6 Tips for Choosing a Hawaii Helicopter Tour

Six tips for Hawaii helicopter tour

In my opinion, a helicopter tour is much more thrilling than any amusement park ride I’ve ridden. The views are beyond description and there is so much to see. A helicopter tour in Hawaii is an ideal way to see the islands’ cliffs, forests, volcanic shape, beaches and craters. One of the reasons I love Hawaii is the diversity of terrain and by taking a helicopter tour, you can really see that. Before you take a helicopter tour, you should spend some time researching your options online. Here are tips to help you choose the best tour and enjoy it.

1. Make a Safe Choice - Each year, thousands of Hawaii visitors enjoy safe, scenic helicopter tours across the Hawaiian Islands. Before boarding a helicopter, it is important to recognize that there are risks. Accidents are infrequent, but they can and do happen.

How do you make a safe choice? First, choose a helicoptor tour that advertises that they are certified as a FAA Part 135 Air Carrier, which means that the operator is subject to higher standards than general aviation operators.

Next, you might find it helpful to look up accidents from the National Transportation Safety Board.   You can use this query form to search the accidents database.  To get Hawaii results, be sure to select Hawaii as the state and Helicopter as the category of aircraft. The report can be rather cumbersome to review. As you will see from the report, most incidents are nonfatal, thankfully. Several incidents have happened during flight instructor training while no passengers were onboard. Do take note of the “doing business as” column as name changing is a little trick that helicopter tour companies play to try to disguise their safety incidents.

For your reference, I’ve culled through the NTSB helicopter accident report for incidents in Hawaii. The follow list is of all the fatal accidents on sightseeing tours since January 2004:

  • November 10, 2011 – Blue Hawaiian Helicopters tour from Maui to Molokai
  • March 11, 2007 – Inter-Island Helicopters on Kauai
  • March 8, 2007 – Heli-USA Airways, Inc. on Kauai
  • September 23, 2005 – Heli-USA Airways, Inc. on Kauai
  • September 24, 2004 –  Bali Hai Helicopter Tours, Inc. on Kauai

2. Know the Seating Arrangement - Most helicopters used for touring have six passengers with a seating arrangement of two passengers in front and four in the back. That means that two people are going to be stuck in the middle seats in the back and with limited view. A-Star and Eco-Star type helicopters carry six passengers. The Eco-Stars are generally a little nicer than the A-Stars because they offer a bit more room, less noise, and more window space.

Though harder to find, there are some tour helicopter tours that take only four passengers. In that case, all four passengers have a direct window view.

Helicopter tours are best enjoyed if you are enjoying the ride rather than stressing over getting the best photo. For serious photographers, consider getting a window seat in a doors off tour. Without the doors, you don’t have to contend with any refections and distortions through the windows. With the doors off, you’ll get much better photographs, but there’s a bit more of a safety concern.

Helicopter tour companies that we have used with great results are Safari HelicoptersInter-Island Helicopters (four passenger, doors off) and Blue Hawaiian. We took a unique eco-tour with Safari Helicopters and a standard tour with Blue Hawaiian.

When booking, request the front seats as they are the best, but bear in mind that seating will be based on the weight of you and your friend/partner. If you are taking a helicopter tour in Kauai, request the right side because most tours circle the island clockwise and you will be able to get the best view of the Na Pali Coast from the right side.

3. Shop online for best pricing - Most companies offer a nice discount for booking directly with them online.

4. Timing your Tour - If possible, try to book your tour on the first or second day of your trip so that you will gain a better orientation of the island.

5. What to do on the day of your tour:

Do

  • Pay close attention to the safety instructions provided and don’t hesitate to ask questions about them.
  • Wear dark clothing without pattens to minimize the glare on the windows.
  • If you are prone to motion sickness, take medication in advance.
  • Use high speed film/settings for your camera.
  • Hold your camera lens near the window to minimize reflections.

Don’t

  • Wear earrings because they could get in the way of your headphones.
  • Spend too much time looking at the scenery through tiny viewfinder of your camera.

6. Know which islands are the best for helicopter tours. I’m sure helicopter tours of all the islands are quite nice, but if you have a choice go with Kauai or the Big Island. Kauai is my top pick because of the views of Waimea Canyon, the Na Pali Coast, and seeing the remote waterfalls at the Waialeale Crater. The Big Island would be my second pick because of seeing the volcano activity at Kilauea. I have been fortunate enough to enjoy helicopter tours of Kauai, the Big Island, and the Great Barrier Reef. My favorite was the Kauai tour.

I’ll close these tips for finding the best helicopter tours in Hawaii with a few photos from tours helicopter tours I’ve taken in Hawaii.

This photo is of the Na Pali Coast of Kauai. Notice the rainbow:

image

This photo of liquid rock in action was taken at Pu’u O’o. At the time, a helicopter tour was the only way to see any active lava flow.

image

Cliffs of the Hamakua Coast on the Big Island.
Waterfalls along the Kohala Cliffs

Please feel free to add your helicopter tour tips in the comments.


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About Sheila Beal

Sheila Beal is the founder and editor of Go Visit Hawaii. You can connect with Sheila Beal on Twitter, Go Visit Hawaii on Facebook, or Sheila Beal on Google+.

18 comments

  1. Awesome! it seems really interesting, but I think would leave the helicopter dead :-)

  2. The helo tour was the best part of our trip to Oahu. The island greenery and blue ocean comes alive from way up there.

  3. “Don’t spend too much time looking at the scenery through the tiny view of your camera” is good advice. Not only are you missing out on the breadth of the beauty, but you may discover motion sickness that you never knew about!
    Our daughter-in-law realized that she was becoming “uncomfortable” during our helo ride. Once she put the camera down and took a few relaxing breaths, she was fine. I was born and raised on the island; this was my first helicopter tour and I loved it!!

  4. Wow. Thanks for this post. I’ve been to a lot of amusement parks but never have I taken a helicopter ride. (Only in a dream.) It would be amazing to do it for real.

  5. Any thoughts on claustrophobia?

    • Hmmm, CF. I’m not sure about that one. I think that the windows help to keep you from feeling closed in. I would say that if you don’t feel claustrophobic on a small plane, you would most likely not feel claustrophobic on a helicopter. You might want to call one of the helicopter companies in Hawaii and ask them about it. I’m sure they’ve had clients with the same concerns. Hope that helps.

  6. Hi Sheila,

    You blog is simply great and helped me a lot saving many hours to plan my visit to Hawaii in the thanksgiving week. I originally did not plan to go to Kauai but now I am reading your blog on this helicopter tour and I am tempted. Do you think it’s possible to spend a day , flying to Lihue from HNL in the morning around 11:45 AM or earlier , take the helicopter tour 90 Min and back to HNL again in the evening with the 4:00 PM flight ? The Safary helicopter tour departs from Lihue airport, do we need a car there to go to the heliport and comeback to the main airport to catch our flight back ? I will have my son , 4 yrs old and my husband with me, you think 4 yrs old can take the helicopter tour ? Thanks, Mou

    • Hi Mou — I’m excited to hear that you’re finding GoVisitHawaii.com to be useful for your vacation planning!

      I think that it would be possible to get in a nice helicopter tour of Kauai with a quick day trip from Oahu.

      I’m not sure about the minimum weight/age requirements for helicopter tours.

      I recommend you call Safari directly to ask your questions. I’m sure they’ll be glad to assist you with your questions and pick up from the airport. Here’s their toll free number: (800) 326-3356

  7. Oh Wow Sheila, I did not expect so quick reply..can not thank you enough. I called them and sounds like it’s possible !

    Mou

  8. Hi Sheila,
    Is there a particular helicopter company that you would highly recommend, with a nice balance between pricing, as well as the level of safety and satisfaction?

    • Hi Peter — Just my opinion, but from my observation, Safari Helicopters seems to take safety very seriously. I had a chance to talk to the owner one time and I was impressed at how much he stressed safety and how they have a schedule to replace parts before they show wear and tear.

      Safari offers discounts for booking online.

      Hope that helps and that you have a great helicopter tour! Please come back and tell us about your experience.

      • Sheila you are correct! If you type in “helicopter accident hawaii” I don’t see anything negative for Safari helicopters. They have never had a fatal accident. Unlike some companies who just pay alot to advertise that they are the “Best” in the state!

  9. We used Paradise Helicopters when we went to the Big Island! They were great and we did get to see lava! We also stopped in one of the valleys on our way back where we were able to explore and eat fresh tropical fruit right from the earth. It was wonderful!

    You can check it out on my blog

  10. Many thanks Sheila, your Go Visit Hawaii has been a big help. My wife and I are cruising the Hawaiian Islands in this May and have been researching the best option for a Helicopter flight. You have confirmed our choice of Kauai.
    Am also considering the “Entire Kauai Island Air Tour” in a fixed wing AIRVAN GA8 Aircraft of 1 hr duration. It is more economical, but am looking at value for money regardless of cost. Would appreciate any thoughts and comments

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