At $195, Blade's NY to JFK helicopter service takes on Uber Black

At $195, Blade's NY to JFK helicopter service takes on Uber Black

Helicopters have been whisking the wealthy from Manhattan to New York’s airports for decades.

Now the ride can be booked via a smartphone for as little as US$195. And when traffic is heavy on those roads far below, that price – and the fact you're spending around five minutes darting in a helicopter from Manhattan to LaGuardia, JFK, and Newark – makes elite car services look much less appealing.

That’s why more and more business travellers are switching from Uber Black to Blade, according to Rob Wiesenthal, who founded the helicopter charter service in 2014.

In the same way that Uber doesn’t own its cars, Blade doesn’t own its helicopters. Wiesenthal partners with Airbus, Lockheed Martin and Bell Helicopter to arrange flights through more than 30 aviation operators, which in turn provide pilots.

Blade's clients are young, with an average age of 38, and almost all of them book on the mobile app.

Soaring above the traffic

Blade-booked choppers add run between LaGuardia and Manhattan’s Wall Street Heliport, as well as Newark and the East 34th Street Heliport. The JFK service that Blade started in March will continue from the West 30th Street Heliport across from Hudson Yards.

Wiesenthal sees those commutes as the pain points for its client base: traveling from the East Side of Manhattan to Newark or from the West Side to an outer borough airport most often means battling maddening city traffic.

During rush hour, rides in Uber’s top-tier Black SUV service commonly exceed $200 – and can take an hour, or even two.

Manhattan, viewed from a Blade helicopter: flights take off every 20 minutes between 7am and 7pm, Monday to Friday

“We’re seeing faster-than-expected adoption by people choosing to fly to the airport rather than driving,’’ Wiesenthal says. Over 75 percent of first-time customers have never flown in a helicopter before, and 22 percent of fliers to JFK have come back in the same month, according to Blade.

Flights take off every 20 minutes or so, from 7am to 7pm weekdays, and on Sunday afternoons and evenings.

If you show up early, you can be put on an earlier flight. If your arriving airline flight is delayed, you’ll automatically be put on a new helicopter, free.

The new service is “for someone who works in Midtown, has lunch at a great restaurant at Hudson Yards, and walks across the street at 1:30 p.m. and makes a 3:30 p.m. flight,” Wiesenthal suggests.

The average age of Blade’s clients is 38, and 55 percent of them are men; 95 percent of customers book on the mobile app.

“The biggest misconception is: This is not affordable for me,’’ says Wiesenthal. “We cut our teeth on the most demanding fliers,’’ he continues, although in three to five years, he’d consider lowering the price from $195 to the $70-to-$90 range.

The Statue of Liberty, seen from a Blade helicopter.

Turn up and go

The regularly scheduled continuous service is significant, Blade says, because it makes it easier to hop a ride or to be flexible in your timing.

It also allows Blade to lower the price because, unlike charters, helicopters more reliably carry passengers in both directions, minimizing wasted resources.

Will Heyburn, Blade’s head of corporate development, says that in developing Blade's low-cost scheduled service, "everything came together at the right time."

Getting to this $195 price point took about five years, Wiesenthal reflects. When he launched Blade, a chopper ride to John F. Kennedy Airport – 13 miles (21km) from Manhattan – started at $3,000, he says.

“You used to have to charter an entire aircraft, and people were using the wrong aircraft for the mission – an expensive, gas-guzzling helicopter,” adds Will Heyburn, head of corporate development at Blade.

By increasing the number of people on each aircraft and operating only between the city and the airports, efficiency has improved steeply.

“We began chartering. Then we started testing specific days and times, and this is what was enabled by our partnership with Bell,” Heyburn explains. “We’d been incrementally lowering the price and testing the way consumers want to fly. Everything came together at the right time.”

Bell Helicopter’s new, fuel-efficient 206L-4 single-engine helicopter, which the company claims has a better safety record than the average twin-engine helicopter, is key to its continuous, lower-priced service.

Blade also has its own lounges in New York where passengers can relax before take-off.

Flying Blade’s Manhattan to JFK helicopter service

Flights to JFK land on Sheltair’s 4.5-acre plot on the loop of the main access road, and complimentary ground transportation in a black SUV to all commercial airline terminals is included.

Blade's West Side landing zone in New York takes you from downtown to terminal in five minutes

The farthest drive to a commercial terminal is American Airlines at Terminal 8, which takes three minutes, absent heavy traffic.

For $150, an American Airlines representative will meet you after your helicopter arrives and transport you, via Cadillac, to expedited TSA screening and Admirals Club access; for $350 they’ll meet your plane and do the reverse, escorting you through baggage claim and onward to the helicopter.

Also read: American Airlines rolls out helicopter transfers, private terminal access

A Blade helicopter lands at John F. Kennedy Airport, where a complimentary black SUV whisks passengers to their airline's terminal.

Add $85 for flexible tickets, $75 weather insurance (for a cash refund, instead of a Blade credit), $85 for bags heavier than 20 pounds, $250 for luggage pickup up to two hours before your flights, $100 for meet and greet, and you’re easily nearing $800. But many business travelers don’t need such contingencies.

The JFK service breaks even for Blade when two to three people populate a flight that can accommodate six, which has been happening, Wiesenthal says.

Uber is fighting back, promising a product called Uber Air with partners that include Bell Helicopter and Aurora Flight Sciences, a Boeing subsidiary.

“Dallas and Los Angeles will be the first to offer Uber Air flights, with the goal of beginning demonstrator flights in 2020 and commercial operations in 2023,” says Uber spokesman Mike Wing.

Bloomberg Pursuits

Bloomberg Pursuits

Bloomberg Pursuits curates the best in cars, food, drinks, travel, watches and more for the modern globally-minded executive, and is republished under licence by Australian Business Traveller.
 

11 comments

  • djcz

    djcz

    9 May, 2019 11:50 am

    This is really appealing!
    No member give thanks

  • Paul Lucas

    Lucas

    9 May, 2019 01:12 pm


    i wonder what the lugage restrictions are for using UBER Blade service?
    No member give thanks

  • Dan Ho

    djtech

    9 May, 2019 05:09 pm

    It's 1 carry on up to 25 lb.
    Member who gave thanks

    Briggo

  • alyopsis

    alyopsis

    9 May, 2019 01:17 pm

    I could really see this working in Melbourne (assuming a reasonable price point). Down to Melbourne for the day, no bags, and traffic is hell on the Tulla, I reckon quite a few people would drop $150 ish on a helicopter into the CBD. There’s even a pad down near the corner of Flinders and Spencer
    Member who gave thanks

    BatteryBen

  • Chun Wah Dou

    Pallydou

    9 May, 2019 02:22 pm

    I think Dubai already has Uber helicopters.
    No member give thanks

  • Dave

    Grannular

    9 May, 2019 04:20 pm

    I bet it isn't for US$195 though
    No member give thanks

  • Mark Bringans

    Briggo

    9 May, 2019 09:27 pm

    Fantastic can see Manhattan close up from above & save more time for dining
    No member give thanks

  • Mark

    bobloblaw

    10 May, 2019 11:49 am

    Jakarta would be a prime candidate for this service.
    No member give thanks

  • Nick  Sydney 348

    Nick Sydney 2

    10 May, 2019 02:38 pm

    Anything that saves the run through Queens please.
    Member who gave thanks

    BatteryBen

  • UpUpAndAway

    UpUpAndAway

    12 May, 2019 08:33 pm

    I can really see this working in Sydney and Melbourne, last Xmas I took a customer from Brisbane to Noosa for lunch in a helicopter and it's paid off 100 times over
    No member give thanks

  • sgb

    sgb

    16 May, 2019 08:04 am

    Not so good news about falling short of the landing pad today, i'll stick with ground transportation.
    No member give thanks

Guest

19 May, 2019 10:53 pm

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