis Island, Central Park and the George Washington Bridge. The next one up is the one I personally went on - the New York New York tour. It's 16-20 minutes long (ours was 20) and is $200 per person - as well as the other places mentioned you also get to fly over the new and old Yankee Stadiums, Columbia University, the Palisade of New Jersey and a birds eye view of New York's five states. For the romantics of you out there, there is a night time tour where you can hire the whole helicopter out for 25 minutes at a cost of $995!
For all tours you end up paying a $30 security fee when you get there if you book online in advance - otherwise of course everything is payable on the day when you book. Most are available from both heliports but some are only available from the Midtown one so best to check where you're staying and book a tour from the closest one!
--When you get there--
When you get to the heliport, if you have book and paid online in advance you have to pay your security fee. If you are turning up to get a tour there and then you may have to wait and obviously everything is payable there and then. You get asked various questions, like how much you weigh, your date of birth and your next of kins name and number - which was a bit unnerving I have to say but necessary. You then get given a key to a locker where you put your bags and belongings. You are allowed to take video cameras and normal cameras on the helicopter but no bags or other items. Once you've locked them securely away you go throw a metal detector like at the airport and then through into a holding area.
Once everyone for your flight is in the holding area, you are shown a video on safety - how to do your safety belts up, how to get them off and what to do in an emergency. You are given a lifebelt to tie around your waist and then you are good to go! You all are led outside to the helicopter where you stand in a line. You are then pulled over to the craft in your individual couples or groups you came with in weight order (the people who are sitting at the back go first) to stand in front of the helicopter and have your picture taken. You can buy this after your flight (yes a money making scheme but you have to buy it!). Once you've had your picture done they tell you where you are sitting (no choice I'm afraid it's all done on weight for safety reasons) and they then strap you into your belts (so if you didn't follow instructions on how to do them up don't worry!). Then you have to put on your headphones to a) drown out the noise and b) hear the pilot you're good to go!
Your pilot is also your tour guide and as your glide along he/she will tell you exactly what everything is and details about it. The pilot is also in constant contact with the ground team and they are always radioing back and forth to check for 'traffic' and 'weather conditions'. You will hear all of this over your headsets. The helicopter ride is very smooth, you barely feel yourself take off or glide along and if it's a great day for visibility your will be able to see for miles and miles. Ours was a somewhat foggy day (a snowstorm started 10 minutes after we landed which was lucky or our flight would have been cancelled) so we couldn't see all that well. One reason I want to go again!
Obviously depending on what tour you have booked will depend on what sights you see. Our tour was brilliant and we saw everything. We flew down to the Statue of Liberty from the 34th St heliport along the Jersey coast, round it, back up along the Manhattan coast, and over the city to see more sights, round the George Washington Bridge and back to the heliport. It didn't feel like 20 minutes, more like 10, and we were snapping away the entire time. The best place to sit is in the front as you not only get your side door to look out of, but the front window and a small pane of glass under your feet (which is scary!). So if you're lucky enough to get to sit in the front, well done!
When you land back at the heliport you are unstrapped, and led back into the building where you give your lifebelts back, and are able to get your things out of the locker. You are also able to look at your photo and decide whether to buy it or not. I am not sure how much this was but I think it was about $15 - a bit steep yes but for a once in a lifetime flight I had to buy it!
I loved my helicopter trip and I would definitely do it again. Yes it's a little expensive but it's a trip of a lifetime and a great way to experience New York. The Midtown heliport is a little out of the way so ask reception there to call you a cab when you leave as you have to cross a very busy road otherwise and walk a good 15 minutes before you get into town.
I will mention that the recent tragic crash on the Hudson was from this company - after all they are the only sightseeing company that operates helicopters in New York, but I do not believe for one second it was their fault after reading the reports. When I was on the helicopter the pilot was constantly in contact with the ground team with regards to traffic and weather and the whole team in general were very safety conscious and took all necessary precautions. I would happily fly with Liberty Helicopters again and have no worries in doing so. Plenty of car crashes happen every day but we don't stop driving after all.
I would highly recommend this trip to everyone - it's a brilliant way to see the city!
The first time I went to New York City, in September 1999, like most tourists visiting the city, I seemed to develop an unnatural fascination with the Statue of Liberty, seeking to view it from all potential angles. I took the Staten Island Ferry, to pass it from a distance along one side. I took the Liberty Ferry out to it, so that I could look at it from below, and go inside it. I even climbed all the way up to the crown, so that I could experience first-hand the statue's view over the Atlantic. However, unquestionably the most costly of my trips out to look at the statue close to, was a helicopter ride with Liberty Helicopters. LIBERTY HELICOPTERS Liberty Helicopters are the only company operating tourist helicopter flights over the city of New York, or rather, more accurately, Manhattan, from their two heliports on the island. Liberty has been operating as a charter company since 1985, and has run sightseeing tours since 1990. The organisations' safety record is impeccable, having received the Five Star Diamond Award for 1996, 1997 and 1998. Their flight crews and aircraft have been certified and inspected by the Federal Aviation Administration. One of their heliports is located downtown, near the south tip of Manhattan Island, on Pier 6, on the East River. However, their main heliport, and the one from which the most tourist flights depart is in Midtown, on the west side of Manhattan, at the end of 30th street, on the Hudson River. Liberty offer a variety of flights to suit all (large) budgets. The cheapest currently weighs in at $48-52, depending on which day of the week you go (weekends are more expensive), and the dearest is $155-180. I'm sure that if you wanted a longer journey, and money wasn't an object, they'd be only too pleased to accommodate your wishes with a chartered helicopter! The cheapest-priced tours leave from the Downtown heliport over to the Statue of Liberty and back,
and from the Midtown heliport up over Manhattan to Central Park and back. Their mid-price tour ($83-104) leaves from either heliport, and takes in both the Statue of Liberty and the whole of Manhattan, up to Central Park. The most expensive tour leaves from either heliport, and tours Manhattan as well as visiting all of the five boroughs of New York City. If there are two or more of you, my advice would unquestionably be to book in advance, so that you get the tour that you want, at a time that's convenient to you. If there's only one person who wants to go on the tour, then they should be fine turning up, and waiting for the tour that they want. THE HELICOPTERS Liberty uses American Eurocopter AS350 helicopters, which have air-conditioning, and seat seven people in addition to the pilot. Having said that, tours generally operate with 6 passengers, rather than the seven, which is considerably more comfortable. The windows of the helicopters are large, and there's plenty of space for all of the passengers (including those in the middle at the back) to see out easily. MY EXPERIENCE When I was in New York, it was only me who wanted to go for a helicopter ride (that's what happens when you go on holiday with someone who suffers from acute vertigo, and has a fear of travelling over water), so I could just turn up on spec. I really wanted, as I mention above, to view the Statue of Liberty from the air, so I went along to the Downtown heliport one weekday afternoon. Unfortunately, as there were no other tourists there, and none turned up over the 20-30 minutes that I waited there, they told me to head over to the Midtown heliport. Not much fancying a trip across town, just for the helicopter ride, I decided to put the tour off for a couple of days. When I did visit the Midtown heliport, a few days later, it was certainly noticeably busier than the Downtown one. I asked if it would be possible to be put
on a tour in the near future, and was told that I need only wait about ten minutes, and could get on the next one. "Ideal", thought I, evidently having read too many Stephen Fry novels recently. Even more fortuitously, the person behind the desk at the Midtown heliport informed me that the next tour would be visiting the Statue of Liberty, rather than Central Park (which is where the cheap Midtown flights usually go to). Apparently, so few tourists were prepared to head down to the Downtown heliport that they were running this more popular route from the Midtown heliport instead – I wish I'd known that before heading down there! Before the flight, we watched a spectacularly brief, but adequate and informative, video explaining the basic safety procedures in the helicopter – basically just how to do up and undo the seatbelts. The flight lasted under eight minutes, from take-off to touch-down, and cost a little under £24 (the flights were a little cheaper back then). The helicopter took off from the Midtown heliport, swept down the Hudson, rounded the Statue of Liberty, and came straight back. The noise of the swirling helicopter blades was incredibly loud, sufficiently so that conversation would have been pretty difficult, if I had flown with a friend. CONCLUSIONS My experience of the helicopter flight was that it was incredibly brief, and only reasonably exciting, especially given the prohibitively steep price tag. Yes, I did get to see the island of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty from the air, but to be honest, it looks only a little more exciting from the air than it does from the New Jersey coast, which costs just $1 to get to on the PATH subway system! Possibly the most exciting thing about it was filming the whole thing on a camcorder that I borrowed from a friend, so I had something vaguely interesting on film to show my parents when I got home. The other interesting side effe
ct of taking the helicopter ride was that I've pretty much got the Statue of Liberty out of my system now. When I returned to New York City in December 2000, I didn't even bother to go and look at it, concentrating instead on getting some serious post-Christmas shopping done! The Liberty Helicopters website is somewhat predictably to be found at http://www.libertyhelicopters.com
A 12 minute helecopter tour that takes in the entire west side of the island of Manhattan as well as two trips round the Statue of Libery is a must while you are in New York. It may sound extravagent, but it is really not as expensive as you would think, and the views are just breath taking. Make sure that it is a clear day, as the slightest bit of cloud or haze will spoil your view. The helecopters hold about 6 people, and a full safety briefing is given. The companyies that run them have to follow strict safety procedures, so you don't have to worry about them falling out of the sky - they are perfectly safe.