The only downside? It ruins you…
Yesterday, I ticked something off my bucket list. Despite the fact that I tend to find myself in an airplane every few days, I’d never been in a helicopter, let alone one whirling above the dizzying heights of my former home, New York City. On an absolutely gorgeous Manhattan day, with a perfectly timed flight ahead, I couldn’t help but finally change that. I took the BLADE “Urban Air Mobility” helicopter service from the city to the airport, and echoing the sentiment of others, it’s really ruined me for life, perhaps in a good way. For $149, why wouldn’t you?
The first key detail is the “where”. BLADE has an outpost in midtown west, and midtown east, at the 30th street west side heliport, and the 34th street east side heliport, and the service is the same price for both. For the record, it’s $195 per person, but there’s a readily available promotional code that knocks $50 off, making it $145 all in. Before I get into it all, I really loved it for a few reasons.
- The journey is gorgeous.
- The novelty is off the charts.
- The customer service is excellent.
- The lack of stress is worth a lot to me.
- 7 minutes between Manhattan and airport is nuts.
If novelty and a few pictures are part of the allure, you’ll want to depart from the west side, where you’ll enjoy more prolonged skyline views. With a flight time of just around 7 minutes, those extra few seconds come in handy. And that’s the big dazzler here: you quite literally lift off from Manhattan at one time, and arrive on the tarmac at JFK or LaGuardia under 7 minutes later. It’s a total buzz, and a bigger blur. I had a friend taking a similar flight, and they paid over $100 for an Uber, and the journey took 2.5 hours, just barely making their flight.
Think about that…
I took off from the BLADE Lounge at the East 34th street heliport. From where I was staying on 38th street, it was a mere 15 minute walk. For Blade West, a hotel like the High Line or anything Chelsea would put you 10-15 minutes away, walking. If justifying the expense, which is about 1.5x to 2x from a standard Uber rate, or comparable to black car service is based on the time savings, you’ll really do best with BLADE if you are in a hotel with close enough proximity to these two midtown locations, or plan to arrive from a nearby office or restaurant.
Guests are told to arrive 10 minutes before their chopper departure time, and being just a minute late generally means you will miss your ride, and be faced with an expensive rebooking. Assuming a 15-20 minute journey to the heliport, a 10 minute wait to depart for safety sake and a 7 minute ride, you are 37 minutes in at that point, plus there’s about a 2-5 minute ride from the BLADE jet terminal at JFK to the commercial terminals. You’re quickly whisked away in a black SUV, by the way.
Total, all in transit time from the moment you leave a reasonably located hotel to the time you are curb side at the terminal is circa 40 minutes. Sure, you could cut it close and shave the 10 minutes you are told to wait in the BLADE lounge, and if you work, eat, live or play, on W 30th, or E 34th you could get the total journey under 20 minutes, but for most that simply won’t be the case.
I got to the E34th BLADE Lounge 15 minutes before flight and was offered a complimentary drink from the impressive bar after a brief ID exchange. After a long night, I declined, and then chose to nerd out and stare at the helicopters. The lounge receptionists were world class in making everyone feel welcome, informed and ready to go, and for $149 it felt extremely premium. The decor was fun and quirky and I really loved some of the vintage aviation touches.
One major thing to note: only standard hand luggage is included. You can bring a full sized carry on roller and a backpack, or any combination like that, but baggage over 20lbs will require an extra charge. For some, that might be a deterrent, but I’m one who aims to never check a bag – anywhere.
Oh, and booking. I booked around 3PM for a 5:20PM flight, but that was cutting it close. Most of the afternoon flights were sold out and by then it was slim pickings. But with that said, you can book far in advance, or just minutes before, if there’s a seat. It’s all done in the app – more on that shortly.
I was given a colour coded wristband which was the boarding pass for each flight. My carry on was loaded on board in advance, and we were guided to the choppa (Arnold Schwarzenegger voice) at 5:19 for our 5:20 departure. With seatbelts on, headsets on and thumbs up all around, Manhattan quickly began to look quite different. The views… holy s*it. For the photos alone, it’s probably worth it! For the the time efficiency and everything else, even more so.
If there was a hardship to be found in the experience – and surprise, there really isn’t one – it would simply be that you don’t know where to look, and it’s all over so quickly. If I was really nitpicking, I’d beg BLADE to have their ground staff quickly wipe down the windows before each ride, because a lot of my best captures were mired by dirt. It’s about as f’ing first world as problems get, but you know… when you want it all…
In absolutely supreme, 1AM or 5AM driving conditions, it’s not impossible to achieve similar timing in a car, but the thing is – it’s actually not that much cheaper for Uber, or particularly a black car service and it’s also nowhere near as fun. But most people don’t travel at those hours. I knew quite a few people who experienced a 2.5 hour journey time at the same time I had a 7 minute transit.
If you’re looking to be frugal, the Long Island railroad option from Penn Station to Jamaica and then AirTrain to JFK is about 1 hour and 20 minutes with a cost of $12, which is by far the most frugal, but this is all about fun, not frugality.
In a nutshell, I’d say yes. I felt incredibly smug and privileged for the rest of the day, and the BLADE experience turned my least favourite part of travel, the slow boring grind to the airport, into a novelty I won’t soon forget, with views of the place I grew up in a way I never imagined. With the current $149 pricing, it can be just fractionally more than an Uber. Obviously not as practical if you were carpooling, but when it comes to choppers, YOLO rules apply.
BLADE is running this service to New York LaGuardia, Newark Liberty International and JFK Airport daily between 7AM-7PM during weekdays, and then 3PM-7PM on Sundays. After downloading the app, using the BLADE promo code GilbertO187 (O, like Ott) will get you $50 off your first ride, and I’m grateful to also get $25 in BLADE credit when you do. I absolutely loved the service and now am stuck with the final question: cooler to take it into the city from the airport, or from the city to the airport?