A chopper service for the wealthy just sold out of a commuter-pass between the Hamptons and Manhattan in September, suggesting that many of the wealthy who fled the city during the pandemic plan to remain in the Hamptons for the fall.
Blade, the chopper and mobility company, announced a special "Hamptons Commuter Pass" last week, offering daily helicopter flights between the Hamptons and New York City. For a one-time membership fee of $965, customers can get flights for $295 each way. Typically, the flights cost $795.
Typically, Blade's business to and from the Hamptons falls by 80% in September, as Hamptonites return to their jobs and lives in the city. But Blade's September promotion sold out of all 250 spots in less than than 24 hours.
"We were very surprised," said Rob Wiesenthal, Blade's CEO. "This is a signal that people plan on staying out there."
The demand speaks to one of the central questions facing New York this fall — how many of the hundreds of thousands of wealthy and affluent New Yorkers who left the city in March plan to return? With businesses continuing with remote work programs, and with many private schools offering hybrid classes or remote options, many families that decamped to the Hamptons, Connecticut, Westchester and the Hudson Valley are staying on through the fall while making quick trips to the city.
The shift has turned the usual commuter patterns of the New York wealthy upside down. Rather than being based in the city, with occasional trips to the beach or second home, families plan to visit the city two to three days a week and then return to their homes with more space, yards and activities for their kids.
"The whole pattern has suddenly flipped," Wiesenthal said. "Our model we went from a weekend business for people living in the city to a seven-day or five-day business of people living in the Hamptons and going to the city."
Wiesenthal said that based on the continued demand for the commuter-pass, Blade is adding more helicopters to the route and re-opening the program to more customers. He said 80% of the commuter-pass buyers had never flown on Blade before. He said overall business this summer was down from last year, since Hamptonites stayed at the beach and didn't return to the city.
The commuter program started after customers started calling the company in recent weeks asking for lower-priced or more frequent options for shuttling to the city and back. Many had kids in school only two or three days a week, or needed to be in the office for one or two days. A few planned to commute by chopper every day, so they can return to their families each day in the Hamptons.
Wiesenthal said that while 250 people isn't a large number for Manhattan, they are among the biggest spenders, and won't be supporting their usual restaurants, retailers and services in the city at a time when small businesses need help most. He said that when Blade surveyed new customers about why they're not going back to the city, they cited schools, remote work and the rising crime rate in the city.
"Crime was number one," he said.