The next time you’re stuck in traffic on the way to John F. Kennedy International Airport, you can honestly say, “Maybe we should’ve taken the chopper.”

Uber Technologies Inc. is now offering its Uber Copter service in New York to all Uber riders, the company announced on Thursday. Previously, only members of Uber’s top two tiers, Platinum and Diamond, could use the service, which began on July 9.

Regular Uber users have a four-hour window, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., in which to book an Uber Copter during weekday rush hours. A one-way ride costs from $200 to $225 per person. 

“The focus in the near term is to open this up to all riders, to demonstrate this vision of seamless connection between cars and helicopters,” says Eric Allison, head of Uber Elevate, the company’s flight business.

Through the app, customers are able to schedule a journey as far as five days in advance, until space is full. As with Uber car rides, prices will fluctuate, based on demand. Two helicopters will be used, for now, to make the trips.

The journey has three legs. First, an Uber car picks up riders and takes them to the Downtown Manhattan Heliport. For trips to JFK, Uber has limited pickups to locations below Houston Street, which the company says is designed to maximize customers’ time. “If you live on the Upper West Side, taking a trip to lower Manhattan and then a [helicopter] flight to JFK might not make much sense,” says Anil Nathan, Uber’s general manager of aviation. (The “only-below-Houston” rule does not apply if you’re flying from JFK to the heliport. After landing there, an Uber driver can take you to any destination, even if it’s above Houston Street.)

The flight itself takes about eight minutes, followed by an Uber car ride from the helipad near Terminal 8 at JFK to a passenger’s designated terminal. Trips can be booked via one request in the Uber app, instead of three separate ones, though customers will receive an emailed bill receipt for each leg.

Uber is using Bell 430 twin-engine helicopters operated by Newark-based company HeliFlite and has two pilots on every flight. There are six leather passenger seats for a maximum of eight people on board. They have Rolls-Royce 250-C40B turboshaft engines, are capable of speeds up to 161 mph, and cost about $6.2 million each.

The experience is not dissimilar from a normal plane ride, except much closer to the ground and near enough to recognize the buildings and neighborhoods you’re flying over. The three-step journey can take as little as 30 minutes, while the same trek by car from Manhattan can take an hour or more, depending on traffic. Public transportation generally takes from 50 to 75 minutes.

The Future of Air Travel
The company is using Uber Copter as a test run for its goal of creating an aerial ride-sharing network of eVTOL aircraft, electric vehicles that offer vertical takeoff and landing.

“Uber Copter is kind of the first manifestation of this future vision,” Allison says. “Ultimately, we see Uber Copter transitioning into Uber Air. This is kind of the first iteration of that.”

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