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:
- work near a heliport (in this case East 34th Street, West 30th Street, and Wall Street)
- aren’t transporting much luggage
- 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.)