In another stark reminder of the divide between wealth classes, the wealthy in New York City are availing themselves of a certain privilege in record numbers. With cities becoming a nerve-wracking place to live and visit during the COVID-19 pandemic, wealthy NYC executives are using their money to keep their families as safe as possible. While most continue to commute to physical work, they’re now doing it from much farther away. Many are choosing to have their families reside in vacation homes hours outside of the city, and taking helicopter taxis to work in the Big Apple.
Private Helicopter Services Become All the Rage, All of a Sudden
Helicopter taxi services suddenly began filling up as summer drew to a close. Per Bloomberg, “Sometime around August, [Rob] Wiesenthal, co-founder of a private helicopter and seaplane business, noticed an unusual travel pattern among clients, many with second homes in the Hamptons and the Hudson Valley, where they’d been living since pandemic-related lockdowns began in March.
Executives were suddenly filling planes into Manhattan on Friday mornings, an unusual choice for clientele that stays out of the city on weekends. They also booked quick midweek jaunts, arriving early morning, with no luggage, and staying only a day, maybe two.
‘Imagine if, when it got cold, all the birds started going north,’ said Wiesenthal, chief executive officer of Blade Urban Air Mobility. ‘It made no sense.’”
Why Were People Suddenly Taking Brief Jaunts Into the Big Apple?
According to Wiesenthal’s observations, even devoted city-dwellers are being pushed away by the fact that their beloved bustling urban center is mostly a ghost town. With the things that most draw a person to a big city like theaters, restaurants, and cultural events offering little or no service, rattling around in New York with all the associated costs but few benefits loses it’s appeal. However, not everyone is ready to exchange their penthouse for a pitchfork. For those with the resources, staying in their rural vacation homes and commuting into the city has become the more appealing alternative. It allows their wives or husbands and children to be kept safely at a distance while permitting an easy commute to work; by helicopter.
Fed Up with Zoom, The Older Execs Were the First to Return
According to real estate exec Steven Klein, frustrating with telecommutes led some of his co-workers to set the example of returning to physical work locations. Per Bloomberg, “‘I’m comfortable working in the city, I’m just not comfortable bringing my family and living here,’ said Steven Klein, an executive at a real estate finance firm in Midtown. ‘I love New York, I grew up here, but the city right now is a little bit different.’
Klein’s wife and children, who are attending their Manhattan middle school online, are living in their East Hampton summer home at least through the end of the year. They have space there to hold after-school activities and meet with friends outdoors. Klein returns to his Upper East Side apartment for about three days a week, so he can work in-person at the office. He flies there and back on a seaplane or helicopter, a 35-minute trip that makes the East End of Long Island into a commutable suburb.
‘A lot of the older guys got a little fed up with Zoom over the summer,’ Klein said. ‘We want to set an example for the younger people who are comfortable going in, that we’re comfortable going back in.”’
More People Making the Suburban Commute Leap
While the privilege of being able to commute by helicopter is relegated to the nation’s wealthiest, they’re being imitated by their junior counterparts. According to Bloomberg, junior executives, who found the rent costs of living in NYC to be stifling for what the city can now barely offer, can rent a house outside of the city for far less money, allowing them the extra financial resources to commute by helicopter like their senior counterparts.
“The exodus has created what Wiesenthal calls ‘synthetic suburbs’ in areas not normally accessible for daily trips to the city. And he’s tweaked his offerings to accommodate the sudden interest in vacation home-to-office commuting. Last month, he started selling $965 monthly commuter passes between Manhattan and the Hamptons, which grant their users one-way flights for an additional $295 each. September’s 200 passes sold out in a day, and October’s are gone too.
About 35% of clients commuting to the city from vacation homes make round-trip flights on the same day, with nine out of 10 bringing no luggage, suggesting they’re coming in just to work, Wiesenthal said.”
How Long Will The ‘Boom’ Last?
Wiesenthal seems to think the helicopter commuting will slow down in the next few months. Although his company only offered 250 slots and that doesn’t seem like a huge number, those are 250 of the city’s biggest spenders. Per CNBC, “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.”
How long people will continue to commute for is anybody’s guess. With COVID-19 cases on the rise again, NYC schools returning to more online models, and restaurants slowing down their capacity increases, this may become the new norm for awhile. While most of Wiesenthal’s clients aren’t ready to give up their city leases, they seem content, for the near future, to stay safely out of the city’s reach until it’s time to work.