So you're convinced... a helicopter tour is in the works. There's definitely some tips and suggestions we can share, as we've been on our fair share of helicopter rides in Hawaii. We've flown with the doors on and with them off. We've flown in lots of different types of aircraft, and we've seen a lot of amazing things from the lava at Pu`u O`o on the Big Island of Hawaii to the dozens of waterfalls tucked into Wai`ale`ale crater on Kauai. Now we'll share some of our experiences and tips with you through 10 quick tips.
2.) Try and fly at the right time of day. Typically, late morning or early in the afternoon are the best times to fly in Hawaii. Flying at those times will mean limited shadows and more brilliant colors with the sun overhead. The one exception to this rule may be on Kauai. Since Na Pali is on the west side of the island where the sun sets, flights in the afternoon can be incredible along this stretch of coast as the valleys are lit up by the afternoon sun.
3.) Fly early in your trip. Don't wait until the end of your trip to make the flight, do it early. We recommend this because you'll get a good overview of the island BEFORE you see it down on the ground (or by sea). It'll help you become geographically aware of where things are located too.
4.) Make sure you do price comparison, especially online. The majority of companies will offer generous discounts for booking directly with them online.
5.) Select a company with a good safety record. Tours that advertise they are certified as an FAA Part 135 Air Carrier are a great choice. This certification means that the company is subject to much higher standards than their general aviation counterparts. If you're ever in doubt about a companies record, then ask them flat out, "How many SAFE flying hours does my pilot have?" This may not exactly be your favorite task when thinking about taking helicopter flight, but it's important to do your homework. For those so inclined, you can also do a bit of research by looking up aviation accidents with the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board). Make sure you select Helicopter as the category of aircraft and that you only search for the state of Hawaii. The results pages will help you clarify which company was involved in each accident. Don't let this bullet scare you off, we're just saying it's better to be safe than sorry.
6.) Following up on the previous bullet, make sure you pay attention during the safety lesson before the flight. You may learn something important, and though it's highly unlikely you'll need to use anything you learn during the briefing, again, better safe than sorry. If you have questions, this is the time to ask the operator. Don't be shy, they've heard it all and will be happy to answer your questions.
7.) If you plan to take photographs on the flight then make sure to wear darker clothing (preferably without any patterns) to reduce glare on the windows. If you're flying without the doors, make sure you have a neck strap and keep your camera safely around your neck during the flights. Helicopters can bank suddenly and you don't want to loose your prize camera out the open door. Set your speed settings to high, as you'll typically be moving at a good rate of speed throughout the tour. And while we're on the topic of cameras and photos - don't take the entire tour through your viewfinder, you'll really miss out on the experience. Take a snap shot here and there but let your eyes soak it all in first hand. We spent our first three or four flights glued to our cameras - but only when we set the camera down for a bit did we really experience the tours. Trust us on this one!
8.) If you get motion sickness easily, you may want to strongly consider taking medication prior to your flight. You can also use one of the other methods available (like sea bands) if you don't feel like taking a medication that might make you drousy. While most of the helicopter rides we've been on have been smooth, sometimes the wind can make for an extra bumpy ride.
9.) Be careful selecting what you wear the day of your flights. You'll be wearing headphones during the flight, so earnings might not be a good idea; leave those in the car. If you're flying with the doors off, be mindful of what could blow out of the helicopter (hats, loose shoes, etc). Also, for the doors off flights, definitely try and wear a coat as it can get very chilly in the aircraft as you move around the island, not to mention wet in places.
10.) Select the right island to tour. Helicopter rides can be expensive, so selecting the right island is important. If you're only visiting one island, then you don't have to worry about this. But if you're island jumping, you should know that some islands are better from the air than others. Which islands you say? Here are our favorites in order: Kauai, Big Island of Hawaii, Maui, Oahu, Molokai.