In mid-May I stumbled across an offer by gift experience booking platform IntoTheBlue. The offer seemed almost too good to be true: £59 for a 6-mile helicopter flight with bubbly for two. If you subtract £10 per glass of bubbly, then that’s under £20 per person. Not for an off-peak train ride to Guildford. For a flight in an actual helicopter.
INTO THE BLUE
My experience with IntoTheBlue in the past had neither been brilliant nor particularly bad. Like with all gift experience booking platforms I’ve dealt with (VirginExperienceDays, BuyAGift, LastMinute), the company doesn’t go to extreme lengths to monitor and quality-check the experiences.
It’s what I expect. Where those platforms provide value sometimes (not always), is, by screening and pre-selecting activity providers, by performing basic quality checks, and most importantly: by offering very competitive prices.
At a ridiculously low price like this, I wasn’t expecting every last thing to be perfect. And turned out it wasn’t.
NOT MANY TIME SLOTS AVAILABLE
Partially due to the pandemic, I imagine, there were only about ten dates left for the next five months within a two-hour distance from London. On some of those days there were plenty of 10-minute time slots available, on others just one or two. After checking my diary, I could rule out nine of those dates. I booked a flight for mid-October, at Thruxton Airport, outside Andover, Hampshire. Thruxton would normally be about two hours away, incl. tube, train, and taxi.
Naturally, especially on weekends, trains in Old Blighty are not exactly Swiss clockworks. The trains via the fast route had all been cancelled and the only option left was a 2h10m train ride. Add to that the London underground connection and the taxi ride, and you’ll arrive at just under three hours. The ride back to London was faster at 1h20m. Five hours there and back. At least the tickets, booked well in advance, were affordable, at £24 per person, using our NetworkRail card.
PUMPKIN FIELDS FOR THE GRAMMER-IN-RESIDENCE
We arrived in Andover with two hours to spare and added a visit to a very picturesque nearby pumpkin field, so that our grammer-in-residence could video a few reels. We were lucky to find a taxi driver at Andover station who agreed to do all three legs of our trip. Andover to pumpkin field, pumpkin field to Thruxton Airport, Thruxton Airport back to Andover. Very pleasant guy in his early sixties called Peter. Said he had taken his late mom on a half-hour heli flight from Thruxton for her 85th birthday. Good man.
THRUXTON KART CENTRE
Initially I had planned to race karts at Thruxton Kart Centre, while Ellie was checking out the pumpkins. When I checked online, it turned out that the Centre was closed that day.
Later on we realised that part of the race track goes between the welcome area of the helicopter operator and the landing pad. So it makes sense that there is no karting on days when there are helicopter flights. Otherwise you’d have to cross the track pretty quickly. And pray that those four-wheeled rockets don’t take you out at speeds of up to 100km/h.
EASY TO FIND
Luckily, the helicopter landing site at the airport was easy to find using the google-maps link we had been sent. That said, it took us a little while to actually determine that it was the correct location, because the temporary sign that had been put up was tiny.
From our booking reservation we knew that the official activity provider was going to be Adventure001. Founded in 2002 with over 50 locations across the UK and Ireland, helicopter flights are the activity they are focused on, even though they offer clay pigeon shooting, falconry, and the lot. They have helicopters of their own. However, this particular session was outsourced to Northumbria Helicopters.
Upon arrival we were greeted by Adventure001 staff, who all seemed reasonably well-trained. We were advised that our flight was going to be taking off 25mins later than scheduled. This was fine with us. We walked the short distance over to the airport café and grabbed ham and cheese toasties and two coffees.
When we were back at the landing pad, everything went very quickly. A friendly, humorous instructor gave us a five-minute safety briefing. Then we were immediately escorted to an area about 50 metres from the precise location where the helicopter takes off and lands.
ANYONE WANT TO PAY EXTRA?
There were two groups in front of us. The two of us were joined by two ladies who would take the flight with us. The staff asked if anyone would like to pay extra for the seat next to the co-pilot.
We all declined. With Ellie being female and the youngest at that, the marshal decided that Ellie should get the seat. I felt lucky to get one of the two window seats in the back. One of the two ladies that joined us ended up in the middle seat. The view would still have been somewhat okay’ish, but you definitely want to have a window or the front seat.
HOPPING IN AND TAKING OFF
When the group ahead of us returned, everything went very quickly. As instructed, we walked over to the helicopter, sat down on our seats, clipped in our seat belts. They were double-checked by the two Adventure001 staff members. We put on our headphones, and our pilot welcomed us on board.
LOVE THE IMMEDIACY OF THE FLYING EXPERIENCE
Entirely as expected, and precisely as advised, the six-mile flight itself then lasted for just a few minutes. Ellie & I have both flown in helicopters before and love the immediacy of the flying experience, the quick turns, the switching from fast to mid-air stand-still and back. Everything, really.
IT IS THE REAL THING, EVEN THOUGH VERY SHORT
This flight was no exception. Truth be told, it does of course feel like it’s over very quickly. On the other hand, it is a proper flying experience nonetheless. You do go through quite a few different flying manoeuvres, you do see a fair bit of countryside move past by the windows, it’s definitely the real thing. Throughout the experience we felt safe and comfortable at all times.
BACK AT THE STATION
When we arrived back at Andover train station, Peter gave us a £5 discount on our £75 bill. We insisted on paying the full price. Shortly afterwards we were on our way back to London.
WOULD WE DO IT AGAIN?
Would I recommend this experience? Absolutely. As long as you remember that you paid under £20 for a flight in a helicopter (plus another £10 for bubbly) and as long as you’re willing to be flexible with the dates and times and locations, this is a great deal. Even if we had paid two or two and a half times as much, I’d consider the experience to be 5 out of 5. (If the experience would have cost four times that, 4 x £20 + £10 for bubbly, i.e. £180 in total for two persons, I’d still consider it to be 3 out of 5.)
Looking for more adventure? Check out our posts about our flight in a hot air balloon, our flying lesson on a 1953 Piper Cub, our rides on a jetlev, a flyboard, and a powerboat, or that time we went caving. We’ve also blogged about our fine dining experience near the North Pole (Spitsbergen), our desert camp and camel ride experience in the Sahara, our visit to Frieze London 2021, and our Halloween escape room experience.