Last week’s partnership announcement between Delta Air Lines and Blade, a helicopter booking service in New York City was surprising to me mostly in that it was a reminder Blade still exists. And now it seems that booking a transfer to or from a Delta flight at JFK is more convenient than before. Alas, it still isn’t great.
Here’s how the companies describe the offering in the press release:
Delta’s JFK customers can book an expedited, seamless experience that begins and ends at one of BLADE’s three Manhattan heliport lounges where they may relax in a full-service lounge prior to their five-minute flight. Upon touchdown, a member of Delta’s Elite Services team will welcome the customer, collect baggage and personally escort them from the helicopter via awaiting ground transportation to the departure terminal, expediting security clearance as they head to their departing aircraft. When it’s time for the Delta flight, the customer is escorted to their seat on board.
No, only people flying Delta that select the Delta “Helicopter-to-Gate Special Escort” or “Gate-to-Helicopter Special Escort” option
— Fly BLADE (@flybladenow) April 25, 2017
After a few emails back and forth I confirmed that the escort option is only available on Blade Bounce bookings. That’s the on-demand version of the service and requires chartering the entire helicopter with a price “starting at $695.” And it still doesn’t get you inside security on the outbound flight, just an escort to the line.
The prior iteration of helicopter transfers in New York City was operated by US Helicopter and eventually it managed to secure partnerships with Delta and Continental (yeah, it was a while ago) for full-fare passengers to get free transfers. You could even earn OnePass points or SkyMiles for the trip. USH was scheduled service, not charters, so the timing wasn’t always perfect for the super high-end customers this targets. But it was also reasonably priced. A transfer was typically around $200 and as the company tried desperately to drum up business there were sales around $99. That’s when I took the ride a couple times.
One of the major differences a decade ago was that the flights were all inside security. US Helicopter paid for TSA screening at its facilities in Manhattan so that passengers could transfer directly to the lounge or gate once at the airport. It was seamless and wonderful. And, obviously, not sustainable at that price point. Even with the discounts I was the only passenger once and one of two the other time I took the trip. Part of the problem is that the heliports are located on the waterfront. At Wall Street that’s near a number of office buildings; in midtown, not so much. So figure 20+ minutes of additional drive time on top of the flight.
Blade avoids many of these challenges by running as a booking service, not a helicopter operator. That means it can farm out the flight operations to a licensed operator when a booking comes in with minimal up-front costs to keep the lights on. But it still has the heliport location challenges.
This latest move gets some publicity for the service to be sure, but it isn’t all that much different a travel experience for customers than it was before the offering came along. I’m skeptical this will move the needle much for the company unless Delta comes up with some tighter integration or a way to offer truly seamless through-booking.
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