Getting to the Hamptons can be a real drag on the 1%.
Blade, an aviation startup cofounded by former Sony and Warner Music Group exec Rob Wiesenthal and GroupMe cofounder Steve Martocci, aims to make it a little easier on you.
Blade uses an app to crowdsource flights on helicopters and seaplanes that you can book seats on in an instant. Rather than have you spend hours on a slow train or in a cramped car, Blade’s flights promise to get you out to the Hamptons in just 40 minutes.
Destinations include Quogue, Southampton, East Hampton, Montauk, Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, and Cape Cod. You can even snag a seat on a helicopter going to one of the New York area airports, a five-minute ride the company calls Blade Bounce.
Tickets range from $US395 to $US695 for a trip from Manhattan to the Hamptons, Blade’s most popular destination. For a few hundred more dollars, you can do a custom charter flight to a destination of your choice, and you can even choose to fly on a faster aircraft if you’d like.
Socialites, celebrities, and elite businessmen are catching on — Laura Prepon, Jon Hamm, and Olivia Palermo are just a few of the big names that have been spotted in one of Blade’s three luxury lounges in Manhattan.
Blade completed a $US6 million Series A funding round in May of this year. Google chairman Eric Schmidt, Discover Communications CEO David Zaslav, IAC’s Barry Diller, Alex von Furstenberg, Raine Ventures, and iHeart Media chairman Bob Pittman all contributed to the startup’s most recent round.
We recently took a trip to the Hamptons to see what the Blade experience was all about.
Our journey began in Blade's 34th Street lounge, where we found a comfortable setup of couches and stools along a sleek bar. Several men were already making themselves comfortable when we arrived. The average Blade client is 31 years old, and 55% are male. They come from a variety of industries, from finance and real estate to tech. 'You can't beat the on-demand aspect,' Jarrett, a Blade customer who works in Manhattan real estate, told me.
Customer experience (or C/X in Blade lingo) representatives Jessica Rooney and Erin Mulcahy were there to help. They're wearing uniforms that were custom designed by Jimmy Choo founder Tamara Mellon just for Blade. There are two separate uniforms: a denim romper that retails for $695 and a white jumpsuit that costs $895. Both are available for purchase on Mellon's site or at her pop-up shop in Southampton.
You'll also get a luggage tag to match the wristband. As you might expect, the bags on the rack in the Blade lounge were a little more high-end than what you might find at your standard transit depot.
The Blade drink of choice is a rosé by Chateau Montaud Cotes de Provence. Rosé has been a part of the Blade experience from the start. 'When we first launched Blade, we weren't sure about the availability of helicopters from our operators,' cofounder and CEO Wiesenthal said. 'To protect ourselves from delays, and to keep down the nerves of our customers, we started serving rosé.' For many of the startup's customers, their experience on Blade would be their very first time on a helicopter.
So that you don't have to worry about spilling during your flight, Blade serves the rosé in a specialty sippy cup.
Many of the lounge's decorations are reminiscent of the 1960s and 1970s, when flying was considered a glamorous activity reserved for the elite few who could afford it. 'I'm old enough to remember my mother putting me in a suit and tie to get on an aeroplane,' Wiesenthal told us. 'Blade really hearkens back to the golden age of aviation.'
Wiesenthal's entertainment background obviously played a big role in his founding of Blade. 'We're trying to make an emotional connection to the consumer,' he said. Here he is with Alena Martanovicova (left) and Jessica Rooney (right), members of the C/X team.
As we relaxed in the lounge, we could see passengers boarding helicopters just outside the window. The reason Blade is able to offer so many on-demand flights is that the platform supports routes from seven different operators in the New York area. One of those operators is Liberty Helicopter, which you can see here.
In addition to its four types of helicopters, Blade added four seaplanes to its fleet this summer, a service it calls Blade Aqua.
Blade offers flights on two kinds of seaplanes, one of which is the Aqua 950. It purports to be the fastest commercial seaplane in the Hamptons, though as Wiesenthal notes, it's entirely possible that someone owns one that can go even faster.
The aerial shot of a Blade sippy cup has become something of a status symbol in certain social circles.
If you search the #flyblade hashtag on Instagram, you'll find hundreds of shots with the signature cup. This was a conscious effort by Blade. 'Our original seed funding did not leave a lot of room for marketing. We quickly realised our demographic was much younger, and they were all on Instagram,' Wiesenthal said.
It only took us about 35 minutes to get to East Hampton on the seaplane, and we had incredible views the whole way.
But once we were seeing estates with their own swimming pools and tennis courts, we knew we were getting close.
Once we landed in East Hampton, we noticed a sign reminding patrons of the area's noise restrictions. According to the New York Times, noise complaints rose by more than 400% last summer. Helicopter traffic had also risen by nearly 50%, thanks in part to Blade and other services like it. The town of East Hampton has since passed regulations that limit when aircraft can take off and land.
Not that that has slowed Blade down much -- as we waited at the East Hampton Airport, more and more Blade-branded flights continued to touch down on the tarmac. Wiesenthal said the company plans to eventually expand to California and possibly the Middle East and Latin America. For the winter, they will be adding flights to more local destinations, though those haven't been announced just yet.
As we made our way back to the city by chopper, I wondered what it would be like to do this every weekend.
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