New York City has one of the most dramatic, and recognizable skylines in the world. The Manhatten Concrete jungle rising up from its island home, lapped by the steely cold Hudson waters. It is a sight not easily forgotten. Getting the best view of this iconic cityscape is from the Air and the easiest and most convenient way of getting airborne is with a Helicopter tour. A New York Helicopter tour does not come cheap, however, and with stiff competition, you need to be sure you are choosing the right tour for your needs.
We take a look at all of the Best New York Helicopter tours to help you find which New York Helicopter Tour best suits your needs and budgets. There are many operators vying for your money, but most boil down to 3 simple tours and are fairly evenly matched in terms of price and duration. We take a look at exactly what each outfit offers and the advantages and drawback of each, along with taking a look at what exactly to expect, Safety and if you really should drop such a large sum of cash for only a few minutes of excitement?
What to Expect?
For this section, we will focus on the tours departing from lower Manhatten but the experience from Jersey would be similar just some of the flight time would be taken flying to Manhatten.
After Arriving at the heliport you will be weighed. This is essential for the piolet to calculate the correct weights and balances for the flight. It is not designed to shame anyone. It is an essential Calculation needed before ANY flight can commence. Using this data the seat assignment will be calculated. This is done by a computer and won’t be altered due to preference. This can mean some people do not receive the window seat they wanted or are not up front on the best location. This is a major complaint of people who take the tours but the reality is even from a middle seat you will still get a great view. Couples and groups will also always be seat together.
You will then receive a short safety briefing (we discuss the safety aspect later)and be kitted out with a life jacket. Before being taken out to your aircraft to meet the pilot. You then take your assigned seats before takeoff. Manhattan is am incredibly busy airspace and the Heliport has many aircraft coming and going all day so the pilot will need to talk to Air Traffic Control for your departure slot. Do not worry this doesn’t come out of your flight time. The Chopper will fly a set route as opposed to a specific amount of time.
Once cleared you will leave the helipad and head upwards and out into the harbour giving you one of the most phenomenal views imaginable as Manhattan rears up before you. For the Duration of the flight, the Aircraft will remain over the water this is mainly for safety reasons but it means the view is always of the skyline. You first head out over Governors Island before flying low over Liberty island for one of the best views of the Statue of liberty. You will then head up the Hudson River with the just staggering views of the City out to the right of the helicopter. Depending on the tour you will reach your turn around point and then the helicopter will return the same direction giving those on the left of the helicopter the best views. This gives both sides of the aircraft ample time to experience the best views of the city so it’s not so important which side you are placed on.
After flying back down the Hudson you will return to the Helipad after getting an incredible close-up view of the WTC and the Freedom Tower. It’s a hell of a ride and is over so fast. Especially the shorter 12-15 Minute Trips. However, the memory of the views will last a lifetime and the photos and videos you take will drive your friends and family green with envy!
Helicopter Tour routes
The Basic Routes are all fairly similar. Only FLYNYON routes differ substantially from the normal flight paths. We have listed the rough standard routes below. The reason for the standardisation of routes is safety and is mandated by the FAA for helicopter tours departing from the downtown Manhattan Heliport. More on this later
Is A Helicopter Tour Right for Me / Us?
There is no doubt a Helicopter tour of Manhatten is a very high-value ticket item. Even the Cheapest tours provide very little change for $300 per person. That is money that could provide a whole heap of fun or a few very fantastic meals. $300 could buy you a 7-Day attractions pass that covers just about every sight and attraction in New York, alternatively, it could buy you 12minutes aboard a helicopter!
Naturally, a helicopter tour isn’t going to be for everyone. We hear a lot of people who are disappointed with the tour after such a huge outlay. This is normally because of an unreasonable expectation. That is why we detailed exactly what to expect above so you will be forewarned what your money is buying!
Really a Helicopter tour is the ultimate in travel experiences. It’s perfect for those wanting to experience everything. A great lifetime memory for a honeymoon or a once in a lifetime trip to the Big Apple. While we have pointed out you can get an awful lot for the money, that does not make it a poor value choice.
If you look at it purely for cost per minute it’s terrible value but it isn’t that simple. What you are getting for each of those minutes can simply not be experienced any other way. The view from the helicopter is like no other and it is an experience you will remember for a lifetime. It is a real bucket list Item.
Also, people who are on a very short timeframe but want a fantastic tour splashing a large amount to tour the City from the air is a great way to maximise trip time. Even if you are only there for one day after seeing the Manhatten Skyline from the Air it will be a trip you will never forget. You will be unlikely to get great value from a Pass so spending big on a high ticket item is one way to make the trip really memorable.
Obviously, those on a tight budget are probably not best served by taking a helicopter trip. It is such a huge outlay and just not the best use of budget. New York is a very expensive city as it is so blowing a tight budget on Helicopter tour is not a genius move!
A lot of people are scared of heights and flying and dismiss a helicopter tour out of hand due to this. However, the way a helicopter flies is quite different from normal aircraft. If you have a severe fear of flying then we obviously don’t recommend a helicopter tour. If you are in this category then you will probably not be considering it so safe to say you are not reading this.
If it’s a mild fear of flying normally the stability of the helicopter doe snot evoke the same sort of fear aeroplanes do. We have flown in many light aircraft and not so light aircraft and the feeling can be quite terrifying. The climb angles and banking and bumping around can be very unnerving, the changes in vertical speed can churn the stomach and it is all very unpleasant.
Helicopters don’t work the same way and the platform is far more stable. It feels more like a floating platform and it often doesn’t evoke the same fears in a person as a plane would. Of course, we cannot guarantee there will be no fear but we often hear people with a milder fear of flying have no issues when aboard a helicopter.
Heights is also a common fear that people cite when avoiding helicopter rides. Again severe vertigo sufferers may well be advised to avoid at all costs. However in a helicopter, like an aeroplane, a fear of heights is not normally manifested. The enclosed space and extreme height trick the brain into not feeling like you are high at all. I go to pieces on a ladder, or tall building or cliff top. But in a helicopter, there is no issue at all.
Operating since 2006 this is a long-running established company that has years of experience in providing helicopter tours around Manhattan. Despite this, they are actually one of the new kids! They have a large and modern fleet of bell 407 and 206b helicopters.
- Duration: 12-15 Minutes
- Price: $209 + $40 Heliport Fee
The Standard basic tour this quick flight is will fly by in no time and can feel like you are getting very little for your money. But it’s actually one of the best tours. The basic tour does hit just about ALL the major sights. Starting off with the Downtown, then views of Brooklyn bridge Governer, Ellis and Liberty Island and of course the statue of liberty. Then as the flight follows the Hudson River, the whole of Manhatten is visible. The Empire State, Time Square and generally staggering views of the many skyscrapers and building of the city. The tour turns around near the Intrepid museum, giving you great views of Central Park before returning and down the Hudson finishing with great views of the WTC and Wall Street.
It really does get the best of New York and you are just not missing out on all that much. Yes, it is an incredibly short time span and it does fly by but you really do get a lot of sights to see in that really short ride.
- Duration: 18-20 Minutes
- Price: $289 + $40 Heliport Fee
The Deluxe 18-20 Min tour is basically the same tour as the classic only the extra flight time is used by extending the flight path further up the Hudson River. The main attraction of this if the views of central park. While the Classic only gets to the south edge of the park the Deluxe flys the entire length giving you fantastic views. Like the Basic the flight remains over the Hudson you won’t actually fly over the park or any part of Manhattan. but the view from 1,300 feet allows you to see the park fully. The Generally extended flight time makes the tour feel less rushed but actually, you don’t get to see a whole lot more than the Classic.
- Duration: 25-30 Minutes
- Price: $264 + $40 Heliport Fee
The much longer VIP Tour shows you a lot more of the New York area. The initial loop extends down as far as the Verrazano bridge view views of coney island tracking the Brooklyn shore. It then heads back to pick up the other tours at liberty island. The Hudson river loop is again extended and the helo flys as far as the end of Manhattan island where you will get views of the Bronx and the mouth of the Harlem/east river.
With this tour, there is very little of Manhattan you won’t see from the air and a lot of the other boroughs are covered too. It is a very complete tour and being airborne for up to 30 mins starts to feel like a long trip, unlike the classic that can feel over before it’s begun.
Aircraft – Manhattan Helicopters
Bell 407 – 6 Passenger Helicopter
Seating is typically 5 in the Main Cabin. 3 forward facing and two flying backwards. There is also one passenger seat in the front. This is not really an ideal layout for a helicopter as one person has to sit in the middle and one will be up front on their own, albeit with the best view of all and access to the rear it does feel a bit lonely up front. It can be great for families as you take over the cabin and nervous a kid can ride in the middle seat between his parents.
Bell 206b – 4 Passenger
Seating in the 206b is similar but this time it loses the 2 rear facing seats. So it’s thee across the back and one up front. Again this can prove Idea and the middle seat occupant can feel short-changed but in reality, if you are a couple you will be seated together to can get close to look out of the window. It can also be a problem as the person riding up front can feel quite distant from the rear seat occupant. Most of the time the flights will be conducted in the Bell 407 however.
Liberty Helicopters is one of the Largest companies in the area with over 30 years of experience in Helicopter tours. Their large fleets are used extensively for charters and they know the area back to front. They only offer two of the tree regular tours and operate mainly AStar aircraft. Not the most modern helicopter but an absolute workhorse that has millions of safe service hours the world over and is very well suited to tourist service.
Tours Available – Links and prices need updating
- Duration: 12-15 Minutes
- Price: $224 + $40 Heliport Fee
Basically the same tour as the Classic Manhatten Helicopter tour from Manhatten Helicopters.
- Duration: 18-20 Minutes
- Price: $309 + $40 Heliport Fee
Basically the same tour as the DeluxeManhatten Helicopter tour from Manhatten Helicopters.
Aircraft – Liberty Helicopters
AS350 AStar – 6 Passenger Aircraft
The Layout of the AStar is perfect for Tourist flights. The four across the back and two in the front is perfectly suited for even number groups. 3 couples will always be seated together giving you lots of personal space and your own window. Of course, the couple that gets to ride up front has won the seating lottery but the seating is staggard so everyone gets a view out the front as well as the side window.
This is a fairly old helicopter model but it has served as a workhorse of the helicopter industry for decades. They are incredibly reliable and a real favourite of pilots.
Another long established NY helicopter company. Their fleet is more modern than the competitors and handily include the Heliport fees in the price so are actually very competitively priced despite them appearing to be more expensive. With the fact, the tours are basically the same and the prices all very similar there is not much separating the different companies. As such we normally prefer HeliNY simply for the luxury of the more modern helicopters on offer.
- Duration: 12-15 Minutes
- Price: $249 fees included
Basically the same tour as the Classic Manhatten Helicopter tour from Manhatten Helicopters.
- Duration: 17-20 Minutes
- Price: $299 fees included
Basically the same tour as the Deluxe Manhatten Helicopter tour from Manhatten Helicopters.
- Duration: 30 Minutes
- Price: $389 fees included
Basically the same tour as the VIP Manhatten Helicopter tour from Manhatten Helicopters.
A bit of an oddball this one. It doesn’t fit in any of the above categories and flys out of Linden Airport =, the only tour to do so. It doesn’t even appear on the HeliNY website. But it’s available as an option on the New York Explorer Pass and on Viator. It appears incredible value a 20 Minute flight at NIGHT for only $244 inc Fees. The Downside is you need to head out to Linden Airport and won’t get back into Manhattan until late but it is one of the best value helicopter tours we can find. A small part of the tour will be eaten by the journey time to Manhattan it then follows the classic route but with New York lit up in its evening finary it’s a tour you won’t forget in a hurry!
Aircraft – HeliNY
Bell 407GX – 6 Passengers
The 407GX is a modern and updated version of the 407b operated by Manhatten. To the untrained eye the aircraft is pretty similar and to the passenger, there is not much difference. It is the same cabin layout and the window layout is identical. But the engine and avionics are vastly improved. and this gives added comfort and safety. These are very modern helicopters and have all the fancy safety features you could wish for in a top of the range passenger chopper.
AIRBUS EC130T2 – 6 Passengers
The Eurocopter is another very modern well-equipped helicopter. The successor to the AStar the EC130 is a fantastic tourist carrier. Like the AStar, it is 4 across the back and two in the front. But it has far superior Avionics and bigger windows, individual seats and more raised rear seats giving rear passengers a better view. It is our favourite tourist helicopter and would choose the EC130 if there is an option.
One thing you may have noticed is all the above flights are all very similar. Similar Prices, Same location, Same Tours. They even have very similar names for the tours. It’s all a bit closed market. There is little to recommend between the companies. And that’s no bad thing really the tours on offer are really incredible.
But FLYNYON is a little bit different. Actually a lot different. They are the only company that makes door optional! Now if the thought of having no doors, part dangling hundreds of feet above the Hudson leaves you in a cold sweat then maybe give this option a miss. Why No doors? For one it’s a real thrill a proper adrenaline ride. For another Those pesky doors really do limit both the view and the photo opportunities.
Get rid of the doors and you ramp up the fun and get the absolute best photo ops imaginable. This really is THE way to see New York! Your Instagram will never be the same again!
The Downside is you will need to head to New Jersey, which isn’t too bad but the flight time to get to the city means you spend some of you incredibly precious flight time
We Recently took a Doors Off Trip with FlyNYON and it was Staggering! Read about it here and check out the video below!
Unlike most companies the tours are not tied to a set route, The pilot works your route out beforehand so you can see the sights you really want to see.
NYC Experience – Doors OFF
- Duration – 16-19 Minutes
- Price – From $249
Really this flight is too short. With the Base of FlyNYON being in Kearny NJ the flight time to and from the City eats up too much of the flight. We would only really recommend upgrading to the Classic
NYC Classic – Doors OFF
- Duration – 30-33 Minutes
- Price – From $499
The Classic is the Tour that made FlyNYON’s mark. This is a staggering flight right over the heart of the City getting you up close and personal to every land mark and sight you could want.
NYC Intro – Doors ON
- Duration – 12-15 Minutes
- Price – From $129
Like the Doors Experience, From Kearny this is just too short a flight.
NYC VIP – Doors ON
- Duration – 24-27 Minutes
- Price – From $249
The Doors are on but the route and flight planning are still the same as other FlyNYON trips so you get much closer to the landmarks that the basic sight seeing tours above.
NYC Grand – Doors ON
- Duration – 36-39 Minutes
- Price – From $399
Like the VIP But longer with more time above the City to really soak in the sights.
As you can see any helicopter tour is a serious outlay! So saving money on these tours is a big priority for most. Fortunately, there are few ways to bring the cost down and get better value. It will still be a big outlay but you can reduce the costs especially when combining with other tours and activities. One of the biggest saving can be with an attraction Pass.
These codes are often just listed on their page or keep an eye on their Instagram and they normally offer a code for 40-50% off. This puts their prices in direct competition with the Rivals with the much better flight paths included.
If you can put up with the trip to Kearny NJ.
NYC Helicopter Flight and Statue of Liberty Cruise – $279 (Fees Included)
A great little package that gets you out on the water to see the Lady Liberty up close and personal while enjoying a free drink (Champagne or Mimosa). The Helicopter tour is the New Yorker from HeliNY.com normally $249 so the cruise is only $30 extra.
All Around Town Tour + Liberty Helicopter Tour (The Big Apple) – $249 + $40 Heliport Fee
Another nice little package tour. Here you get the Bigg Apple Tour from Liberty Helicopters ($224) plus a 48 hour Hop on Hop of bus tour ($59). That’s a great saving and the bus tours loaded with tons of extras too.
• FREE Night Tour to see the city lights
• Hop on Hop Off Sightseeing Ferry cruise
• Bus tour narration available in 11 different languages
• Included discount card features savings at 100+ restaurants, attractions and shows
Its a pretty good deal and is perfect for a short trip to NYC and will really give a great taste of the highlights of the City.
City Passes are a great way to save money and they can also help save when doing a helicopter tour. It’s not as simple as they are included on the pass (we wish) but they can give you access to big savings.
New York Explorer Pass
Save 20% when adding a Helicopter tour to the Build your Own Pass. When using the Build Your Own Pass you simply add whatever attractions you like and then save 20% on all of them. This can add up to some big saving. Choose between the New Yorker and the City Lights Tour.
The NEW YORK PASS
If you have a New York Pass you can Save 15% on Liberty helicopter tours. It’s not a huge saving but it all adds up.
One question often asked is are helicopter tours safe. It is a really tough question to answer. As really, honestly the answer is no. Nothing is completely safe and a helicopter tour is a higher risk activity than the operators want you to think. These tours do on rare occasions have accidents. Very recent history shows tragedy can and does strike.
But, It is about how risk adverse you are. It is impossible to remove all risk from life. Most accidents in the USA occur at home or on the roads. So you might die if you stay at home or you might die if you leave! As we said Helicopter crashes do occur. But so do car crashes, often in fact, but we still get in our cars and taxis and unregulated Ubers? Buses crashes happen but no one queries if you should get on a bus. Commercial Planes crash but that does not stop us from jumping on a plane. And as we said in-home accidents kill thousands every year in the US, but we still err…live in houses! in 2017 over 5,000 peopla died from Choking to death! Even President Bush nearly fell victim to the lethal pretzel!
What we focus on are the incredible Safety precautions the Helicopter companies and Authorities employ to ensure that the flights are as safe as possible. Crash rates are on the decrease and every accident that does occur usually results in a change in procedure and the rules to rule out it happening again. We mentioned previously in this post about the Fixed routes. This is no accident. the FAA Implemented strict flight path rules in and around the Hudson air corridor to almost rule out any chance of a collision. All the helicopters fly the same routes at the same height with set separation to ensure they all know exactly where each other is at any time. This was introduced following a failure in that regard and a collision did occur. So they identified the problem and fixed the issue.
All Pilots are very very extensively trained (Trust me as trainee pilot (fixed wing) how rigorous the training is) They are hugely experienced and trained extensively on all aspects of flight and flight safety. You couldn’t be in better hands. You can’t say the same when you jump in that Uber!
Overall, It would be wrong for us to state that aircraft tours are safe. The last 15 years have seen 3 accidents in and around New York out of hundreds of thousands of flights. The odds are really in your favour and it’s not something we personally worry about but if you are very sensitive to risk it may be an activity to avoid. For us, life is for living and the minuscules odds of an incident occurring is worth the huge life experience of a helicopter tour. Life is very short and it’s made for living. We would rather go down in a chopper over new york than choking on a Pretzel!
However, everyone has their own perception of acceptable risk and for many, the odds may be too high. It is more the perception of danger and the perceived tragedy of dying on holiday that can make it feel an unacceptable risk.
Flights will be cancelled if the weather is sufficiently poor that the flight would be unsafe. This can involve low visibility, high winds, Snow, Rain and anything that would effect the safety of the flight. The criteria are pretty low. and lots of flights are cancelled. The upside of this is in most conditions that are deemed unsafe the flight would be pretty unenjoyable anyway. If the winds are high enough to cancel the flight would be terrible bumpy and uncomfortable and flying in low vis while dangerous is also very dull. Clouds are not very interesting on the inside!
Different companies have different policies so check carefully what their policy is before booking. Most try to rearrange first and only offer a refund if they unable to work a reschedule out. Others simply only offer to reschedule and no refunds a worry on short trips! FlyNYON do not offer refunds but offer insurance to refund in case of bad weather, but will reschedule. New York is susceptible to storms at any time of the year so bad weather cannot be ruled out so make sure you check. We recommend booking early in the trip. No one wants to cancel and get a refund (why book in the first place) so a reschedule is always best and doing the flight early maximises changes of another possibility!
Most of the tours above fly from the Downtown Manhatten Heliport. This is located at the Southern tip of Downtown Manhatten Island. Easily reachable via Subway or Taxi/Uber and normally on the Hop On Hop Off Bus routes. The Main advantage of tours leaving here is the Instant Gratification. Within seconds of taking off the Skyline is there right in front of you. So ALL of your time is spent taking in the Manhatten Skyline.
Only the Doors Off operator FLYNYON operates out of Kearny Heliport. While this is a chore to get to and part of your precious flight time is spent getting TO Manhatten its worth the effort if incredible photography and adrenaline-fueled experiences are your things. If they didn’t offer something so different and appealing we would advise avoiding them but as it’s so unique if it appeals it’s well worth the effort. Use the NJ Transit (Penn Station to Newark Penn Station) to get to the Heliport you will need a Taxi to get you to the Hanger on 78 John Miller Way.
The City Lights tour also operates from New Jersey but from the Linden Airport. The chance to see the City in its nocturnal glory along with the fantastic value this tour offers may make it well worth the effort to get to NJ. Again use the NJ Transit to get there from Penn Station getting of at Linden.
Have Your Say
Let us know in the comments below if you have done an NYC Helicopter tour? Which company did you go for? What tour route? did you enjoy the experience? Please let us know how you got on. We always love to hear from you all. And as ever if you have any questions Just drop us a comment below.