Taking a Helicopter Transfer from Nice to Monaco

Jun 20, 2015

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On my recent trip to Monaco (to accept an award on behalf of a youth group in Ghana that won Peace Jam’s One Billion Acts of Peace Service Project of the Year), I wanted a transfer from Nice Airport (NCE) directly to my hotel in Monaco. The distance is roughly 18 miles, but the trip length depends greatly on which mode of transportation you choose — and in the gorgeous, popular French Riviera, you’re spoiled for choice. I chose what initially seemed like the fastest route: by helicopter!

Up, up and away!
Up, up and away!

Starting from the low end, you can take the Nice Airport Express bus (Line 110) that runs an Airport-Monaco-Menton route and costs €20 (roughly $22.50) one-way. If you prefer to take a private car, know that there’s no Uber service (except during the Cannes International Film Festival) and a taxi can cost you anywhere from €50-90 ($56-101) depending on traffic and which company you choose. Should this be your choice, look for the taxi stand just outside the airport.

I was staying at Le Méridien Beach Plaza in Monaco, and the hotel’s transfer service is a Mercedes S class at €160 ($180) or a Mercedes E class at €130 ($146) each way, with a supplemental charge of €20 ($22.50) from 8 pm to 8 am (each way). Per Méridien‘s concierge, “The driver will welcome you by the arrival gate with a board and drive you in about 40 minutes to the hotel. You will pay directly to the driver by major credit card or cash.”

Another option — and the one I chose for my trip — is to transfer by helicopter. It’s a seven-minute ride and costs €165 ($187) per person each way. Overall it was cool, but I found it to be less fabulous than you might think.

First, you hook up with the service only after you’ve cleared immigration at NCE (if you’re arriving from outside the EU). At the time of our arrival, immigration was a nightmare, as there was only one person handling our entire Delta flight as well as other flights that had arrived at the same time. It would be fantastic if the transfer service could whisk you off to a dedicated line to clear immigration, but I’m dreaming, I know.

Once you’re through customs and done with baggage claim, you exit the airport to the left and go to the heli-transfer terminal.

    The welcome desk at Nice Airport.
The welcome desk at Nice Airport

Again, while this is fine in theory, in practice it’s a bummer because you have to clear security yet again. Also, in my experience French metal detectors are crazy sensitive, more so than anywhere else in the world. I have a metal bracelet that doesn’t set off any other detector on the planet, but it rings the alarm every time I’m in France; I always wind up taking everything off, even my belt, and the bracelet still sets it off.

Once inside the terminal there’s a fairly spartan waiting area; it’s more like a room that keeps you from waiting outdoors, as there’s not even water available.

The heli-transfer service runs every half-hour, so we had to wait 15 minutes in this bare, anonymous room. Then they took us in a van to the helicopter landing pad, which is right on the runway; it was really cool to see planes taking off so close — a real treat for an aviation geek like me.

    Just me, my buddy Jaime, our luggage, and our awaiting chariot!
Just me, my buddy Jaime, our luggage, and our awaiting chariot!

Helicopters actually make me a bit nervous, but the flight itself was simple, safe and quick. It was just me and my friend Jaime, so they didn’t have any issues with fitting our luggage. Even on a windy, overcast day, the ride was still a beautiful from start to finish.

    Taking off from Nice.
Taking off from Nice

We flew low and followed the coast the whole time, and there’s nothing quite like the dramatic views you’ll have of the Côte d’Azur.

Coming in to Monaco.
Coming in to Monaco

Once we landed, even though there were only two of us, it still took 10 full minutes to get our luggage before being escorted to a jam-packed shuttle van. Luckily, though, it was a 10-minute ride from there to our hotel in a van packed with passengers and babies from other helicopters.

On the return trip I opted for the hotel’s car service, which took 32 minutes from the door of Le Méridien Beach Plaza to the airport. It was much quicker, easier and cheaper than the helicopter. For me, the hurry-up-and-wait nature of the transfer — including going through security, lots of waiting and then a ride on a crowded shuttle — really didn’t save that much time.

    After landing in Monaco, right next to the sea!
After landing in Monaco, right next to the sea!

If you’re going to take a helicopter transfer, do it for the views and not for the convenience. It’s a cool experience, but not nearly as fancy and amazing as they make it out to be.

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