Tech: We flew to the Hamptons like the 1% with Blade, an 'Uber-for-helicopters' startup — and it was as fabulous as it sounds
A ride with Blade involves designer bags and lots of rosé.
Getting to the Hamptons can be a real drag, especially over big holiday weekends like Memorial Day.
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 under 40 minutes.
Though Blade started out with flights to the Hamptons, which remains its most popular destination, the startup has expanded to offer flights in many weekend getaway spots, including Nantucket, the Jersey Shore, and around different parts of Los Angeles. 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 $494 to $695 for a trip from Manhattan to the Hamptons, Blade's most popular destination. For a few hundred dollars more, 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. A one-way ticket on Blade One, the company's private jet service from New York to Miami, costs about $2,200.
Socialites, celebrities, and elite businesspeople 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 luxury lounges in Manhattan. The company's investors include Kenneth Lerer, Discovery Communications' David Zaslav, Google's Eric Schmidt, IAC's Barry Diller, and iHeart Media's Bob Pittman.
Blade treated us to a trip to the Hamptons on a late summer evening in 2015. Here's how lots of wealthy New Yorkers will be getting out to the Hamptons this summer.
Our journey began in Blade's 34th Street lounge, where we found a comfortable setup of couches and stools along a sleek bar. "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.
The C/X team has worn several different retro-inspired uniforms. "My inspiration for Blade harkens back to the days when I was a young child and my parents would dress me up to get on a plane," Wiesenthal, Blade's cofounder and CEO, said to Business Insider in 2016.
He added: "It was the golden age of aviation — the '60s to early '70's, the Jack Kennedy, Frank Sinatra era — when getting on a jet plane was a big deal and an adventure. Not everybody did it. And there was always a story attached to it."
Once you check in, you'll get a wristband that corresponds to your flight.
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.
After you're all checked in, guests are encouraged to mosey on over to the bar for a drink.
The Blade drink of choice is a rosé. So that you don't have to worry about spilling during your flight, Blade serves the rosé in a specialty sippy cup. "When we first launched Blade, we weren’t sure about the availability of helicopters from our operators," Wiesenthal said. "To protect ourselves from delays, and to keep down the nerves of our customers, we started serving rosé."
Many of the lounge's decorations are reminiscent of the '60s and '70s. Blade operates several different lounges: on West 30th Street, East 34th Street, and Wall Street in Manhattan, and in Miami, East Hampton, and Nantucket.
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 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 different operators in the New York area. One of those operators is Liberty Helicopter, which you can see here.
The East River is a busy waterway, which makes for an exciting takeoff.
In addition to its helicopters, Blade has added several seaplanes to its fleet.
This small card with my name on it guaranteed me a spot on the 4:30 flight to East Hampton.
As we prepared for takeoff, the choppy waters of the East River rocked the seaplane back and forth.
But once we were airborne, we were treated to this incredible view.
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 realized 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. The flight can take as little as 27 minutes on Blade's newest Sikorski helicopters.
But once we were seeing estates with their own swimming pools and tennis courts, we knew we were getting close.
As we waited at the East Hampton Airport, more and more Blade-branded flights continued to touch down on the tarmac. Since I took my flight, Blade has added services to a whole slew of destinations: Nantucket, the Jersey Shore, Los Angeles, Millbrook, Newport, Atlantic City, and Litchfield County, Connecticut.
The company has also introduced a weekend service that can take customers between Sag Harbor and Shelter Island by Riva-style boat, which costs $95 a seat, as well as partnerships for various events like Coachella.
In April, it announced a partnership with Delta Air Lines to streamline the transfer process for passengers flying in and out of New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. Delta passengers arriving to JFK, including from Los Angeles, San Francisco, and London, can arrange to be met on the jet bridge by Delta's Elite Services team, who will gather their checked luggage and bring them to an awaiting Blade car on the tarmac. That car then brings them to a Blade helicopter, which will get them to Manhattan in less than 10 minutes.