In July, Uber launched its Uber Copter helicopter service between Manhattan and New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport for Uber Platinum and Uber Diamond rewards members. But as of Thursday, October 3, Uber Copter is now available for all Uber riders with iPhones flying in and out of JFK.
AFAR tried it out to see what it’s actually like. Here’s what I thought:
How do you book an Uber Copter?
Uber touts Uber Copter as its “first multimodal option that seamlessly transports riders from Manhattan to JFK at the tap of a button.” And it really is that simple. To book an Uber Copter, all I had to do was choose a pickup location below the geofence Uber set up covering all of downtown Manhattan south of Houston Street and select the “Copter” option that popped up. From there, it scheduled my car pickup in Manhattan, the flight, and another car at JFK to drop me off at my terminal.
An Uber car picked me up at 10:25 a.m. near Lafayette and Houston Street, dropped me off at the Downtown Manhattan Heliport near Pier 6 by 10:44 a.m., and I boarded my Uber Copter at 10:50 a.m. My helicopter had initially been booked for an 11 a.m. departure, but since Uber coordinated my car pickup and we arrived a little early, I was also able to take off earlier. On the way to the airport, we flew directly over Governors Island and Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, while also taking in incredible views of the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty.
Just 10 minutes later we landed at JFK’s private jet terminal. From there, another Uber car drove me to my destination—the TWA Hotel—by 11:10 a.m.
Moving forward, flights will be available to all riders Monday through Friday during afternoon rush hours roughly from 2 to 6 p.m. local time. Uber Copter can be booked both on-demand and up to five days in advance. Because the service only opened up to all Uber users today, it’s hard to say how popular the service could be and if it could book up completely when you want to travel. If you’re a planner like me, it’s best to book in advance to secure a spot.
How long does Uber Copter take?
Door-to-door the trip was 45 minutes in total. If I had left from closer to Wall Street, it could’ve been even faster. In a car, it would’ve taken at least an hour and 15 minutes with traffic. Via train, Google Maps says it would’ve also taken around an hour and 15 minutes. But taking into account at least one transfer and connecting to the Air Train at JFK, I usually give myself an hour and a half if I’m taking the subway to JFK from Manhattan.
How much does Uber Copter cost?
The entire cost of the helicopter flight and the two car rides came to $205.34 (not including the tip). When I booked my flight, the app showed me that an UberX all the way to JFK would have been $75.53 and an Uber Black would’ve cost $126.02, making the Uber Copter flight slightly more expensive. Pricing will fluctuate based on demand, since the two Uber Copters operating in NYC can each accommodate five riders. But Uber says it will max out at $225 per ride. Uber Copter is priced per passenger.
A Blade Airport helicopter flight between Manhattan and JFK, Newark, and LaGuardia airports can be booked for $195 per seat. However, that only includes ground transportation between the helipad and the airline terminal once you land, so for solo travelers Uber Copter ends up being the cheaper option from Manhattan since it also includes the car fare to the heliport.
If you’re traveling with friends or family, however, Blade’s charter helicopter option can be booked in advance for as little as $695 and can be split among six people, bringing the cost down to about $115 per person. If you aren’t flying with six people, any extra seats will be available to other Blade fliers to reduce the price of the charter.
Who operates Uber Copter?
Unlike regular Uber cars, Uber Copter is operated by its partner HeliFlite instead of simply anyone who can fly and operate a helicopter. There are currently two Uber Copters that are both twin engine and dual pilot aircraft. As a first-time helicopter rider, I was a little nervous about turbulence, but the twin engines made it fly as smoothly as a regular airplane and the cabin was spacious, too.
The bottom line
Because Uber Copter can only be booked from below Houston Street, this option really only makes sense for people who live or work in downtown Manhattan. But if you check that box, Uber Copter is worth booking the next time you go to JFK, whether you’re a business traveler who doesn’t have time to sit in traffic or a solo traveler who wants to splurge and take in the epic views from a helicopter window. Considering that a similar-length sightseeing helicopter tour of the city costs $199 (plus a $35 heliport fee), this would even make a great experience gift for anyone you know who is planning a trip to New York soon. All you need to do is purchase an Uber Gift Card online so they can add credit to their account.
What’s next for Uber Copter?
Currently, Uber only has plans to operate Uber Copter in New York out of JFK airport. But this is all just the start of something bigger for Uber’s aviation arm.
“This is our first step to what will become a future Uber Air network,” said Eric Allison, head of Uber Elevate.
Uber Elevate will eventually expand into an aerial ridesharing network of eVTOL (electric vertical takeoff and landing) aircraft in Dallas, Los Angeles, and Melbourne, Australia, by 2023. These aircraft take off and land vertically like a helicopter but don’t have rotors so they are quieter. Because they are electric, they are also more eco-friendly than helicopters. In addition to airport drop-off and pickups, Uber Elevate also hopes to use the eVTOL fleet for intercity transit to alleviate traffic in these three cities with a similar price point to Uber Black fares.
“The vision [of the eVTOL] is to get a product that will get into more people’s hands,” Allison told AFAR.
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