What it’s like flying Blade to the Hamptons during the pandemic
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When the pandemic hit, I quickly heeded the stay-at-home orders and canceled all my upcoming travel plans.
As the country slowly reopened, I committed to finding safe domestic adventures instead of the far-flung excursions that I’d originally planned for 2020. That’s why I was so excited about my Blade seaplane flight from the East River of Manhattan to the Hamptons on Long Island.
Sure it wasn’t a long-haul first-class jaunt, but it was my first seaplane flight in over 11 years. And here’s why I loved it, especially for a pandemic-era adventure.
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First, what is Blade?
For those unfamiliar, Blade offers air taxi services on a variety of aircraft types to popular leisure destinations across the country. The company focuses its operations in the New York City area. In 2019, Blade launched Blade Airport — five-minute helicopter flights from downtown Manhattan to all three major New York City-area airports for around $200 a person. (In addition, you can also use Blade to crowdsource or charter planes, as well purchase seats on shared Gulfstream flights from New York to Miami.)
But Blade’s bread-and-butter offering — flights to and from Manhattan and the Hamptons — have long been some of its most popular. The company promises short 40-minute flights that bypass that usual gridlock traffic and overcrowded Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) trains to get you to your destination faster and in greater comfort.
During the pandemic, Blade has temporarily halted most of its scheduled flying, including Blade Airport. However, Hamptons flights continue on a variety of seaplanes, light aircraft and helicopters.
The lounges are great
Most Blade experiences begin in one of the company’s chic lounges. There are four such locations dotted around the perimeter of Manhattan.
My flight departed from the Blade Aqua Lounge, located at the corner of 23rd Street and FDR Drive at the New York Skyports Seaplane Base. I took an Uber from my apartment to the lounge, but couldn’t find the space when I arrived.
Turns out that it was located on the ground level of a non-descript multi-level parking garage. There weren’t any Blade signs, aside from the signature black branding around the facility.
Of Blade’s four Manhattan lounges, the Aqua lounge is likely the best for a COVID-era flight. That’s because it is completely open-air.
Plus, the director chairs are separated from each other at greater than six feet to promote distancing.
When I arrived, the friendly check-in agent took my temperature and blood oxygen level as part of their health screening and then checked my ID. Once checked in, my bags were tagged and stored on a luggage cart, and I was invited to enjoy the space.
The agent offered bottled water or seltzer, instead of the normal liquor selection available to-go in signature Blade sippy cups. There were also some packaged snacks available, as well as plenty of hand sanitizer.
While waiting I connected to the fast and free Wi-Fi to get some last-minute work completed while staring at the Empire State Building.
Restrooms were operated by the parking garage and weren’t as nice as you’d find in the other Blade lounges.
We were invited to board the seaplane just five minutes before our scheduled departure time.
Seaplane is ideal for distancing
The majority of Hamptons flights are operated by helicopters. However, I chose the seaplane option both for the novelty and the enhanced distancing.
Upon pulling up to the dock, the check-in agent went onboard to electrostatically fog the interior and sanitize all the seats. Then, passengers were invited to board one-by-one.
All eight seats were spread across four rows in a 1-1 configuration. This arrangement was definitely preferred compared to the helicopter where some passengers face each other.
The open cockpit seats two pilots at the front and all the luggage is stored at the back of the plane in a small cargo hold area.
Each leather single seat was quite comfortable. I couldn’t get the chair to recline, but that didn’t bother me for such a short flight. Just note that unlike some of the choppers, there weren’t any USB ports for charging devices. Aviation enthusiasts probably won’t mind though since they’ll likely be peeled to the window throughout the flight.
Overall, there was definitely enough space around the cabin, making for a more luxurious and distanced adventure compared to taking a chopper. Plus, there were just six passengers on my flight, which meant there was even room to spread out.
Tall passengers will definitely prefer the seaplane to the chopper, but you’ll likely still be cramped compared to a full-sized commercial jet.
Mask compliance wasn’t perfect
As with most major U.S. airlines, Blade crew and passengers are required to wear masks end-to-end throughout the journey.
Thankfully, compliance wasn’t an issue on the ground. But it was a different story once we were in the air.
All passengers kept their masks on, but the pilots didn’t. They, unfortunately, lowered their masks below their chins for the duration of the flight.
Blade outsources the flight operations, so, hopefully, the company will speak to the seaplane operator to reinforce the importance of mask compliance.
In addition, Blade’s health protocols call for employees and pilots to wear sanitary gloves. The ground agents followed the guidelines, but the pilots didn’t, unfortunately.
Calling all AvGeeks
My flight was operated by a modified Cessna 208B Grand Caravan seaplane, aptly named “Flying Fish.” Flying on a seaplane was a real treat for an aviation enthusiast like me.
But aside from the thrill of actually being on a seaplane, the flight itself was one of the most scenic I’ve had in a long time.
To start, we left the dock and “taxied” to our departure area. As we moved along the water, the Empire State Building came into perfect framing with the wing of the plane.
We took off to the south and immediately climbed out over the Williamsburg Bridge.
We then made a sharp 180-degree turn to head north along the East River. This made for some awe-inspiring views of Manhattan.
We then passed directly over LaGuardia Airport at roughly 1,400 feet elevation. This was perhaps the highlight of the flight for me, as it was the first time I’ve ever tried air-to-air and air-to-ground photography.
After the brief 20 seconds that we were above LGA, I’m hooked and can’t wait to do it again.
The remainder of the 40-minute flight was uneventful.
We eventually climbed to 3,500 feet and continued passing over the North Fork of Long Island until making a beeline for the East Hampton Airport before arriving on time on runway 10.
You pay (dearly) for the convenience
Getting to the Hamptons is all about balancing speed, convenience and price. (In 2020, you can also factor in safety and well-being.) In previous summers, I’ve driven, taken the Jitney or rode the LIRR Cannonball express train service.
Blade certainly wins when it comes to speed and convenience, especially if you’re based in lower Manhattan. Getting from my apartment to East Hampton in just over an hour was incredible — and easily beat the second-best option (train) by at least an hour.
But, you’re going to pay for that privilege. This season, Blade charges $795 a seat for most Hamptons flights.
The service was stellar
The service matched my expectations for such a premium experience.
The lounge attendant doubled as the check-in agent and ground handler for the luggage. She was very friendly and made sure that each passenger had a drink, snacks and a Blade hat before the flight.
Once onboard, the pilots were quite friendly and quickly proceeded through a safety demonstration. Upon landing, each passenger was escorted off the plane one-by-one by a ground agent.
Blade offers the fastest, most convenient method of getting to the Hamptons. With helicopter and seaplane service from Manhattan, you’ll start your weekend in the most luxurious way possible — but you’ll pay for that privilege.
Aviation enthusiasts will gawk at the views, and corporate executives will enjoy the time savings. If you can afford it, or you’re looking to splurge, I’d highly recommend giving Blade a try, so long as the company gets mask compliance to 100%.
All photos by Zach Griff/The Points Guy
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