When in Dubai we try Uber’s UberChopper service
There is undeniably something exotic and exclusive about a helicopter ride – zipping between cities in a flash is the ultimate reserve of the rich, jet-setting class. But now it’s possible to book a quick scenic tour over Dubai, almost instantly and on your mobile phone, for just Dh650 a person. Thanks, Uber. Now I can say I’ve been on a chopper.
The whole idea of the UberChopper package is convenience – a driver picks you up from your home, transports you to Atlantis, The Palm, drops you at the helicopter and hangs around to take you home again.
Simply use the Uber app to request a flight time between 9am and 6pm daily. When the booking is accepted, the team will call you to confirm the flight and check a few necessary details, including your weight.
Guests are then sent a special Uber promo code for free pickup and drop-off (available only in Dubai).
I arranged pickup from a hotel in Downtown Dubai. Because time was tight, I was planning to set off 30 minutes before I had to be at the Atlantis helipad, and was told the driver would ring me on arrival.
No such call happened, and when I eventually found the driver, about 25 minutes late – and five minutes before I was meant to arrive – he told me he had been waiting an hour but had not been sent my number. Not a good start – but at least I was riding in a Lexus.
Despite arriving 25 minutes late – just 15 minutes before take-off time – there were no issues at all. Alpha Tours have been running helicopter flights for years now – it’s only the Uber link-up that is new – and so I was quickly bundled into a safety briefing.
There, I was given useful information, including how to climb in and out of the chopper and inflate my life jacket. I was also told that banned items include selfie sticks, cigarettes, scarves and cats, and that I was not to touch any of the aircraft’s controls.
The whistle-stop briefing was, in the one-word assessment of our photographer, “efficient”. After stowing my possessions in a locker and passing through a security scanner, I was escorted to the helicopter with my five fellow passengers and strapped in.
The moment had arrived. Would the next 15 minutes live up to the hype? “Sit back and relax,” said the pilot, introducing himself as Ken.
We were riding in a French-made EC 130 B4, which was off the ground in seconds and soon heading out over the Gulf.
I expecting to feel travel sick. Or excited. Or vertigo. But really it was just like floating through the sky.
Within seconds we were cruising over The World islands, which, from this vantage point, revealed promising signs of new development.
Soon we were skating along the coast, past the billow of the Burj Al Arab and over the new seashell-shaped island emerging off Jumeirah. In the distance, the spikes of Sheikh Zayed Road poked through the haze, looking like toy blocks that could be picked up and moved around.
Soon we banked back around, retracing our steps, cruising along the coastline, then lurched down towards The Palm, spread out like a floating space station below. It was all over so quickly.
Booking the same sightseeing flight directly with Alpha Tours costs Dh795 – so the UberChopper offers the double whammy of a better price and the added convenience of transportation there and back.
Chopper rides for all? Not quite, but it does mark a welcome democratisation of the skies.
• A 15-minute helicopter ride through the Uber app costs Dh650 per person, or Dh530 per person for groups of six or more
Updated: April 13, 2016 04:00 AM