Yes, it’s only a PR stunt, but an irresistible one: Uber treated Jakarta residents to free helicopter rides today. Branded UberChopper, the offer was designed to give regular people a taste of what it’s like to escape the grime and traffic of the capital’s streets for a loftier experience.
Tech in Asia reporter Ketut Krisna Wijaya was among the lucky ones to give it a go. Here’s what he experienced.
12 chosen ones
UberChopper was available only today between 9:30am and noon local time. Any Uber user in the vicinity of a shopping mall in central Jakarta which served as the starting point of the journey could use this time window to book UberChopper via Uber’s regular app. If accepted, the user was invited up to the helipad on top of the building.
One Uber user admitted he tried ordering up to 100 times because he was so eager to get on board. He said he saw a gaggle of excited people trying to place orders from inside the mall’s Startbucks cafe.
There were two trips in total, with 6 passengers each, plus pilot and co-pilot. When the first group was ready to go on board, it had to wait for the helipad to free up. It was being used by no other than Prabowo Subianto, one of the two presidential candidates in Indonesia’s last election.
Uber of course doesn’t own and operate helicopters. To offer UberChopper in Jakarta, it partnered with PremirAir, a local aviation charter company.
Each of the eight passengers had to be weighed before getting on board to ensure the maximum load capacity of 450kg was not exceeded.
Without much small talk, the helicopter immediately took off after everyone was seated. It had no airconditioning, but the view from above revealed how dense Jakarta is and made the short journey refreshing.
In just about five minutes, the chopper had already reached its final destination, Jakarta’s inner city Halim Perdana Kusuma airport. Upon landing, all passengers wore the same expression: that was a very short ride. Not even long enough to fill up the smartphone’s memory with selfies.
By car, the same trip would take about 45 minutes – or much longer, depending on how bad the traffic is.
Is there a future for UberChopper?
The UberChopper experience today was not more than a fun trial to “test the market,” according to the team. Uber has a similar offer in Manila tomorrow.
In the US, Uber has tried UberChopper in a commercial context. During the summer of 2013, for example, it offered to fly people from New York to the Hamptons, a fancy holiday destination, for US$3,000 per five-seater chopper.
With Indonesia’s PremiAir, a 30-minute chopper ride would cost US$2,000.
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