Pope Francis

'Uber for Helicopters' Offers to Help New Yorkers Beat Pope-Related Traffic

Flight-sharing app takes off...


From Blade's Twitter

Pope Francis has a busy travel itinerary in New York City today. He addressed the United Nations (U.N.) on the East Side this morning, hosted a multi-religious service at the 9/11 Memorial in Lower Manhattan right after that, will soon be visiting a parochial school in East Harlem, and has plans to say Mass at Madison Square Garden at 6 o'clock tonight. On top of that, more world leaders than ever before are in Manhattan for the ongoing U.N. summit, so crosstown traffic is likely to be less than beatific.

With $95 and a smartphone, though, New Yorkers can ascend to the heavens, or at least take a convenient 5- to 8-minute hop between 1st and 12th avenues, in a chartered helicopter from a startup called Blade.

Blade, which is like Uber but for short helicopter flights, is accessible via smartphone app. Typically the company takes passengers from Manhattan to the Hamptons (starting at $595 per seat seat) and other outlying vacation spots (about $650 seat), or to metropolitan airports ($895 seat) to meet connecting flights. The service also lets users crowdsource seaplane flights to almost anywhere in coastal New England.

But during the morning and afternoon rush hours today, The Verge reports and a peek at the app confirms, Blade arranged to offer flights to effectively whisk passengers 2.3 miles across the width of Manhattan (though they'll actually travel a route around the island's southern tip because of security concerns). 

While the move has garnered a lot of publicity for overlapping with Pope Francis' visit to the city, according to Blade the idea actually came from "popular demand by our users." The app confirms that demand is there: Some flights for this evening have already sold out.

Sold Out Blade App Screenshot
Blade App Screenshot

Where Uber inspired backlash from the cab industry and regulators, Blade has mainly rankled Hamptons homeowners, some of whom can hear the choppers setting down and taking off from their property. Responding to a sharp uptick in noise complaints, East Hampton officials tried restricted heli-flights into their airport.

Supporters fought back by establishing an advocacy group called "Friends of East Hampton Airport," hiring public relations titan SKD Knickerbocker, and suing the town. This summer the Federal District Court in Central Islip issued a preliminary injunction in favor of the aviators, saying the restrictions would cause irreperable harm to flight businesses. The town appealed the injunction, and the two parties reportedly entered into mediation last week.

Blade customers may be able to avoid the agony of midtown congestion with a seraphic commute by helicopter, but they'll nonetheless face the temporal inconvenience of a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening before boarding. The bureaucracy says it has tightened security accross New York for the meeting of world leaders.

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  1. Soon we’ll be jet packing to work……that is only after the TSA performs their full anal cavity search.

    1. *loudspeaker* “T minus four seconds to launch”
      *TSA Agent* “Bend over and grab your ankles…”
      *loudspeaker* -ree seconds to launch”
      *snapping of rubber gloves*
      *loudspeaker* T minus two seconds to launch”
      *TSA Agent* “Relax…”


  2. This reminds me of a computer game I once owned called “Simcopter”. You flew around the city, making money by delivering supplies and transporting people.

    One of the programmers got angry at his boss, and put in some code that generated dozens of men in Speedos that kisses on your avatar when you won the game.

  3. Well, at least they won’t have a large number of politicians who are in the direct pay of labor unions trying to shut it down.

  4. BTW, $95 a seat? If you earned even a reasonable middle class income, and you wanted to get into NYC fast and beat traffic (and have a great experience doing it), that $95 is a pretty decent price. I’d pay it.

    Hell, I remember twenty years ago at a fair they were offering “helocopter rides” and it was like $150.

      1. I’m still laughing… still…

    1. When you consider that these rides cover 2 miles, a distance that could easily be walked in 30-40 minutes, and unlike Uber you can’t choose where to board and where to get out, it doesn’t look so good.

      1. Two miles as the crow flies- and across a river? Living in a urban area on a narrow strip of land, surrounded by water and dotted with small lakes, 2 miles can take an eternity to cross.

        1. 2 miles walking on sidewalks. Look it up on Google Maps (1st and 30th to 12th and 34th). Not sure what river you’re talking about, as both stops are in Manhattan.

          1. I haven’t followed the exact wheres, where froms and where tos of the article. I thought maybe the helicopter might have been taking people from NJ into Manhattan.

            BTW, walking 2 miles in 30-40 would be… a decent brisk walk for healthy adults.

            Don’t fall into the prog everything-public-transit-walkable-neighborhood trap. You know the one… where the mayor thinks that everyone not the mayor needs to be standing at bus stops (and walking to them) or riding bikes in sideways rain and 30mph winter winds.

            All I’m saying is if you HAVE to be at a destination, and you’re “not a bloody tourist”* who wants to see the sights and take in the city, and you absolutely positively have to be there quickly, and you’ve got a business meeting that’s going right up to the line… throwing down $95 for a helicopter ride just doesn’t seem stratospherically out of range.

            * one of my favorite Black Adder quotes.

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