Helicopter rides on demand for the super rich? There’s an app for that

Charter a chopper in record time.

Charter a chopper in record time.  (Blade)

For a certain fabulous set in New York City, summer weekends in the Hamptons, beaches at the tip of Long Island known to attract the well-heeled, are a must after a long week of work. The problem is getting there.

Drive times on the east-bound stretch during the summer can take up to 5 hours—a trip without traffic that would take about two.

New York publicist Rachael Anderson says it’s a nightmare trying to get to there, especially during the summer.

“I love being at the beach in Montauk during the summer—it’s my happy place! But sitting in traffic for 3, 4, sometimes 5 hours is not. I’ve tried nearly every method of transportation to get there: Jeep, Jitney, train…even my friend’s motorcycle. I dread them all,” she said. 

Enter Blade, a crowd-sourced helicopter app that’s like the taxi-booking site Uber but for the skies. “We created a brand where there was none,” says Evan Licht, general manager of Blade. “Traveling from point A to point B used to be faxes and tail numbers,” he said, referring to ordering a private helicopter ride. “Now it’s 3 taps on our app.”[pullquote]

Blade, which launched Memorial Day and plans to continue beyond Labor Day, matches fliers with people nearby looking for rides and cuts out the need for an agent.

Users create flights and either pay full-fare—each chartered flight has 6 seats available and costs $3150—or open them to the Blade community with individual seats at $575 a pop. It’s dramatically steeper than, say, taking the Hamptons Jitney bus for $28, but cheaper than booking your own flight.  A typical seat on a Hamptons-bound helicopter might cost upward of $3,000. And for those who have money to burn, a helicopter ride is just 40 minutes to travel the 100 or so miles from Midtown Manhattan. 

Even those who don’t have money to burn have considered using it for its convenience. “My friends and I always talk about how tempting it is to try Blade—a few of them even have the app—but it’s really hard to justify the cost,” says Anderson. 

In cities like Los Angeles, Houston, Seattle, and Atlanta, where urban sprawl makes traffic oppressive, an on-demand helicopter app would make business (and play) easier for those who can afford it, says Darryle Ulama, an analyst with research group IBISWorld.

“The chartered helicopter app industry remains a frontier market in travel booking, and could very well expand into other large cities, particularly those with heavy congestion, to service the high-income demographic.”

Blade is just one of a few companies to offer this type of elite service.  Another is Jet Smarter, with its recently launched mobile app “Private Jet” that helps passengers hail a jet.

Ulama thinks that it’s possible there will be more services like these.

“Operators such as Blade are taking advantage of a more tech-oriented consumer base to offer services that are flexible and hassle-free,” he says.  “If the trend towards urbanization continues and as more Americans adopt smart phones, it is likely that similar services will emerge in other metropolitan areas.”

Stacy Small, L.A.-based founder of Elite Travel International, says that while the Uber-style has potential, especially in large cities, this service is for a very select few.

"This type of app is most likely to appeal to those who typically fly business, first or privately and stay at luxury hotels. It's this elite traveler that is looking for convenience over price." 

So far, Blade customers have had positive things to say about the service.

Nikki Hanson, executive vice president of PRIV, a beauty-service booking app, says that excellent customer service and personal touches like wine and newspapers on board make the experience of beating traffic even better. 

One small carry-on per person is allowed, and you can even bring small pets.

Said Hanson: “I told the owner, ‘Once you go Blade, you can never go back.’”