A taste of the private-jet life: What it’s like to fly BLADEone from NYC to Miami
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A private jet may be the most luxurious way to fly, but unlike first-class flights with closing-door suites, there aren’t any reasonable ways to book private jets with points and miles. Still, flying private has become much more accessible than it once was. Today, there are a number of alternatives to commercial air travel that are redefining what we’ll call affordable private-jet luxury.
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Among the emerging players for affordable private fligthts is Blade. It’s best known for its continuous helicopter service between Manhattan and New York’s three major airports, but Blade offers on-demand charters for helicopters, turboprops and any class of private jet to practically anywhere in the world. As you’d expect, chartering an entire jet isn’t cheap, but Blade also lets you book by the seat on regularly scheduled private-jet flights to popular vacation spots such as Aspen, Miami and Nassau for a fraction of the cost.
TPG recently set out to find the best way to travel between New York City and Miami Beach. We wanted to compare speed, price and comfort, so this presented the perfect opportunity for us to try out the by-the-seat BLADEone service.
Nick Ellis was assigned to fly Spirit from LaGuardia to Fort Lauderdale, Vikkie Walker was assigned American Airlines business class from New York-JFK to Miami and I was the lucky one who got Blade from Manhattan to Miami-Opa Locka Executive Airport.
The Points Guy, Brian Kelly, flew BLADEone when it was first introduced in 2015 and thoroughly enjoyed his experience on a Gulfstream, the pinnacle of biz jets. Since then, the company has introduced two completely retrofitted Bombardier CRJ-200s on the route.
BLADEone is a seasonal service offered at least twice a week from November through March. It leaves New York on Thursdays and Fridays and returns Sundays and Mondays, with additional flights offered over holidays and special events. Flights operate in and out of Westchester County Airport (HPN), about 30 miles north of New York City, and Miami-Opa Locka Executive Airport (OPF).
A seat starts at $2,450 one-way, or $2,750 including a helicopter transfer between Blade’s lounge on the West Side of Manhattan and Westchester — plus about $190 in taxes and fees. In comparison, last-minute first-class flights between New York and Miami typically cost around $500 and a light-jet charter costs around $15,000. What really ups the value with Blade is that if you purchase a set of two round-trip tickets, you’ll also get a room for the weekend at the opulent Faena Hotel Miami Beach.
Unlike some by-the-seat private jet services, there are no membership fees required to book any of Blade’s flights. However, there are several ways you could save on your flight. If you’re new to BLADE, you can receive $50 off your first flight when you sign up with the code BRIANF&F. Those under 28 years old can get discounts on BLADEone, as well as flights between Manhattan, the Hamptons and Nantucket, with a Blade-GX membership. You can also get as much as 20% off by purchasing a flight pack.
Just as with helicopter transfers to the airport, booking my one-way BLADEone flight was seamless and quick. I used the website to book my flight, but Blade’s app is just as user-friendly.
During the booking process, I was offered several add-ons:
- Private transportation from the Miami Blade lounge to my final Miami Beach destination ($100)
- Care fee of $275 to bring a dog under 35 pounds — (An additional seat must be purchased for each dog over 35 pounds.)
- A special meal based on preferences or dietary restrictions ($75)
- A ready-to-go portable phone charger ($20)
I declined all and then proceeded to enter my personal details, including my weight. My confirmation email had information on everything I needed to know, including luggage and cancellation policies. Since my booking included a helicopter connection, my luggage allowance was capped at one carry-on bag of up to 25 pounds — helicopters have luggage-weight restrictions. Without the helicopter transfer, I would have been allowed a carry-on bag and up to three checked bags. BLADEone tickets are nonrefundable, but you will receive a credit that can be used on future flights if you cancel at least seven days prior to departure.
Blade doesn’t have a loyalty program so you won’t earn any miles for flying, but you can still be rewarded by using the right credit card to pay for your flights. Unlike most private jet services which code as general spending, Blade bookings code as travel so you’ll want to use a card that offers a good return on travel spending, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
Since my booking included a helicopter transfer to Westchester, my journey began at the Blade West lounge, at the corner of 30th Street and 12th Avenue, near the Hudson Yards development in Manhattan. Not large by any means, but the oversized mobile home is hard to miss.
Blade recommends arriving at least 30 minutes before your flight, but I didn’t want to take any chances with Friday afternoon traffic so I left extra early and arrived about 50 minutes before my helicopter’s departure time.
The check-in process was one of the quickest and easiest I’ve ever experienced, even easier than at the PS private terminal at LAX. All I needed to do was show the agent my ID and within a matter of seconds there was a boarding-pass bracelet on my wrist and tags on my luggage. That was it. There were no lines, my bags weren’t weighed and there was no security check.
I was then offered a drink from the bar — served in a reusable plastic cup that I could take with me on the helicopter — and told that boarding would begin a few minutes before our scheduled departure. There were no monitors to check for gate numbers or boarding times since, well, there were no other flights leaving around the same time as ours.
The lounge is extremely stylish, equipped with fast Wi-Fi and many conveniently placed power outlets by the couch. Aside from a selection of alcoholic and soft drinks, there were a few mini Kind bars on offer. The snacks weren’t too exciting, but I wasn’t expecting much. Most people don’t spend much time in the lounge.
At 1:58 p.m. the helicopter started its engine. The floor and walls of the lounge started vibrating and the rear door opened, indicating that it was time to board our 2 p.m. flight. The ground staff grabbed my bags and escorted the other two passengers and me across the tarmac to the chopper. Although there was a Blade logo emblazoned on the top of the 2015 Bell 407 helicopter, it was actually owned and operated by Zip Aviation.
The doors were shut, we were given a quick safety briefing and we were in the air shortly after. It was first-come, first-served for the seats and many flights even offer the opportunity to sit in the copilot seat. I was glad that there were only three of us since it would’ve been a tight squeeze if all five seats in the back were occupied. Our flight to Westchester lasted about 16 minutes.
Our helicopter landed just a few feet from the jet. Transfering to it was seamless and there was no time wasted on the ground. All of the other passengers, who had started their journeys at Blade’s Westchester lounge, were already on board when our helicopter arrived so the doors were shut soon after we boarded.
As with the choppers, Blade doesn’t own any of its planes and instead acts as an agent of charter operators who do the actual flying with their planes and crews. On this route, Blade contracts Contour Aviation to operate its flights. Ours was on a Bombardier CRJ-200 built in 2003, registered N209RW.
Cabin and Seat
Most passengers will appreciate how short the time is between when the helicopter lands and when the jet departs, but because I was among the last to board I wasn’t able to get clean photos of the cabin. However, it was in tip-top condition when we boarded.
The CRJ-200 is normally used as a regional commercial passenger jet and can hold up to 50 people, but the ones Blade uses have been converted into luxury jets for 16.
This type of aircraft is much roomier than a normal chartered jet. All seats are full captain’s chairs with none of the sofas commonly found on private jets.
Seats are assigned by Blade’s Ops Team; I didn’t know my assignment until I was on board. Since all seats offer windows and direct aisle access there isn’t really a need to request a specific seat, though I’m sure Blade would honor it. A name card revealed that I’d been assigned the second row on the starboard, or right-hand, side of the plane.
However, since only eight of the 16 seats were occupied, one of the flight attendants asked if I wanted to move up to the first row and I happily did.
I ended up with a ton of extra space since the backward-facing seat in front of me — only the first row has backward-facing seats — was unoccupied.
Had that not been the case, I would have preferred my original seat since legroom could’ve gotten tight and I may have been staring at a stranger for the duration of my flight.
As soon as the meal service was completed, the cabin crew asked passengers to close their window shades so people could rest.
The comfy leather seats offered more than enough recline for a roughly two-and-a-half hour flight. Each seat has its own small storage compartment, but the crew offered to store everyone’s carry-ons in the back and there was also plenty of counter space. Under-seat storage was not possible.
Amenities and IFE
Beside my seat upon boarding were a fresh tulip, a cashmere throw with Blade’s logo embroidered, a plush pillow and a very well-sized amenity kit.
The amenity kit was made by New York brand Equipt4u and contained a number of unique items from various boutique brands: Artis Phantom Cleansing Silks, a packet of Liquid I.V. Hydration Multiplier, a Zitsticka acne patch, Supergoop!’s SPF 40 Unseen Sunscreen, Alpha-HMicro Cleanse Super Scrub, a Côte starter nail kit, a small ocean mist and sea salt-scented candle from NEST Fragrances and a three-month subscription to Peach Luxury Bath Tissue. It was lacking basics like dental kits, lip balm and socks, so it was clear that the contents of the kit were intended more for after the flight.
Each seat has a universal power outlet and a USB port which already had an iPhone charger plugged in. A 12.9-inch iPad Pro and Master & Dynamic over-ear headphones were available upon request. The iPad showed a long list of “purchased” movies, but only three — “Hustlers,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and “Parasite” — were actually downloaded onto the device and the Wi-Fi was too slow to stream the other ones. In fact, the Wi-Fi was too slow to do much besides sending and receiving texts and emails without attachments. I was unable to run a speed test or load Instagram. The iPad was also loaded with various newspaper and game apps, but unfortunately no flight tracker.
There’s one lavatory at the rear of the cabin. It’s definitely nicer than your average airplane bathroom and was stocked with toiletries from Jo Malone, Drybar, Herbivore Botanicals and the Faena Hotel.
Food and Beverage
In addition to the amenities, a menu, name card, coconut chips and bottle of water were waiting when I arrived. A flight attendant came by to offer a predeparture beverage of my choice shortly after that.
For an otherwise very first-class experience, I was surprised to find out there was no champagne on offer — just some sweet prosecco. It was Viamora, which retails for $10.99 on the ground.
As soon as we were in the air and the pilots turned off the seatbelt sign, the crew came through the cabin to take another round of drink orders and ask passengers if they would be having lunch. There was no choice of meal, but passengers could request special meals in advance for an additional $75.
My meal began with a 12-gram serving of Kaluga caviar from New York-based Pearl Street Caviar, which retails for $44. It was served with a dollop of creme fraiche, toast and a proper mother-of-pearl spoon. It was absolutely delightful and I almost asked for a second serving.
My dish was cleared promptly and a placemat was laid shortly after, but it took around 25 minutes for the next course to come out. Luckily, the wait proved to be worth it.
Next up was a bento box featuring a lobster Cobb salad with avocado, cheddar, radicchio and a soft-boiled egg, burrata with toybox tomatoes, basil seed and ginger vinaigrette, carrots with a mandarin citrus ginger glaze and a perfectly grilled medium-rare filet mignon with a smoked cabernet demi-glace. Everything was served cold except for the steak. This part of the meal was provided by BLT Restaurants and was as delicious as I would expect a meal to be at one of their restaurants on the ground.
Topping it all off were an espresso chocolate brownie and fruit skewers, served about 40 minutes after the mains. The brownie was served warm and I was offered a glass of milk to go along with it, but I passed and was too full to eat much of the brownie.
Aside from the service being drawn out, this was a terrific meal. Although the placemat barely covered the tray table and there was no drink menu, these are things should be easy for Blade to fix.
Flying private comes with a level of service that you’re unlikely to get on any commercial flight. Between the ground crew and Blade SKYcx cabin attendants, I felt well taken care of from the moment I checked in at the Blade lounge in Manhattan to when we arrived in Miami.
There were two crew members working the cabin and one in the galley. The service was extremely friendly and it was clear that Blade and its employees take pride in ensuring passengers have the best experience possible. My glass was kept filled throughout the flight and I appreciated the small touches like a recommendation for which movie to watch on the iPad and a rare invitation to the cockpit after the crew realized I was an AvGeek.
After a smooth landing, we had a quick taxi and were greeted with refreshing cold towels as we deplaned.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and before I knew it, I was sitting in Blade’s Miami lounge waiting for my Uber to arrive. It was even more chic than the West Side Manhattan lounge and again equipped with a full bar. My bag was brought straight to the car — no stressful baggage claim to deal with — and I was out by 5:28 p.m.
My BLADEone experience really lived up to the hype and I got off the plane in Miami wanting to do it all over again. It took me longer to get to Miami Beach from Opa Locka than if I flew into Miami International Airport and the actual two hour and 40-minute flight time wasn’t any quicker than commercial, but I was able to save a ton of time by flying over New York traffic and bypassing the hurdles that come with commercial travel.
All in all, it took me just under five hours door-to-door from the West Side Manhattan Blade lounge to my hotel in Miami Beach. The entire experience was extremely efficient and the food, service and hard product were tough to beat. It’s going to cost you a pretty penny, but can be worth it if you’re on a time crunch or are considering chartering a jet. Just beware, once you start flying private, you might become totally jaded about any other way of flying.
For more on private jet travel and exclusive travel experiences, see:
- These private jet players want to make luxury flying more affordable
- Flying Embraer’s super posh, quiet $10 million private jet
- Flying (Almost) Private (Almost) to Telluride and Back: A Review of Boutique Air
- Inside PS (The Private Suite) at LAX
- Is it worth paying for the VIP arrival and departure service at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel?
- My very first flight on a private jet, Gulfstream’s G500
All images by Benji Stawski / The Points Guy unless otherwise noted.
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