Kauai Helicopter Tours: Doors-On vs Doors-Off – What’s the Difference?

Experiencing Kauai’s jaw-dropping natural beauty from the air on a helicopter tour is truly a bucket list experience. But a big decision looms: Should I book a door-to-door or closed-door helicopter flight? This guide breaks down the key differences between these two exciting options for your Kauai flight.

Choosing one of these Kauai helicopter tours usually involves traveling over Waimea Canyon, Napali Beach, Tunnel Beach, Mount Waialele, several waterfalls, etc. Most flights last an hour, with short or long routes options, including position. Departure points include Lihue Airport, the island’s primary airstrip, and Princeville Airport, located on the north side of Kauai.

Pros and Cons of Doors-On Kauai Helicopter Tours

Classic door-on helicopter tours offer breathtaking views of Kauai such as Napali Beach, Waimea Canyon, waterfalls, and more—all from the comfort of an enclosed cabin. While you won’t get the same open-air thrill, doors-on flights have their own advantages including:

  • Comfort: Doors and windows provide a safe environment, making the experience easier for those sensitive to wind and cold, especially at high altitudes
  • Safety: Some visitors just feel more comfortable in a fully enclosed room rather than feeling that open doors can be confusing.
  • Photography: While photo opportunities are possible, angles and scope may be limited because shooting through a glass window can create glare and reflections

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Advantages of Doors-Off Helicopter Flights in Kauai

For many thrill-seekers, a doors-off helicopter tour is the only way to experience Kauai’s staggering beauty up close and personal. These are the biggest draws:

  • Unobstructed views: With nothing between you and the landscapes, you enjoy unparalleled 360-degree panoramic views and a sense of freedom.
  • Excitement outdoors: The feeling of being separated from the sky and flying with only a seat belt is unparalleled. The wind blowing in your face adds a huge adrenaline rush!
  • Photography: Aerial photographers and videographers can take pictures without glass interference. You can get crisp, light-free images from unlimited angles.

Photography Opportunities

  • Doors-Off: Ideal for capturing pictures with an unobstructed view and without window glare, allowing for a broader range of scenery. Highly recommended for amateur and professional aerial photography or videography.
  • Doors-On: Offers good photo opportunities, but may limit the scope and angles for capturing images due to having to shoot through glass windows.

Best Doors-Off Kauai Helicopter Tour

We recently decided to take a helicopter tour over Kauai—it was crazy but also peaceful. This was definitely the most memorable part of our stay on Kauai (on both trips). It ranks as one of the most amazing experiences we’ve had.

With doors-off and comfort, Air Kauai’s Eco-Star combines the best of both worlds.

Expressing the sensation of witnessing such beauty from the air is beyond words, and opting for a helicopter with no doors was unquestionably the perfect choice! We went with Air Kauai Helicopters because they fly Airbus AStars—pilots can remove the door so that there’s one giant opening.

🚁 Doors-Off Air Kauai Helicopter Tour > Check Availability

Magnum P.I. Helicopter

However, if you prefer the Magnum P.I. look, you should check out the Hughes 500 (MD500) Doors-Off Tour flown by Airborne Aviation Tours. Also, the Hughes 500 is slightly smaller and lighter (i.e. more potential turbulence), allowing only four passengers as opposed to five on the Eurocopter Astar. Also, the Hughes 500 system does not allow the entire window open due to a support beam that separates the front and rear passengers.

Let your inner Magnum P.I. out with a ride on a Magnum Doors-Off Tour.

Nevertheless, if you’re a diehard fan of the show, you should head to Oahu and go on the Magnum Doors-Off Helicopter Ride in a Magnum P.I. lookalike chopper. Now, that would be a cool experience!

🚁 Doors-Off Magnum P.I. Helicopter Tour > Check Availability

Best Doors-On Kauai Helicopter Tour

Blue Hawaiian flies the Airbus EcoStar—this is the Rolls Royce of helicopters.

Our very first helicopter tour over Kauai was with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters in a traditional doors-on helicopter, and it was amazing! They utilize Airbus Eco-Stars and Airbus A-Stars designed specifically for flight tours—the Airbus Eco-Stars are the most state-of-the-art and most comfortable tourism-based helicopters available. In our opinion, the Eco-Stars are the safest and most trustworthy helicopters on the market.

🚁 Doors-On Blue Hawaiian Helicopter Tour > Check Availability

Established in 1985 and recognized by National Geographic as “Hawaii’s premier helicopter tour company,” Blue Hawaiian holds the distinction of being the sole provider servicing all of Hawaii’s major islands—Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island.

Doors-Off vs. Doors-On > Kauai Helicopter Tours

When reserving a helicopter tour, you may encounter the choice between a doors-on or doors-off option, a decision that can significantly alter your helicopter ride in various ways. The selection between the two depends on your preferences and the experience you seek from your helicopter tour.

Flying high over Kauai with a focused pilot and the doors off!

Here are some considerations that differentiate a doors-off and doors-on helicopter experience:


  • Doors-Off: Ideal for capturing pictures with an unobstructed view and without window glare, allowing for a broader range of scenery. Highly recommended for amateur and professional aerial photography or videography. If this interests you, be sure to check out this photography-focused Kauai helicopter tour.
  • Doors-On: Offers good photo opportunities, but may limit the scope and angles for capturing images.

💰 Budget-Savvy Tip: Be sure to read this article on how to take photos from a helicopter before your flight.

Route Around the Island

  • Doors-Off or Doors-On: The route for all helicopters, regardless of doors-off or doors-on follows a similar route—clockwise around the island. If you’re an aviation nerd like Harry you can go to Flightradar24 and watch the routes the helicopters fly.
Helicopter tours in Kauai allow visitors to access areas that are impossible to reach (in a short amount of time) when compared to an overland journey.

Value on Heights vs. Sights

  • Doors-Off: Provides a more thrilling experience, especially if you prioritize the full-flight adventure and the sensation of soaring to new heights.
  • Doors-On: Still offers a spectacular view of landmarks; suitable if you primarily want to enjoy the sights without the emphasis on the helicopter experience.

Fear of Heights

  • Doors-Off: Exhilarating and breathtaking for many, but some individuals might experience anxiety due to the more open feel. Despite the lack of doors, a helicopter tour ensures a high level of safety with passengers comfortably tethered inside.
  • Doors-On: Offers a sense of enclosed security, suitable for those with apprehensions about an open setting.

Flying with Others

  • Doors-Off or Doors-On: Consider the preferences of all passengers. Some may prefer the excitement of no doors, while others may prioritize a closed-door experience. Some services may offer a compromise, allowing one side open and another closed.

Cold Sensitivity

  • Doors-Off: Higher altitudes can bring increased wind and chill; advisable to dress accordingly with a light jacket and, if taking pictures, consider wearing gloves.
  • Doors-On: Less exposed to the elements, making it more comfortable for those sensitive to cold.
Taking a doors-off helicopter tour was the best thing we did while touring Hawaii!

Flying Over Kauai is Mind-Blowing

The majority of Kauai helicopter tours depart from Lihue Airport—man, it’s cool to fly over a runway in a chopper!

During our recent journey through the Hawaiian island of Kauai, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to experience a helicopter flight with the doors off over the island’s renowned Napali coastline! Although helicopter tours may come with a substantial cost, certain destinations are simply meant to be captured from the unique perspective of a helicopter—like the Grand Canyon or high above the glaciers in Alaska.

It was fun to see Harry’s favorite beach, Tunnels Beach, from up in the air!

The sheer beauty of Kauai is awe-inspiring. The Napali Coast, characterized by scalloped cliffs that rise majestically above the turquoise waters of the Pacific Ocean, resembles scenes from postcards and iconic Jurassic Park movies.

You’ll fly over several waterfalls, including Manawaiopuna Falls, as featured in Jurassic Park! From left: Manawaiopuna Falls, Waipoo Falls, Kahili Falls.

However, just like on some areas in Maui, accessing the renowned Napali Coast and much of the island’s interior is impossible by car, making a helicopter flight the perfect means to soar above these stunning landscapes.

You will never forget flying over the Napali Coast!

Below are the two helicopter rides we went on—one with doors-off and one with doors-on. Initially, we’ll discuss the doors-off experience since that’s the one just about everyone wants to hear about first.

💰 Budget-Savvy Tip: It’s advisable to schedule your helicopter tour early in your vacation, allowing flexibility for rescheduling in case of inclement weather on your initially chosen date.

General Tips

  • Compromise: Some services may allow a mix of open and closed doors depending on passenger preferences.
  • Discuss Preferences: Communicate your door preferences and whether you plan to take pictures with the helicopter tour service in advance.

Whether you seek the thrill of a doors-off adventure or the comfort of doors-on security, there are plenty of Kauai helicopter tours available to meet your preferences.

No matter which you pick, booking well in advance is highly recommended especially for peak seasons. It’s also wise to schedule your helicopter tour at the start of your trip to allow flexibility for rescheduling due to weather. Also, if you opt for the doors-off tour don’t forget to bring a light water-resistant jacket.

Whether soaring above paradise with the doors on or off, a helicopter tour is an absolute must for fully experiencing the unrivaled beauty of Kauai!

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