By John Morton
“It’s the most amazing experience you’ve ever had.”
That’ how pilot Mark Montgomery describes his helicopter tours over Siesta Key, and he does so emphatically.
“Even though I go up in the sky over the area all the time, I still get goosebumps. And my customers’ reactions still always amaze me,” he said. “That’s how taken they are.”
His Sarasota Helicopter Tours business, which he started more than a year ago, features trips covering the region. However, Siesta Key is the most popular destination, Montgomery said, and his most common customer is someone who’s either staying or living on Siesta Key.
“People like to get a different perspective of the lay of the land of the place they already love,” he said. “Between the public beach, the Point of Rocks, and then Turtle Beach, is has so many different looks.”
In fact, flying above Siesta Beach so friends and family can wave is a common request, Montgomery said.
“Or they want to fly over their house and some other landmark that’s important,” he added.
With that in mind, he’s willing to customize flights and routes for his customers. Three different packages feature Siesta Key as part of the route — $400 for 30 minutes, $500 for 45 minutes, and $600 for an hour. The longer the trip, typically the larger the diameter of the travel route with the other Sarasota County keys being flyover destinations. These trips depart from Sarasota.
The helicopter holds up to three passengers, and the price is not per-person but rather a flat rate. Guests wear noise-canceling headsets and can either listen to soft music and relax on a guided tour or interact with the pilot to discuss details. All flights are private.
It’s also the customers’ option whether to have the doors on or off. “Most want them off,” Montgomery said. “It’s more exhilarating.”
Montgomery enjoys the thrill just as much. He began flying airplanes at the young age of 18, switching to helicopters three years ago.
“I prefer them because it’s so incredible to be so close and see the beauty of our area,” he said, noting the standard altitude is 500 feet.
Dolphins and sharks out in the Gulf of Mexico are common sights, of course, and customers also like to target sunsets, sunrises, and the occasional holiday lights.
His outings are frequent excursions for birthdays and anniversaries, he added, and interestingly he’s been part of several in-flight marriage proposals.
Has there yet to be a rejection? “Thankfully no, not yet. That would be one long trip home,” he said with a laugh.
As for the typical customer, Montgomery said he gets them from all walks of life.
“I’ve had them as young as 2 and as old as 99,” he said. “It’s something everyone loves.”
To book a flight call (941) 800-1515 or visit Sarasotahelicoptertour.com.