Sure you can see the Chicago skyline from rooftop bars or the Centennial Wheel at Navy Pier, but helicopter rides in Chicago offer a vantage point that is tough to beat! Helipads are located just minutes from the downtown Chicago, so you don’t have to travel far to take an aerial tour of a lifetime. Whether you visiting Chicago or you live here, you do not want to miss the breathtaking views of Chicago from a chopper!
Your Guide to Helicopter rides in Chicago
I am sharing this guide to help ensure you plan an epic helicopter ride in Chicago. When you are spending anywhere between $100 to $1,000 (depending on the length and type of flight you choose) for a few incredible minutes in the air, you want everything to be perfect.
I have done research on the helicopter tour companies in Chicago and have also taken two flights. In this post, I’m sharing what I’ve learned as well as detailing one of my flights with Chicago Helicopter Experience. Hopefully, I answer all your Chicago helicopter tour questions and help you make the most of your experience!
I also put together a short video of our flight experience too. I hope you’ll watch it and subscribe to my Youtube Channel for more Chicago videos.
WATCH THE VIDEO:
Chicago Helicopter Tour Companies
The first step is selecting a helicopter tour company. There are four main companies running aerial tours of Chicago that takeoff not far from downtown. All of them are highly rated, but here is a quick break down with some of their differentiators.
- Vertiport Chicago (1339 S Wood St Suite A,) – This company offers flights in an Enstrom 480B helicopter which has windows below, above, and all around. They also offer a “Pilot Experience” where you share the cockpit and controls to create your own adventure. A standard Chicago helicopter tour lasts 12-15 minutes and costs $165.
- Rotor Zen Helicopters (1339 S Wood St) – You’ll find some of the most competitive rates for tours from Rotor Zen Helicopters. Prices start at just $69 for a 10-minute aerial tour of Chicago. A 30-minute helicopter tour costs $229. Tours depart just west of downtown Chicago.
- Chicago Helicopter Experience (2420 S Halsted St.) – The private heliport is located minutes from downtown Chicago. The company’s state-of-the-art helicopters seat up to six people. A standard ride lasts about 15 minutes, and prices start at $158. CHE will create custom experience packages, such as flights with no doors for additional costs.
- Chicago Aerial Tours (6150 S Laramie Ave.) – This is one of the longest-running helicopter tour operations in Chicago. Chicago Aerial Tours has more than a decade of experience in Chicago helicopter rides. It is located near Midway Airport. Prices start at $167 for a 15-20 minute ride.
I was offered a complimentary ride with Chicago Helicopter Experience (CHE), so my husband and I flew with CHE. Our experience with the company was great, and the flight was a highlight of the summer! I looked at the online reviews for the other companies, and it seems you can’t go wrong! They are all highly rated.
All of the helicopter tour companies I listed above are located near downtown Chicago or at Midway Airport. The Chicago Helicopter Experience helipad is located in Bridgeport, which is just south of Pilson and only minutes from downtown Chicago. My husband Kam and I took an Uber from River North and 15 minutes later, we arrived at CHE. So easy! If you decide to drive, there is plenty of free parking.
Checking in before the Ride
Once inside, we checked in with our IDs and stepped on a scale to get weighed. Seats are assigned based on weight, so everyone has to do this. Next, a staff member handed us a buzzer to notify us when it was time for a brief orientation. Then she pointed out the free lockers to store our stuff.
What to Bring
Be sure to bring your government-issued ID because you’ll need it to check in. You are welcome to bring phones and cameras on the helicopter but no bags are allowed. You can store bags and coats in the free lockers. (I’m pretty sure the other companies have free lockers but be sure to double check when you book.)
I left my jacket in the locker because the helicopters are climate-controlled, and the doors and windows are closed during the flight. CHE does offer helicopter rides without doors. The rides without doors are typically for photographers and are more expensive. (Doorless rides are not currently listed on the website, but a staff member said it’s $1,000+ for four seats.) Definitely, dress warmly if you book a ride without doors.
Side note: you can see video of my doorless helicopter tour with CHE. That was a separate flight where I took over their Instagram account for the flight.
INSTASTORIES VIDEO: CHICAGO HELICOPTER RIDE WITH NO DOORS!
While you Wait
We were asked to arrive 30-40 minutes before our scheduled flight. Since check-in was a breeze, there was time to chill out in CHE’s Customer Experience Center. It’s a 6,000 sq. ft building with some interesting helicopter history on the walls and games like Jenga to keep you entertained. There are also large windows overlooking the helipad so you can watch the helicopters land and take off. Seeing the other flights got my husband and I pumped up for our ride!
It wasn’t long before our buzzer went off, signaling it was our turn! Kam and I made our way to the orientation room with the four other people in our group. The staff assigned seats in order to properly distribute the weight.
At Chicago Helicopter Experience, the luxury helicopters have six passenger seats. There are two seats in front with the pilot and four seats in the back. Everyone in our group got to sit next to their significant other. Kam and I lucked out and were assigned the seats up front with the pilot. I imagine the seats we got provide the best view, but it sounds like every seat has a great view so I don’t think it really matters that much.
By the way, many of the other tour companies offer rides in helicopters with fewer seats, which makes it more affordable to book the entire chopper for a private experience. For example, Rotor Zen Helicopters offers private helicopter rides for two that last 15 minutes for only $349.
You are welcome to take photos when you’re on the helicopter, but photos are prohibited while you are on the tarmac. Kind of a bummer because of course, everyone wants that shot in front of the chopper! Don’t worry though, a CHE staff member takes a photo of each person or group before they are escorted to their seat. The photos are printed by the time the flight is over and available for purchase.
Heads up, it’s super windy standing by the helicopter so you might want to wear a ponytail if you have long hair. Also, if you wear lightweight, loose pants like I did, you might end up with a large FUPA in your photo. Thank you, wind. So sexy. 😉
Pro tip: If you do not want to pay extra for the official photo, you might have time to take a photo while you are waiting to step onto the tarmac. Photos are allowed behind the gate, so you may be able to get your own shot with the helicopter in the background while you wait to board. See below for the photo my husband took of me on his iPhone. The photo above is the one the staff member took of both of us.
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After the crew escorts you to your assigned seat, they will hook you up with a headset and a safety harness. The headset has a voice-activated microphone which quiets the ambient noise and lets the pilot and passengers communicate. By the way, before you step onto the tarmac, you go through a brief orientation, so you know the rules and expectations. Once we were all buckled in, our pilot, Bethany, got on the microphone and said, “Welcome to my office!” She had quite the view! Bethany provided a smooth ride and also served as a super fun tour guide throughout the helicopter ride. I truly felt in good hands with our pilot, Bethany.
Chicago Landmarks Along the Tour Route
The tour starts south of Soldier Field and you soar along the coast over Lake Michigan north to Belmont Harbor. Along the way, you will get a bird’s eye view of the stunning skyline and the Chicago landmarks. All of the Chicago helicopter companies in the area seem to take the same or similar route during their standard tour (~15 minutes). Below are ten of the landmarks we saw during our sunset flight with Chicago Helicopter Experience. Our pilot, Bethany, provided commentary and pointed out landmarks throughout the flight, helping to create a memorable experience. You are guaranteed to get an incredible view of Chicago.
- Soldier Field
- Museum Campus
- Buckingham Fountain
- Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower)
- Millennium Park
- Chicago River
- Navy Pier
- John Hancock Center
- North Avenue Beach
- Lincoln Park Zoo
The video and photo opportunities are endless! However, you know when you take 2,000 photos on vacation, and then those photos just sit on your iPhone taking up space? You don’t want to do that. You want to enjoy the ride, and trust me, it goes by so fast! Consider this little photography/videography plan, so you can capture the gorgeous views and actually enjoy the experience. I’m going to share with you the four shots you need and the best time to capture them.
First, let’s talk about timing. As you can see from the photo above, the flight goes north up the coast. Half of the helicopter ride, you’ll have Lake Michigan outside of your window. Beautiful, but not the best photo opportunities of the trip, IMO. The other half of your ride, you’ll have the skyline outside your window. That is when you can get great cityscape shots! So refrain from going trigger crazy when you have Lake Michigan out of your window. Take that time to soak in the views!
Once you are positioned for the best shots, capture the remaining shots on your list. Then put the camera down and be present.
Four Types of Helicopter Photos
- Photo in front of the helicopter – As mentioned above, you’ll have a fellow passenger take this shot before stepping onto the tarmac or you can buy the official photo that a crew member takes.
- Selfie on board the helicopter with your headset on. – If you can get a selfie with the city outside your window, great. Otherwise, get this shot out of the way, when you have Lake Michigan out of your window.
- Landscape shots. – I love the aerial shot over Millennium Park and the shot of the city when the helicopter curves around Soldier field.
- Context shots. – For example, show the dashboard with the skyline in the background, or place your feet in a shot looking over the city.
During my flight, I sat on the right side of the chopper. That meant I had Lake Michigan outside of my window for the first half of the flight. Nonetheless, as soon as we took off, I got so excited I started snapping away. Then I told myself to chill the eff out. 🙂 The best shots would be on my way home.
In fact, I think one of the coolest photo opportunities is in the last minute or so of the trip (if your sitting on the right side of the chopper. When the helicopter makes the turn heading west back to the helipad, you get Soldier Field in the foreground and the Chicago skyline in the background. I snapped the photo below on my iPhone.
When to go
Our pilot said that flying at sunset was the best time to take a helicopter tour. That is when we took our flight, and I will say, the lighting was gorgeous! The sky was pinkish purple and it made for beautiful photos. The pilot said night tours are fantastic too, but you lose some of the detail of the Chicago skyline. Honestly, I think whether you go day or night, you will get incredible views.
As a reminder, the helicopters are climate controlled and you fly with the doors closed, so the temperature onboard is comfortable year round. Going over the winter holiday would be neat because you can see the city all lit up!
A few clouds or light rain likely won’t be an issue, but the weather does need to cooperate for you to take flight. In the event of inclement weather, your helicopter tour company will contact you at least an hour and a half before your flight. If you are wondering if the weather will be an issue, go ahead and give your company a call for an update. If your helicopter tour is canceled, you can reschedule your flight at no cost.
How To Book A Helicopter Ride in Chicago
You can book a Chicago helicopter ride online, by phone or in person. Walk-in appointments are welcome, but a same-day seat on a chopper isn’t guaranteed. Try to book your flight in advance for a smooth experience.
- Chicago Helicopter Experience
- Day Tour – $158 per person
- Night Tour – $178 per person
- Rotor Zen Helicopters
- Private Tour for two – $349
- 15-minute tour – $149
- Vertiport Chicago
- 15-minute tour day or night – $165
- Chicago Aerial Tours
- 15-20 minute tour – $167
Deals & Groupons For Chicago Helicopter Rides
Let’s be real, a Chicago helicopter ride isn’t cheap. I gathered some discounts for you to making flying high above the city more affordable. These Groupons were active at the time I published this post. However, if these links no longer work, be sure to do a quick Groupon and/or Google search for discounted tickets. You can also call the tour company and see if they have any discounted or last-minute pricing. For example, CHE encourages people to call them directly at (312) 967-8687 for weekly discounts on select tours.
- Ultimate Helicopter Tour Package for Two – $336 (20% off)
- Night-Time Helicopter Tour for Two – $320 (10% off)
- Daytime Helicopter Tour for Two – $284 (10% off)
- 30-minute Helicopter Tour with Fireworks Show (seasonal) – $320 ($80 off)
- Premiere Helicopter Tour for one – $169 (8% off)
- Helicopter Tour – $149 (Use an active Groupon promo code for discount)
Special Helicopter Experiences
Some of Chicago’s helicopter tour companies will work with you to create special, custom experiences. Chicago Helicopter Experience has a few premiere experiences listed on their website, but if you have something in mind, don’t hesitate to reach out. They will likely work with you! Here are some of the special flights you can arrange with local companies.
- Fireworks tours: Reserve the best seats for one of Chicago’s summer fireworks shows! These special rides last 30-minutes and allow you to see Chicago’s firework show from the sky. Fireworks take place Wednesdays and Saturdays between Memorial day to Labor Day. (Check out this post: Things to do on a Wednesday in Chicago)
- Chicago Helicopter Experience Fireworks Tour: $400 per person
- Vertiport Chicago Fireworks Tour: $999 per flight (up to four passengers)
- Holiday lights tour: See the Chicago skyline illuminated with holiday lights! The glow from Lincoln Park Zoo’s Zoo lights and Navy Pier is magical!
- Chicago Helicopter Experience: $178 per person
- Proposal or romance packages: Want to pop the question? Most companies will work with you to make the moment special. Think champagne, chocolate, and capturing it on camera!
- Vertiport Chicago: $600
- Chicago Helicopter Experience: Contact CHE for pricing.
- Cubs fan – Fly to Wrigley Field during a 20-minute helicopter tour of Chicago.
- Rotor Zen Helicopters: $109
I hope you get to experience a helicopter tour in Chicago! Big thanks to Chicago Helicopter Experience for the complimentary flights.
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