Should I take a Kauai Helicopter or Airplane Flightseeing Tour?
You’ve decided to take an air tour on your Kauai vacation. So, how do you choose between seeing the island in a helicopter or in an airplane? Honestly, you can’t go wrong, because any tour of Kauai from the air is going to be amazing — but you’re probably wondering: ‘what are the differences between a helicopter tour and an airplane tour?’ In this post we’ll help you understand some of the key differences you can use to choose the type of aircraft that’s right for you: helicopter tour vs airplane tour.
Helicopter Pros and Cons
Helicopter tours are the ‘original Kauai air tours’ and they’ve been a popular visitor activity for decades. Helicopter tour companies saturate the island in advertising and these tours are heavily promoted by activity desks and tour resellers because of larger commissions.
Advantages of a helicopter tour:
- Airspeed: Rotorcraft can fly very slowly, and even hover in place — in between points-of-interest they can fly very quickly (around 150mph).
- Proximity to the landscape: Helicopters can get close to Kauai’s waterfalls and cliffs and maneuver in narrow valleys.
- Exhilaration: The sensation of flight in a helicopter is pretty dramatic. It’s hard to explain the feeling when the aircraft lifts off the tarmac and backs away from the loading zone — it’s not like any other airplane you might have been on.
The down-side to a helicopter tour:
- Tours are expensive: Maintenance costs, fuel, and the base-cost of the aircraft (plus marketing, staff, etc.) make helicopter tours the most expensive visitor activity in Hawaii.
- Fuel consumption: Helicopters will use almost 40 gallons of fuel per hour. This high rate of consumption isn’t great for the environment, and also contributes the high cost of operations.
- Seating configuration: There’s a decent chance you’re going to be seated between other passengers. You’ll still be able to see ‘everything’ because helicopters have large panoramic windows, but if you’re hoping to get some great photos this seating arrangement isn’t optimal. Some companies offer to guarantee a window seat for an additional fee.
- Tour duration: Because of the high cost, helicopter tours are often 10-15 minutes shorter than an airplane tour.
- Passenger weight limits: Weight distribution is an important factor on any aircraft, and especially on helicopters, and for that reason, most tour companies have a 250lb limit.
- Infant passengers: For safety reasons, infants cannot ride on a parent’s lap and must pay for a dedicated seat.
- Motion sickness: A hovering helicopter will often pitch and yaw in Kauai’s tradewinds and that sensation can be unsettling for some passengers. Motion sickness medication (taken well before your flight time) can be effective.
Airplane Pros and Cons
Airplanes have become a very popular air tour option on the island of Kauai in the last decade. Modern aircraft offer a lot of advantages over previous generations of planes, and visitors are discovering that these new-school tours are comparable in many ways, and often, a better ‘fit’ than a ‘chopper’ tour.
Advantages of an airplane tour:
- Unbeatable prices: The lower cost of operations allows airplane tours to be priced much lower than a helicopter tour. Less money, plus a longer tour, adds up to a great value.
- Less fuel = better for the environment: A GA-8 Airvan uses only 16 gallons of fuel per hour which is less than half that of a helicopter.
- Everyone gets a window seat: Almost without exception, the planes used in Kauai air tours have one row of seats on each side of the plane — so every passenger has a window seat.
- A longer tour: Airplanes often offer 65 to 70-minute tours, where a typical helicopter tour is 45-50 minutes.
- No passenger weight limits: Because airplanes have a higher lift to power ratio, they can easily accommodate passengers weighing up to 300 lbs. — with no extra fees.
- Infants fly for free: Like on a traditional airline, the FAA allows ‘lap-infants’ on airplane tours. A big savings if you’re traveling with an infant.
- A more stable platform: While anyone can be susceptible to air sickness on any aircraft, an airplanes’ consistent speed and forward motion are well-tolerated by most passengers.
The down-side to an airplane tour:
- Flight characteristics: Airplanes obviously cannot hover or fly backwards like a helicopter. Airplane tours make up for this by flying slowly, and circling points-of-interest — giving all passengers a chance to view and photograph all that Kauai has to offer.
- Proximity to landmarks: You won’t get to hover right next to a waterfall or negotiate a narrow valley in an airplane. This is a fairly small thing, especially as it relates to photography, since Kauai is an island of ‘grand vistas’ and you have to ‘back up a bit’ to fit the whole scene into your frame. An airplane positions you perfectly to see the entire island below you.