Reporters Race to JFK Airport on NYC Subway and Uber Copter—and the Subway Wins

The future of mobility is off to a tricky start.

Uber Copter
Uber

Two reporters for the New York Post decided to find out in a Top Gear-style race if the new Uber Copter helo service is really as efficient and time-saving as it promises. One would take the ride-share helicopter, and the other would rely on New York City’s creaky public transportation system. The goal? To see who could get from Midtown Manhattan to John F. Kennedy Airport in Queens.

Normally, taking such a trip from virtually anywhere in Manhattan could take anywhere from an hour or two by car to sometimes more than that by public transportation, depending on the time of day and traffic. Furthermore, hiring a cab or even a “black cab” such as an Uber or a limo service could cost as much as $200.

Back in June, Uber announced its air travel for hire service called Uber Copter, dedicated strictly to transporting those willing to pay the premium for a helicopter ride from Lower Manhattan to John F. Kennedy Airport in Queens. The company claimed its service could get riders there in roughly a six-minute chopper ride at nearly the same cost of around $200 to $225.

The two reporters set off at the same time, with one relying on a combination of multiple Uber cars and one helicopter get to helipad on the southern end of Manhattan located adjacent to the Staten Island Ferry, and then from the helipad at the destination to the actual JFK terminal. The other would take traditional public transportation.

The reporter's first Uber took about 24 minutes at the cost of $30.67 before tip due to midday gridlock. Then, a second car ride was needed to get to the South Street Seaport, which took another 13 minutes. It's unclear why there was a need for a second Uber to complete a one-way trip to the seaport.

After boarding the Bell 430 helicopter leased out to Uber Copter, the rider then had to endure a two-minute safety video before getting airborne at around 2:25 p.m. The trip delivered on its promise, taking roughly six minutes to touch down at JFK, but then the reporter had to take one last Uber, bringing the total travel time to one hour and 25 minutes in total, arriving at the destination at 2:40 p.m.

On the other hand, the reporter using public transportation managed to complete the trip in nearly the same time, only arriving three minutes earlier, having only spent a total of $7.75 on a subway admission and JFK Air Train ride.

So is it worth it? Well, it largely depends on where your starting point is and the time of day.

One commenter on our original Uber Copter story claimed he made it from Lower Manhattan to JFK using a helicopter service at a cost “less than 150$ (sic),” saving him about 75$ on a cab to while leaving him with an extra “two hours to spend with a client.” However, it's not clear what company this service was through.

If you’re located within a few minutes of South Street Seaport, then the trip may be worth your buck, especially since Uber Copter claims its service is best suited for those already in the neighboring area. Otherwise, it’s an awful waste of money for just a nice view and a few extra minutes to spare.