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American betting on Wall Street 'copter rides

American Airlines is hoping to cash in on a new type of flyer — busy Wall Street executives using choppers to reach their flights at New York’s JFK airport. CNBC’s Phil LeBeau reports.
/ Source: CNBC

Stock trader Bobby Weiss is the first of what American Airlines hopes will be a new type of flyer — busy Wall Street executives using choppers to reach their flights at JFK airport.

“There’s a saying with the locals here … you can’t beat the Van Wyck Expressway, it’s always crowded with traffic,” said Weiss as he rode a new helicopter shuttle from Manhattan to JFK recently. “This beats the Van Wyck; it beats all traffic … it’s brilliant.”

American is running the shuttle to JFK with a partner company, U.S. Helicopter, believing Wall Street types will pay $139 each way excluding fees to spend 8 minutes traveling to the airport in a chopper instead of 45 to 90 minutes traveling in a car and sitting in traffic. (After March’s introductory offer the regular ticket price is $159 each way, excluding fees.)

“We talked to about 300 different corporations about what they wanted at airports they use and helipads they use and this is exactly what they wanted,” said U.S. Helicopter’s Donald McSullivan.

American’s new shuttle, along with redesigned frequent flyer clubs, extra leg room in cabins and airplanes with only business class seating, show the once struggling airlines are going further to win over lucrative business travelers.

Since high-flying executives often pay three or four times more than leisure flyers, catering to them could get airlines flying back in the black.

“The business traveler is the most precious for the airlines,” said Bill Garvey of Business Aviation magazine. “The competition for that traveler is quite strong.”

After eight minutes, the helicopter shuttle arrives at JFK, but American thinks the real advantage is in landing at the gate, which means travelers don’t have to go through security again. Shuttle flyers go through security at the heliport where there are no long lines, and the hassle factor is practically non-existent.

It’s a new ride that could give a tired execs a much-needed lift.