Many bucket lists have the scribbled words "helicopter flight" in big letters. The most remarkable sights of mammoth landscapes such as Victoria Falls in Zambia or the Grand Canyon in Arizona are feasts for the eyes, and the bragging rights are never-ending. Yes, occasionally, there are accidents, and the results are almost always catastrophic. There's little margin for error, but you are more likely to die in a car crash than in a helicopter.
A helicopter tour is not merely for the thrill seekers. It's an incredible experience that should not be missed, even if you feel like your heart is going to jump out of your chest. You'll be up with the birds, enjoying an experience that can't be had when flying in a plane. It will get your adrenalin pumping, and your jaw permanently open in gob-smacking surprise.
Before you make an impromptu purchase of a helicopter tour, do a bit of research on the Internet, and never fly if the weather is terrible. Apart from the fact that you won't see much, this is when accidents do occur.
Before you put your feet in the helicopter:
Choose the helicopter tour company carefully based on either personal recommendations or flying and safety certifications that the company and its pilots hold. Helicopters differ from commercial airlines that have strict guidelines. Check out the particular country's aviation administration qualifications.
Book a morning flight, as there is usually better visibility, and the ride should be smoother than in the afternoon.
It can get cold thousands of feet up in the air, so wear suitable clothing, such as a light jacket and long pants. Dark colors won't reflect so much on the helicopter's windows if you want to take photographs. Leave the dangly jewelry at your hotel, avoid open footwear, and if you have long hair, pull it back and secure it.
It will be noisy, so if you are super sensitive to noise, maybe bring some earplugs. Many helicopters offer headgear that will cancel out most of the sound and allow you to chat with the pilot or other passengers.
Don't carry loose items in your hands, such as keys or a mobile phone, as they could get blown away when you are on board.
If anything blows off into the yonder when you are approaching the helicopter, forget it – never attempt to chase it down.
Listen carefully to the safety instructions given before take-off, and always ask, if you are unsure about anything. Don't zone out, as you might be apt to do when hearing an airplane safety spiel. Remember, there are no air hostesses; if something does go wrong, you need to know what to do in an emergency.
If, by some chance, there's no safety talk given before getting on the helicopter, don't get on. Obviously, the tour company doesn't believe in safety first.
If the weather is bad, don't get on it. Some pilots push the limits because they want to get paid. It's not worth the risk.
Always wait to be escorted by a crewmember when approaching a helicopter. Never walk from the rear, as the pilot will not be able to see you. You don't want to end up as mincemeat by the tail propellers. Helicopters should always be approached from the front on an angle in a crouched down position to avoid the whizzing rotors.
A traditional helicopter uses a regular seat belt. In contrast, specialty flights such as photography tours may use a harness to stop you from falling out of an open doorway. Open door flights are not encouraged and are banned in some countries. Make sure you know how to work your seat belt before going up in the air.
If nerves get the better of you, take a few deep breaths to relax.
While in the air:
Do follow any instructions the pilot may give you and put your seat belt on. The pilot will tell you if you can move around or not. Helicopters need to keep the weight balanced when flying, so stay in your assigned seat, as seating arrangements are based on your weight.
If you want to take photographs and it's an open-door flight, ensure that your camera has a neck strap and use it. Use high-speed settings on your camera. To avoid any window reflections in your photos, hold the camera close to the window, not against it, as you will get vibrations happening.
DO NOT disembark from the helicopter until the pilot tells you it's safe to do so.
DO walk away from the helicopter in a crouch moving to the front of the aircraft.
Above all, enjoy the thrill of taking to the skies when you can peer down on the earth as soaring birds do.