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  3. Flying over Kauai: why choose a plane over a helicopter?
Written by Sandrine Updated on 26/02/20

Did you know that it was possible to fly over Kauai in a small plane? Before digging into the matter, we thought that the helicopter was the only way to fly over Kauai. Indeed, the helicopter companies have big means and make a monstrous advertising as soon as you leave the airport in the small booklets full of ads available on all counters, as well as on the big billboards above the carpets where you will wait for your luggage.

Effective. So effective that everyone swears by helicopter companies without knowing that traditional small aircraft companies also offer these activities (we were one of them). 

So when we decided to discover Kauai from the sky, we took the time to do a lot of research on the subject. To tell you the truth, we had never been keen to do this flight over Kauai that we call "tourist trap" before we did it (but that was before!). So we waited for our third visit to the island during the preparation of our guide, to finally test the activity and tell you about it.  And it is a plane company that we finally selected: Wings Over Kauai.

Na Pali coast aeroplane view - Kauai
The famous Nā Pali coast as a whole.

In order to understand the reasons for our choice, I propose to start by listing the advantages and disadvantages of the airplane and the helicopter, and then from there, explain why we think it is better to choose the airplane over the helicopter to discover Kauai from the sky. Finally, I will tell you more about our experience with Wings Over Kauai.

1The pros and cons of the aircraft

Let's start by listing the advantages and disadvantages of the aircraft, knowing that the models used for flights in Kauai are small aircraft that can carry 2 to 6 passengers.

  • Pros
  • Reasonable fuel consumption
  • No central seats (all seats have direct access to a window)
  • Flat and sometimes openable windows (to avoid reflections on photos)
  • Good stability during flight (little chance of getting sick)
  • Comfort on board ( icebox), air conditioning...)
  • Possibility to take young children and babies on board
  • Personalized welcome (few rotations)
  • Attractive price
  • Cons
  • Impossibility to get as close as possible to certain places (cliffs, creeks and waterfalls).
  • No " wow " effect of the helicopter

2The pros and cons of the helicopter

Now let's talk about the helicopter, knowing that the models used at Kauai can carry 2 to 6 passengers (most of them having a configuration with 4 seats in the back).

  • Pros
  • Possibility to get as close as possible to certain places (cliffs, creeks, waterfalls)
  • Panoramic view from the cabin 
  • Possibility of landing at Manawaiopuna Falls, the Jurassic Park Falls (only one helicopter company is allowed to land there, the site being on private property)
  • Possibility to have a helicopter without door on some models (to avoid reflections on photos)
  • Doing your first flight in a helicopter
  • Cons
  • Very high fuel consumption (negative ecological impact)
  • High probability of sitting between two people (on average 1 chance out of 2, unless you pay extra)
  • More likely to get sick (it shakes more than the plane)
  • Some parts of the island are off-limits to helicopters
  • Impossible to take a young child with you
  • Expensive

3Why we chose the plane

Now here are the reasons that tipped the balance in favour of the airplane.

Environmental impact

We believe it is important that the ecological impact of our activities be taken into account in the choices we make. At a time when CO2 emissions are at the heart of our concerns, the best ecological choice here is clearly the airplane with a fuel consumption of about 60L/h or 15.8 gallons per hour (model Gippsland GA-8 Airvan), far ahead of the helicopter with 145L/h or 38.3 gallons per hour (model Airbus AS350). 

Both models have the same transport capacity (7 seats), so we can deduce that the helicopter is 2.5 times more polluting than the airplane!

The assurance of having access to a window

I still had in head the bad memory of a helicopter flight over Manhattan in 2013 where I found myself in a central place in the back of the chopper. Unfortunately, I could only take pictures from a distance, with a zoom lens, stuck between two people. Considering the price paid, the disappointment was immense! We did not want to repeat this disappointment.

The advantage of the aircraft is that 4 of the 6 seats are located on the right side of the aircraft, in a row, the 2 others being on the left side of the aircraft. Moreover the window is wide and flat which allows you to take pictures without too many reflections (I let you judge by yourself on the pictures of this article). 

But you'll tell me that it's possible to have two-seat helicopters or to pay a supplement to have a window. Yes, it is! But in these conditions the prices are soaring, unless you are ready to break the piggy bank to take advantage of it.

Flo on the plane - Wings Over Kauai
Flo looking at the window above the Nā Pali coast.

The possibility of bringing your baby

It was a real relief when we learned that Lena could be brought on board the plane! We knew that only one of us would be able to try the adventure by helicopter, as Lena could not yet be left alone waiting patiently for us. So the solution of the airplane delighted everyone!

And above all the price!

To finish driving the nail in, the price! As a comparison, our flight was $125/person, compared to $270 on average for the helicopter, that is... half the price!

This is because helicopters are much more expensive to maintain and consume much more fuel than airplanes.

The other advantage is that you can easily afford a private flight! For the price of a seat in a 6-seater helicopter, you can afford a private flight for 2 in a Cessna Skyhawk 170, which also has windows that can be opened for photos! Price: 280$ for a 70 minutes flight for two people.

What about the downside?

The main disadvantage of the plane is its inability to get close to the ridges and waterfalls, so we asked ourselves the following question: "Isn't it a handicap not to fly as close as possible to the ridges of the Nā Pali Coast or not to be able to go deep into the heart of the island in the circus of waterfalls?"

Waterfalls near Mount Waiale
Serial waterfalls near Mount Waialeale.

Well, eventually, after you make the flight, the answer's no. Simply because flying close to these natural wonders is indeed very impressive, but it doesn't make sense because you have to step back to measure their size, even if the "wow" effect can be visually impressive. 

So we were able to take pictures all along the flight without needing a wide angle and with the necessary distance that the plane offered us. Finally, as the helicopter is closer to the relief, its path is longer, which forces it to fly faster (we saw several times helicopters passing us to have time to sink in the middle of a ridge, when we already thought that the flight was going fast!).

Na Pali coast aeroplane view - Kauai
Another view of the Nā Pali coast.

4Our feedback with Wings Over Kauai

To make our flight, we then selected Wings Over Kauai (link to book at the end of the article) following their excellent reviews on the internet: they are 1st on Tripadvisor all activities combined in Lihue! The feedbacks being ultra positive, we quickly contacted them and they immediately accepted that we came to test their flight over Kauai, all 3 of them with Lena!

Arrival and pick-up at the airfield

We have an appointment at 10:30 a.m. the next day at Lihue airfield where we were warmly welcomed. We are first weighed with our personal belongings (weight distribution in the plane) and then we are given a short briefing on the usual safety information. Finally, we are explained with the help of a relief map, the route that we are going to take by plane (I welcome this approach which allows us to realize the places that we are going to fly over in advance).

We are then given our life jackets (the always so reassuring thing in a plane ^^) and go to the tarmac where our pilot is waiting for us.

The time to take a break for a small souvenir photo (the concept is great and the two photos taken are sent for free by email at the end of the flight), here we are to take a seat in the small plane. We will finally be only the 3 of us to embark with the pilot, the 2 other people who had to join us having had a last minute impediment not allowing them to come with us (we met them at the airfield). 

Smartrippers in front of the plane - Wings Over Kauai
Our family picture before we left.

Flo is sitting next to the pilot at the front of the plane, as for me, I sit two seats behind him, to have the best view to take the pictures. I take Lena on my knees and fasten my seatbelt. We are then brought a cooler filled with bottles of water and sodas with wet towels. They also put a small pocket fan in the pocket at the front of our chair. In the end, with the air conditioning we will not have been hot during the flight, but I imagine that it is sometimes necessary.

We put on our headsets and test them with the pilot who takes the opportunity to introduce himself, then it's time to take off.

Sandrine on the plane with Wings Over Kauai
Testing our headsets and microphones.

Flying over Kauai

The takeoff is very smooth, then the dream begins! The beautiful background music played in our headsets immediatly plunges us into another universe. The first views of the sky enchant us and our pilot regularly gives us anecdotes about the places overflown. We can ask him questions, which we do not hesitate to do throughout the flight as soon as something intrigues us. He speaks to us slowly and clearly about what we really appreciate.

Poipu from plane - Kauai
Flying over Poipu.

With each new type of landscape, our pilot, who also plays the role of DJ, changes music to fit perfectly to the places overflown, taking care to lower them neatly so that the sequence is perfect. The choice of music is just impeccable, all perfectly in harmony with the scenery, it's a great show!

The flight is very stable and we discover an incredible number of small waterfalls that the pilot indicates to us via our headsets. Unfortunately for us, the famous Manawaiopuna Falls, or Jurassic Falls is in the fog, but we will catch up later with the magnificent views of the Nā Pali coast and Mount Waialeale. 

Flight over the Na Pali coast
Amphitheater of ridges of the Nā Pali coast.
Cathedrals of the Nā Pali coast
Cathedrals of the Nā Pali coast.
Cathedrals of the Nā Pali coast.
You can see very well the slightest relief.

Our pilot doesn't hesitate to make loops so that we can make the most of it. The turns are perfectly executed so that we can see the beaches and reefs very well when the aircraft is tilted over the sea.

Hidden beach of the Na Pali coast
Turning to discover Milolii Beach, a hidden beach of the Nā Pali coast.

The ride goes on and we don't miss a bit of the show. We shoot these sublime landscapes with our cameras to try to capture beautiful memories. Despite the fact that the glass has some marks (small scratches), I manage to stick my lens well to take pictures without reflection. I was a bit afraid of the marks but in the end you can't see them or hardly see them on the pictures. I let you judge the result on the pictures of this article which were all taken during the flight.

Hanalei Bay and Tunnels beach
Hanalei Bay and Tunnels beach.

Landing and assessment of our flight

After exactly 65 minutes of flight we return to the ground with a soft landing. We would like to thank our pilot who was at the top of his game!

Landing - Wing Over Kauai
Flo and the pilot on landing.

At the exit of the camera, we are surprised to receive a CD with Hawaiian music, the all illustrated with the photo that was taken 1 hour earlier in front of the camera. A really charming little attention!

You will have understood how much we appreciated this performance! As much for the visual side during the flight as for the impeccable welcoming. We are really far from the tourist factory that we felt around the helicopter companies.  Here we have a sense of welcome and everything is made to ensure that we have a pleasant time from start to finish and all this for a really affordable price.

5Book with Wings Over Kauai

If you are interested in flying with Wings Over Kauai, you can choose between 2 options.

  • The standard flight "AirVan" 6 passengers, the one we tested. It is the ideal solution for families with an affordable fare of $125/person, and if you come with 6, the 6th person is free!
  • The private flight "Cessna" 3 passengers maximum (the maximum weight of all passengers must not exceed 226 kg). This small plane also has windows that can be opened (great for photos)! It is the ideal solution for a private flight as a couple, on a honeymoon for example, or with a small child for example. The price is very attractive at 140$/person for a private flight! It is also possible to privatize it for 1 person and it will cost 200$ per flight. 

Remember to book as soon as possible, especially if you choose the private "Cessna" flight as there are only a few slots and they are quickly booked! Also note that if the weather is bad, they will suggest you to postpone the flight. So try not to plan it on the last day of your stay, it would be a shame not to be able to postpone it.

To make a reservation, follow this link: Reservation form AirVan and Cessna - Wings Over Kauai

Do not hesitate to book directly via the link above, this is the official booking form of Wings Over Kauai with whom we have set up a partnership following our very positive experience. The price is the same for you and this allows us to earn a small commission which helps us to live today :-)

And if you have tried the adventure with them, don't hesitate to tell us about your experience in comments! 

Have a good flight and enjoy!

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