- Blade is an app that lets people in New York City, Southern California, and the San Francisco area book chartered, private, or shared short-distance helicopter flights to places like airports and the Hamptons.
- Blade’s new Continuous service operates every half-hour between Manhattan and the New York-area airports. Unlike the regular Blade service, which can cost in the high-hundreds of dollars, the company offers a flat rate of $US195. You can use the promo code “OFFER” on your first ride to bring it down to $US120.
- Despite valid criticisms of helicopter traffic in New York, including noise and environmental impact, I’ve always wanted to try a flight above the city – so I took advantage of the promo offer before a recent trip from the JFK airport. Here’s what it was like.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
When Blade Urban Air Mobility – stylised as BLADE, or simply Blade – launched in May 2014, the company was styled as the “Uber of helicopters.” The company helped facilitate private short-distance air transportation in the New York City area, primarily helicopter and small aeroplane flights to the Hamptons and area airports from convenient locations in midtown Manhattan.
The Uber metaphor was apt. Blade didn’t own the aircraft or operate the flights itself. It served as a broker to connect customers with third-party, licensed owner-operators, while setting the price and taking a commission.
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Since its launch, Blade has expanded to Southern California and the San Francisco area.
For New York-area customers, the metaphor continues to apply – earlier this year, Blade launched a new service that’s akin to Uber Pool.
Blade Continuous is a shared flight – a helicopter pool – that runs every half-hour between New York’s West 30th Street heliport and the three area airports – JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark.
While chartering a helicopter flight through Blade can cost in the high hundreds to even thousands of dollars, Blade Continuous has a flat rate of $US195 per person – in a background conversation with Business Insider, CEO Rob Wiesenthal described it as still being a premium product, but one that’s accessible to a much larger base of potential users.
For those who may not be interested in paying that much when heading to the airport – you can get to JFK from Manhattan for as little as a Metrocard swipe plus $US5 – but still want to try it, there’s a promo code – “OFFER” – that brings the cost down to $US120, or a little more than an Uber or Lyft during rush hour.
I’ve lived in New York City and the surrounding area for most of my life, and have always thought it would be fun to fly in one of the helicopters that criss-crosses the city. So, before a recent weekend trip to Portland, Oregon, I decided to splurge and give it a try.
To skip to the bottom line – it was the most fun I’ve ever had on a trip to the airport. We made it from midtown Manhattan to the airport in just nine minutes.
Read on to see what it’s like to ride a Blade helicopter – from booking to touch-down.
Before you can book a flight, you need to download the app and make an account.
Once your account is set up, go to the home screen and look for “Blade Airport” or “Continuous.”
You can book a same-day flight, or book one for a future date. Same-day is usually fine, but keep in mind that some popular times might be taken. If a Continuous flight is full, you can still charter a ride, but it would cost much, much more.
Next, enter your flight information. Blade uses this at the end of your helicopter ride to coordinate cars to the airport terminals.
Of course there’s an upsell … feel free to skip.
Next, enter any promo codes you have. If it’s your first ride, you can get $US75 off with the code “OFFER” like I used.
Before you check out, you have to accept the terms, including the baggage policy. This didn’t seem strictly enforced on my flight (more on that in a bit), but Blade reserves the right to weigh luggage.
And just like that, I was booked for a flight to my flight
Unfortunately for me, Blade Continuous flies from the West 30th Street heliport, and my office is downtown. I could have taken a helicopter from a closer heliport, but I would have had to pay the full charter price.
I took the 7 train to the 34th Street–Hudson Yards stop and walked a few blocks from there.
Blade has its own private entrance at the heliport.
When you walk in, there’s a lounge where you can sit while waiting for your flights …
And a bar, where you check in and can order a drink …
… and get your “boarding pass” wristband.
Although you can walk up to the heliport pretty much just before your flight leaves, if you end up getting there a bit early, the lounge is a pleasant place to relax while you finish some work …
… And watch the helicopters taking off and landing.
My flight was called, and as the five passengers (including me) lined up, an attendant took our luggage, while another took our drinks to carry them for us. I suspect this is to avoid the risk of someone dropping a cup and causing a debris hazard on the airfield.
There was a bit of confusion because one of the other passengers brought more luggage than was allowed. After a debate, the attendants seemed to decide it was safe enough, and allowed him to bring the bag. It’s worth noting that that no one weighed our luggage to make sure they were below the weight limit. That could be that, based on the size of the bags and passengers, there was plenty of spare weight capacity. Regardless, I wouldn’t suggest gambling that you’ll be allowed to take a heavier bag.
Two attendants walked ahead of us to our helicopter — a Bell 407, tail number N401TD — to load everything.
As we boarded, the attendant told us where to sit — they distribute passengers based on self-reported weight to keep the aircraft balanced.
My seat was in front next to the pilot. The other four passengers were in the rear passenger section. Everyone had headsets, though, so I could hear and speak with the other passengers and the pilot.
Once we were all buckled in …
… we took off.
4:27 p.m.: Liftoff.
Still 4:27: I still appreciated the fact that I was sitting up front. It might have been disappointing if I was travelling as part of a group, but I was meeting my wife at the airport, so I was happy to hang out up front.
Still 4:27: “I always forget how big Manhattan is.”
4:28: “The Empire State Building looks cool from here.”
Still 4:28: “So does One World Trade.”
Still 4:28: We left Manhattan behind us, flying over the East River and the Staten Island Ferry.
4:29: We flew over Red Hook, Brooklyn, and got a nice glimpse of IKEA.
Still 4:29: I decided that, although I assumed the controls on my side were disabled, I was going to keep my feet as far away as possible from the anti-torque pedals.
4:30: We worked our way up and flew over the Park Slope/Prospect Heights area.
Still 4:30: We lined up over Eastern Parkway and flew down it for the length of Crown Heights. The traffic on the major thoroughfare below us was moving at a snail’s pace.
4:32: We turned, and I could see Manhattan way out in the distance.
4:33: We got our first glimpse of JFK off in the distance. We approached it in a roundabout way to coordinate with air traffic control.
4:34: We flew over American Airlines’ hanger …
Still 4:34: … And two planes that would be heading to Europe later that evening…
4:35: We passed a small Delta jet taxiing toward the runway.
Still 4:35: We started to descend toward the General Aviation Terminal, where helicopters and private jets drop off and pick up their passengers.
4:36: Almost there …
Still 4:36: And touchdown! Nine minutes after we left Manhattan, we were at JFK, a trip that usually takes about an hour by train — assuming you manage to make every connection quickly.
We disembarked as attendants ran up to get our luggage…
… And direct us to cars that would take us to our terminal. There were three cars, since our group was evidently taking three different airlines
I realised I hadn’t finished my drink, but that wasn’t a problem — the to-go cup works just as well in cars as in helicopters.
Four minutes after I left the helicopter, I was at the terminal for my flight. But no matter how you get to the airport, whether by car, bus, train, or helicopter, we all end up in the same place at the end …
… The airport security line. So all in all, was Blade worth it, and would I do it again?
There’s no denying that this was the most fun I’ve ever had going to the airport. The usual spectrum for that trip is between “uneventful” and “miserable,” so this simply didn’t compare.
That said, despite the many valid complaints that can be leveled against New York City transit, there are a few easy ways to get to the airports, and all of them are cheaper than Blade in the case of JFK. I could have:
- Taken a rideshare for about $US80-90, given surge pricing.
- A taxi for a peak-hours flat rate of about $US57, plus tolls and tip.
- The A train to the AirTrain for a Metrocard swipe plus $US5.
- Or the Long Island Rail Road to the AirTrain for a total of about $US12.
On a Thursday afternoon, though, each of those would have taken me a minimum of an hour – very likely longer – and I would have had to budget plenty of extra time.
While that’s what the vast majority of us do, Blade’s Continuous service has a definite appeal for those with more disposable income who absolutely can’t spare that extra time. Or, for anyone who wants to take advantage of the first-time discount to splurge on a fun nine-minute ride on their next trip to the airport.