Why Delta’s Hype is Wrong on New Blade Helicopter Partnership

Delta is promoting its new New York JFK – Downtown helicopter transfer partnership with Blade as though it’s especially innovative.

Airlines have offered helicopter transfers for years, for instance Continental used to offer free helicopter transfers with paid business tickets out of Newark and even let you redeem 10,000 extra miles for a helicopter transfer on business class awards.

I still remember as a young kid growing up in New York the New York Airways helicopter crash on top of the Pan Am Building (now Met Life Building). They offered airport service between late 1965 and early 1968 but gave up because of lack of customer interest. The service restarted in 1977, and just a few months in a helicopter preparing to depart for JFK fell on its side with rotors turning, breaking off a blade. Four passengers were killed, the blade fell to the ground and killed a pedestrian as well.

I suspect the incident made it tougher for helicopter services to succeed in New York — it was 38 years before I was willing to go up in one.

My own fear of helicopters aside the market is going to be limited largely to those who:

  1. work near a heliport (in this case East 34th Street, West 30th Street, and Wall Street)

  2. aren’t transporting much luggage

  3. aren’t super price sensitive (though shared helicopters with spare seats aren’t more than double a black car).

Currently Blade charges $195 for a one-way seat on a shared scheduled helicopter or $695 and up for your own helicopter without the Delta VIP ground service integration.

However you also have to bank on the weather cooperating, because helicopters can easily delay and then you miss your international flight.

Copyright: mezzotint123rf / 123RF Stock Photo

It’s not even as though this is being marketed as a throw-in with paid business class travel, it’s merely ‘integrated’ with Delta travel. No doubt this means Delta earns big commissions on each booking. On even a 50-50 deal, Delta takes the hyphen.

There’s something to be said for services that reduce the transaction costs of efficient transportation which includes helicopters (such as Blade). Here Delta will be adding on services that increase price, opening up their customer base to market helicopter services to. It’s not something that’s worked in the past. Maybe there’s enough of a market and the current operators are good enough to succeed where others failed. But it’s surely a niche play.

I expect Delta to oversell what they’re doing, and for everyone to lap it up. I’m still waiting to hear from customers who actually received offers to upgrade to private jet travel for instance. (Two years ago I believed it when Delta said buy ups would be a new regular feature to make use of spare private jet capacity.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Why do you really care how DL handles PR for things like this? There are probably a decent number of pax who might give this a try. And at least DL has a PR dept, we’ve seen how UA’s has done recently…

  2. lol, Robert. With all due respect, it’s Gary’s job to care about stuff like this. He is giving his analysis as a “thought leader in travel”.

  3. Some years back (1980s?), CO had an arrangement for helicopter transfers in Houston. I think they operated to Ellington, Downtown and Hobby, but it’s a bit hazy right now.

  4. Sometime in the 1970’s (I was a kid), my family did a helicopter airport to airport transfer. JFK was one end – don’t remember the other airport – must have been EWR.

    For now, the E train or LIRR will work for me when coming in/out of JFK.

  5. I agree with Gary. Don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining. This isnt “new”, or “advanced” or affordable for that matter. Wont last, Ill bet you a bad Delta meal on that.

  6. December 1970 , I flew into San Francisco and rode a twin rotor helicopter to Oakland . Seemed like it took 10 minutes . This was arranged over the phone with a travel agent . Don’t remember airline or helicopter company . Didn’t cost very much either . That was important because I was making about $119 a month back then .

  7. But is it a Polaris helicopter? My secretary sent me an internet the other day that explained all about the new Polaris class. I’m not flying on Delta or Blade unless it’s Polaris Blade.

  8. The Met Life Building (fka Pan Am building) incident ended all helicopters flying past the water’s edge and landing in Manhattan. Such landings were banned. Period. (There may be a national security exemption for the president.)

    So, yes, that massively reduced demand as midtown was no longer an option.

  9. @ Mark — Yeah, and if you have to go to the water’s edge in Manhattan, you might as well just drive to the airport. I’m sure there’s a niche market for this as a status symbol, but there isn’t much of a market for it as a practical, time-saving way to make your flight.

  10. I think I can helicopter tour an Hawaiian island for about 200.00. That seems reasonable for an alternative rush hour commute.
    Assuming the pilot is not texting while flying, is a chopper more dangerous than a car?

  11. Wow you really try to trash Delta at every opportunity. No reference to SkyPesos, weren’t you the ‘thought leader’ who claims authorship of that?

  12. Pan Am had service from JFK to the East 34th St. heliport that was included in First Class flights to/from JFK. It was particularly convenient at rush hour times. I don’t know when it was discontinued —the last time I remember using it was in 1984.

  13. I think PanAm had the coptor service from the East Side for business class, too. Also, Sabena–remember them?-had helicopter service with business class from Brussels to Paris. A truly memorable extension.

  14. For those “thought leaders” with short memories and irrational phobias of rotary wing aircraft travel, there was actually a NY helicopter airline back in the 50s-80s which had a fleet of mid-size helicopters (much larger than shown here) that had regular, scheduled shuttle flights between the 3 major NY City airports (and various heliports around the city): New York Airways. I used NY Airways once in the late 70s to make a connection between JFK and LGA after a flight cancelation – the airline I was departing on (IIRC, American) even paid for the ‘copter ride as it was the only way for me to get to the other airport in time for my departure. Man, what fun that was!!!

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