Taking a helicopter ride over NYC with tour company HeliNY was our final hoorah after three months exploring, photographing and temporarily living in New York City.
Is there a better way to soak up the world’s most famous urban landscape than soaring high above its remarkable buildings, landmarks and skylines? Flying over Manhattan is certainly one of the top bucket list things to do in New York City.
From the bustling streets of Downtown and Midtown, intimidating and never-ending concrete skyscrapers tower high into the sky. But from the air, the extraordinary perspective of Manhattan’s famous sprawling concrete jungle is far easier to comprehend.
We want to share our helicopter ride experience with you and by the end of this guide, you will be able to decide if HeliNY is the best helicopter tour for your own NYC itinerary.
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Why Take A Helicopter Ride in NYC?
Taking a luxury helicopter ride over NYC is going to suck up a significant chunk of cash and time out of your travel budget and itinerary. But it’s also going to be one of the best and most exhilarating experiences you have on your visit to the city.
Let’s take a look at the top reasons to fly over NYC on a helicopter tour:
- If you’re short on time, you can see all of the most iconic buildings and landmarks in 20 minutes.
- You get a unique perspective of the city you simply can’t get any other way.
- A luxury NYC helicopter tour is perfect for a special treat or celebration.
- If you’ve never been in a helicopter, there aren’t many better places to start.
- You just have to see NY from above after watching so many movies with drone scenes of the city!
Are There Any Differences Between Tours?
Here’s what you need to know about choosing a helicopter ride over NYC:
- Each company offers various routes.
- Each tour has specific features.
- Length of tour will depend on price points.
- You can choose the best price vs experience package for your budget.
Some tours fly directly over the buildings of Manhattan, whereas others fly along the Hudson River or over Brooklyn.
Certain companies offer a ‘doors off’ helicopter ride over NYC, but they have specific rules. Some helicopter tours take off and land in Manhattan, but others can only fly from and back to New Jersey.
Let’s get into the specifics.
Where Is the Heliport in NYC?
You can choose a helicopter ride over NYC departing from either New Jersey or Downtown Manhattan.
The heliport in Manhattan is located at 6 East River Piers, near the Staten Island ferry and Governors Island ferry.
When booking your NYC hotel, the likelihood is you’ll be staying somewhere around Central Park, Midtown or Lower Manhattan if visiting the city, which means the Manhattan heliport is much easier to access.
How Much Does A Helicopter Ride in NYC Cost?
So how much does it cost to ride over NYC in a helicopter?
Well, it depends on what you want to see and more importantly, which deals the companies are running at the time you are in New York City.
Here are the prices for each route at time of writing (May 2021) with HeliNY:
- The New Yorker Tour: Basic | New York Harbor, Statue of Liberty | 12-15 minutes | US$ 99
- The Ultimate Tour: Most popular | Hudson River as far as George Washington Bridge | 17-20 minutes | US$ 204
- The Deluxe Tour: Longest | Hudson Bay, Hudson River as far as George Washington Bridge | 25-30 minutes | US$ 299
Departing New Jersey (Linden Airport)
- NYC Harbor Experience: Basic | New York Harbor, Statue of Liberty | 17-20 minutes | US$ 99
- City Skyline Experience: Mid Range | Hudson River as far as George Washington Bridge | 25-30 minutes | US$ 169
- City Lights Experience: Night Flight | Hudson River as far as George Washington Bridge | 25-30 minutes | US$ 169
*Each of the tour prices listed are currently on special offer, so you will need to check for updated prices for the dates of your visit to New York.*
Important Pricing Information
- You may notice the Deluxe vs Skyline is a similar route and length but the price is very different. It is far less convenient to reach Linden Airport but much cheaper. We’ll leave that one up to you!
- There are additional fees to pay no matter which helicopter company you choose to ride over NYC. Whether it be for seat fee, facility fee or booking fee, you need to carefully check for extra costs before booking.
- If you fly with a ‘doors off’ helicopter tour, you have the option to pay almost US$ 100 extra to ‘guarantee’ an instagram shoe selfie. If you don’t pay, you might not get the seat hanging out of the chopper.
- Be aware of any additional ‘popular time of day’ charges, such as an extra US$ 50 to fly around sunset.
How Long Does The Flight Last?
As mentioned above, you can choose the time vs cost package to suit your NYC travel budget.
We can tell you from experience that our flight with a suggested timeframe of 17-20 minutes could have lasted 5 minutes or an hour and we wouldn’t have known.
You will find that time in the air vanishes and before you know it you’re walking out of the heliport back into Lower Manhattan.
What Happens Before The Ride?
If you booked in advance, you will walk into the heliport having already signed a waiver sent to your email account.
But you don’t have to book in advance. Instead you can turn up on the day as a ‘walk in’. If you turn up on the day, hopefully the line isn’t too long and you can sign a waiver as you enter.
Note: Each person has to sign a waiver, so if you booked in advance for 2 people, both of you need to sign an individual waiver.
You will then put any belongings in a locker, except for a camera, sunglasses, cell phones and keys. Nothing else can go on the flight with you. No hats, scarves, bags or loose clothing items.
Larger bags will not fit into lockers and must be left with a member of staff in the pre-flight room.
You will be provided a life jacket in case of landing on water before watching a safety briefing on a tv monitor and lining up by the helipad door.
Nervous excitement building, heart rates increasing, long blades slicing through air, intense noise, forceful wind and an over exaggerated crouch into a tiny open door.
You’re buckled in for your helicopter ride over NYC.
Up to 6 passengers can share one helicopter tour over NYC – two up front with the pilot and four in the main cabin.
But it all depends on how busy it is during the time of your scheduled flight. You could have just one other or five others.
If you want a private tour, you can just book all 6 seats – but that would be an eye-watering expense!
How Are The Seating Arrangements Determined?
Seating is pre-determined according to passenger weight in order to efficiently distribute the total weight throughout the helicopter. You don’t want to go up in a lopsided chopper!
The maximum weight limit per passenger is 275lbs (125kg). Passengers who are bordering around this weight may have to wait for a flight in which a proportionate weight can balance the helicopter.
You can make a request for a specific seat but there are absolutely no obligations to put you in that seat if it may compromise the safety of passengers.
Remember, you and everyone else on the flight are inside a tiny capsule at 1500 – 2000 ft above New York!
What Is The Best Time Of Day For A Helicopter Ride?
Choosing the right time of day will be more important to some than others.
- Early Start – Mornings will typically be quieter, with clearer weather and calmer air. Some will want to beat the rush to be on the first flight and still have the rest of the day to explore New York City.
- Afternoon – The hours between 1pm to 3pm are a good choice for photographers because the sun will be at its highest point in the sky. Therefore less glare will reflect from windows and you shouldn’t have to shoot directly into the sun.
- Evening – Sunset is the most romantic time to take a helicopter ride over NYC and at night you can see the city illuminating from above which has to be the coolest time, right?!
Is The Price Worth It?
Helicopter tours aren’t cheap.
Hundreds of dollars per person for less than half an hour in the air is pretty steep. So, is it really worth spending a big chunk of your New York City travel budget?
The easy answer is yes, it is worth the money. As long as you can comfortably afford it.
Imagine taking a helicopter ride over your home town or city, what would you see?
Now imagine seeing Central Park, the Empire State Building, One World Trade Center, Brooklyn Bridge, Statue of Liberty … and the list goes on.
If you have any intentions of taking a helicopter ride at some point, you might as well make it over an iconic place like NYC.
However, if your budget is fairly tight and you’re on the fence about blowing what you have left on a helicopter tour, we would suggest you very carefully think about what you won’t be able to do in NYC as a result.
How To Choose A Company You Trust
We strongly recommend you check out the websites of each helicopter tour company in NYC.
- Read the reviews, with emphasis on the most recent customer reviews.
- Read FAQ’s pages to understand exactly what is involved with your flight.
- Make sure they are adhering to correct health and safety measures due to the covid pandemic.
- Ensure they can offer support for any accessibility or mobility concerns.
- Check social media channels for any companies you like.
- Look at any forums about NYC helicopter tours, such as on Reddit, TripAdvisor or Quora.
Why Choose HeliNY Over The Competition?
Why did we choose HeliNY and more importantly, why should you?
Our top priorities were safety, cleanliness and price. We also preferred a helicopter ride departing in Manhattan as opposed to New Jersey.
- HeliNY has some of the best customer reviews.
- We watched a video about how they were taking covid cleanliness seriously.
- HeliNY departs from Manhattan, which makes life easier on a visit to NYC.
- Prices were extremely competitive, if not the best value for money.
- Additional fees were minimal.
- We hadn’t read about recent misfortunes with this particular company, whereas others had been in the news.
- HeliNY is a family friendly helicopter experience.
Our NYC Helicopter Ride Experience
It was a baking hot NYC early Spring day with a clear blue sky and the city was just coming back to life after a long, hard, covid hit Winter.
Right after eating delicious pepperoni from Underground Pizza in the Financial District (one of our top rated NYC pizza places), we arrived a few minutes early for our scheduled 2pm flight time and waited right outside the pier on a bench watching as others took off and landed.
‘The Ultimate Tour’ is the most popular HeliNY package, so we went with the general consensus. After checking in, watching the safety brief and putting our belongings in a locker, we met the three other passengers who would share our ride.
Before boarding the helicopter, HeliNY will take a photograph of each group in front of a helicopter. The two of us had our photo taken and were ushered to our seats.
We had the right side of the helicopter, Mark back to back with the pilot and Kristen opposite Mark. Headsets are provided to listen as the pilot points out various landmarks along the flight path.
Before we knew it, we were in the air and heading out into the East River. Bank right, gain elevation and within 30 seconds we were circling around the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
Quickly moving on, we had the ‘money shot’ of Lower Manhattan skyline in a V shape with both East and Hudson Rivers. Unfortunately, our orientation wasn’t directly head on.
It felt like we’d been in the air 2 minutes by the time we reached Yankee Stadium and George Washington Bridge to turn around.
On the return leg, we followed the exact same path along the Hudson, except this time the passengers next to us had the Manhattan view and we had the New Jersey view.
One more look at Lady Liberty and a left bank brought us around in line of sight for Brooklyn Bridge before landing back on the big H.
Back in the heliport we took a copy of our photograph in front of the helicopters, before picking our gear up and leaving back into the beautiful sunshine in Lower Manhattan.
NYC Helicopter Ride Photography Tips
You will take home some amazing images from one of the best NYC photography locations of all – from above!
The only downside to choosing HeliNY over a helicopter tour with ‘doors off’ is clear photography. And this really only applies to any serious hobbyist or professional photographers / vloggers / instagrammers.
But in truth, the difference is minimal. You just won’t get ‘that’ instagram shoe shot.
Let’s finish with some NYC helicopter ride photography tips:
If possible, you want to sit on the right side of the helicopter as you look forward. This will allow you to see the best bits of Manhattan on the first ‘leg’ of the flight, with the sun to your back.
- Wear neutral colors like grey to limit reflections in windows around the helicopter.
- Get your lens as close to the glass as possible to limit glare.
- Shutter speed needs to be up around 1/4000s – 1/5000s. Seriously! If you don’t, you will not get sharp images.
- Use shutter priority and set it super-fast, leave your ISO on auto and let the camera choose your aperture (which will be the widest it goes, such as f/2.8 or f/4). Our ISO never went above 500 because we had a 2pm flight on a bright day.
- Take more photographs of the same thing than you usually would. Thermals, wind, someone moving and other mechanisms will cause the helicopter to jump, bounce and sway. Many of your images will not turn out, so you need to make sure you get 1 in 10 right.
- Think about exactly what you want to capture before you fly. Empire State Building, One World Trade Center, Statue of Liberty etc. Knowing your frames ahead of time will significantly help!
How To Find More Information
If you read this guide to flying over NYC in a helicopter and think you want to try it for yourself, be sure to do your own research. Pick the right company for your needs and pick a tour you can afford.
Ideally, you will be able to choose a flight path that takes in the best and most iconic NYC landmarks.
To read more about HeliNY, what they offer, FAQ’s and most importantly – current prices, click here to visit the HeliNY website.
Read More About New York City
- Edge NYC: Watch a Special Sunset on Top of the Edge Sky Deck
- Winter: Complete Guide To Visiting New York City In Winter & Christmas In NYC
- Brooklyn Bridge: Walking Guide to the Brooklyn Bridge at Sunset and Night
- Statue of Liberty: How to Take the Ferry to Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
We hope this travel guide helps you decide if HeliNY is the right tour company for you to take a helicopter ride over Manhattan NYC!
Have you been to New York City? Would you take a ride in a helicopter?
Please let us know if you have any questions or need any help planning your visit.