Parenting in a Helicopter at 1500 Feet

Even a trip to paradise offers parenting challenges.

My twin 6 year old boys love machines. They’re the ones you’ll always find at the Thomas the Tank Engine table at Barnes and Noble, they watch the TV show Mighty Machines almost religiously, and play the flight simulator Smart Phone apps. Days spent at the Wings over the Rockies Air and Space Museum (, or on the Georgetown Loop ( , or a tour of the decommissioned Lebanon mine near Silver Plume, Colorado were proclaimed as “the best day ever” by both of them. So when we found a great deal on hotel and airfare to Maui on Expedia and saw that helicopter tours were a popular way to see the island, we thought the boys would love it. We thought that they would say it was the best of the best days ever! We were a little surprised at what happened.

We arrived at the Blue Hawaiian helicopter port ( in the morning. Thick blankets of clouds dripped down into the valleys from the top of Maui’s volcanos. It was already a spectacular sight and we were still on the ground.
“There’s a medical helicopter!” one of my boys shouted.

“There’s a 747 taking off!” the other one pointed, as we were right next to the airport as well.

My husband and I looked at each other with the “we were right, they’re going to love this” look. The boys were little jumping beans of excitement until we stepped out onto the heli-pad when their mood changed dramatically. They didn’t cry or ask to go home. They quietly sat in the assigned seats on the helicopter and put their headphones on. They then lost a little color in their faces, their eyes got big and somber, they folded their hands together and stared out the windows.

We were soon airborne. We banked wide over the beach near Kahului and as we headed towards the volcanoes, the pilot reminded us where the air sick bags were located.

He said, “the first thing to do is to acknowledge that you’re going to be sick. The second thing is to get the bag before you actually get sick.”

I looked at both my boys. Smiles were nowhere in sight for either of them. “Maybe they’re going to be sick,” I thought. “Should I break into the pilot’s commentary and ask them over the microphone if they’re going to throw-up? Will bringing up the subject make them throw-up? Will it make my daughter throw-up? Or me?” I had already wished several times that I had taken a motion sickness medicine before the trip. Fortunately, the breath-taking views along with the pilot’s commentary and dramatic music from “The Lord of the Rings” that was being piped into my headset kept my stomach relatively stable.

We made several passes in front of the Mana’wai’nui waterfall, with the second highest vertical drop of any waterfall in the world. We crested thickly jungled mountain tops, flew over the straight between Maui and Molokai, skirted the sides of several thousand foot high sea cliffs at Molokai, flew back to Maui, over Lahaina Town and down the Iao Valley back to the airport. It was spectacular! But my stomach finally caved in  and I lost by breakfast just before landing.

My boys barely moved during the whole trip. Their mood had not changed from their seemingly bleak reception at the beginning of the helicopter tour. At one point, Will, who was sitting next to me in the front of the helicopter, put his hand on my knee. It was both cold and sweaty.

When we got back to the car, we anxiously asked our kids what they thought.
“It was AWESOME!” my daughter said.

The boys were quiet.

“Didn’t you like it boys?”

“I’m glad we didn’t crash in a flaming death,” said one of my boys. With those words we knew exactly what was going through their minds during the hour long flight. They were drawing from the only experience they had with helicopters, the flight simulators on my husband’s Zoom tablet. Those simulators include a helicopter which is the most challenging air craft to control. Each of the boys have landed big C-130’s on the simulators, but always resulted in “flaming death,” as the game calls it, in the helicopter.

We explained how flying a helicopter in real life is different than on the Zoom app., and that the pilot had to have years of training before he could take us up. They seemed a little better once we explained it, but it was several days before they said they would go on a helicopter again. And now we know how much of an impact the virtual world makes on the perceptions of our kids!

UPDATE: On November 10, 2011, a Blue Hawaiian helicopter crashed into a hillside on the island of Molokai. All four passengers and the pilot were killed. This is a very tragic event and my heart goes out to the families of those who were lost. As of November 17th, the NTSB had not released a statement as to the events that lead up to the crash. Accidents with Blue Hawaiian are very rare. They have been in business for 25 years and fly 160,000 tours a year. They have only one other crash, which was in 2000. I felt very safe flying with Blue Hawaiian. They’re recommended by National Geographic, Frommers, and many other travel experts. I wouldn’t hesitate to experience another incredible helicopter tour with them.

Jennifer Smith-Daigle is a stay-at-home mother of a third grade daughter and twin kindergarten boys. She and her boys are survivors of Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome, being some of the first 200 people in the United States to be cured by Fetoscopic Laser Ablation surgery. Jennifer’s life before kids included world travel, historic preservation, and archaeology digs. When she’s not busy with a house full of kids and enough mammals to constitute a small zoo, Jennifer finds freedom in freelance writing, martial arts, and gardening.