Everything You Wanted to Know About Taking an Uber Copter
Uber launches its newest rideshare option: Uber Copter. Available only in New York City, passengers can now book airborne transport to and from John F. Kennedy Airport. While the service has quietly been available to Uber’s elite-status customers since July, it’s now an option for anyone with an account (and some expendable income), writes Elise Taylor for Vogue.com.
What’s a ride on an Uber Copter like? On Tuesday, I decided to test it out myself. Here’s everything I learned.
The basics: For the moment, Uber flights are only available during afternoon rush hours: between 2 and 6 p.m. They leave from the Downtown Manhattan Heliport, near South Street Seaport. Although a company spokesperson tells me “pricing is dynamic, just as Uber rides are,” one-way rides typically cost around $200 to $225. That price includes ground transportation — an UberX from your pickup point to the Manhattan heliport, and from the JFK heliport to your airport terminal or airport destination. Currently, pickup points are only accepted in Manhattan south of Houston Street (while those returning to the city from JFK via Uber Copter can get a free drop-off anywhere below 14th street). The total flight time is eight minutes. But my pilot boasts that he once got there six.
How it works: You can order an Uber Copter up to five days before your departure for JFK You can also, if you’re feeling brave, order it “on demand” a bit like a regular Uber, in which case the algorithm will serve you up the next scheduled flight (or the one closest to your departure time). I wanted to get to JFK by 1 p.m. on a Tuesday. The night before my flight, I opened the Uber app and selected the Copter option just as you would toggle between an UberX or an UberXL.
After entering my requirements—leave from Vogue’s office in Lower Manhattan, arrive at JFK’s TWA Hotel—I was given the following itinerary via e-mail. Pick-up: 12:28 p.m. Arrive at the heliport: 12:38. Depart for JFK: 12:48. Land at the airport: 12:56. Arrive at my final destination: 1:02. Total travel time, door-to-door? 34 minutes. Tap, tap, booked.
The day of: I already had my itinerary but, on the day of my trip, Uber also provides a handy countdown clock on the home screen of the app, ticking down the minutes until my trip begins. At 12:25, I got a notification that a gray Toyota Camry was on its way. At 12:28, it pulled up promptly to the curb. When I got to the heliport, a friendly attendant wearing an “Uber Copter” shirt ushered me inside to the lounge. There, I showed my ID and entered my weight (it’s important to have equal weight distribution within the cabin) and number of bags. After viewing a safety video, a notification flashed on my iPhone screen. My boarding pass for the helicopter was ready.
I walked out to the tarmac and gazed upon the black, Uber-branded helicopter (operated by the Newark-based company, HeliFlite), with its blade a-twirling. Though the vessel’s five-person capacity was almost full, none of us felt crowded and there was a surprising amount of leg room. After some quick announcements from the pilot, we were in the air, rising up over the East River. The skyline of New York City and the Statue of Liberty was visible through the windows. Unlike other helicopters, which require headsets to talk, the hypermodern aircrafts used by Uber are relatively quiet. I could hold a conversation with my fellow passengers, although I needed to raise my voice a bit louder than normal to be heard above the whirring.
Not that we had much time to talk. Only eight minutes later, we were on the ground at J.F.K.s helipad, a stone’s throw away from Terminal 8. It was 12:56 — exactly on schedule. Right after exiting the helicopter, my phone screen lit up. My UberX to TWA Hotel was one minute away.
As I was whisked away to my final destination, my first thought was about how seamless it all was. With just a few quick taps, I had not only arranged quick transportation, but end-to-end transportation. My second thought is that I wish I didn’t know about it. On a good day, a taxi ride to the airport from my office takes over an hour (assuming there was no traffic, and there’s always traffic.) Public transportation takes anywhere from an hour to 90 minutes or more. UberCopter more than halved that—and it wasn’t that much more expensive than a car.
I will admit, however, that I’m in an ideal situation for this product. My office is within the “below Houston Street pickup range,” which means I get door-to door-service. For those farther uptown, flying might actually not save you that much time, since you have to travel to Lower Manhattan to catch the Copter. Although, considering the novelty (not to mention the bragging rights) involved, it might be worth it, depending on how bad the traffic is on the Van Wyck.
The big picture: Uber Copter is just the first of many initiatives planned for Uber Elevate, the aerial ride-sharing arm of the company. “This is our version 0.1,” Eric Allison, the head of Uber Elevate, tells Vogue. They have plans to move to electric-powered, environmentally friendly vehicles known as eVTOLS, or “electric vertical takeoff and landing aircrafts” in the next few years years. “It’s a way to offer both time savings and a really interesting value proposition to our riders, but also be good for the environment,” Allison says. Eventually, they also plan to have their own sky ports to fly out of. Watch this (air) space.