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At CES, Uber Will Get You to the Chopper

Uber, but for marketing gimmicks.

Mark Bergen | Re/code

You spill out of the casino, bound for the next stop on the Las Vegas Strip. Smack! A massive line for taxis. An Uber might come soon, nearby (if you’re lucky) or at the designated pickup spot at the other end of the hotel.

But what if you could take a helicopter? That’d be so baller. So Uber.

Thousands of CES attendees may have this idea this week, hoping to beat the trade show’s godawful traffic. Because if you open up the Uber app in the city, and the rains aren’t here, a new option will appear on the bottom rail: “Chopper.”

It’s one of the promotional gimmicks the ride-hailing juggernaut is rolling out for its inaugural presence at the tech conference. The company won a lengthy battle to operate in the city last fall. While smaller rival Lyft is approaching the city by wooing new drivers, Uber has arrived with characteristic panache.

The Uber app in Las Vegas
The Uber app in Las Vegas

It rigged up several cars with Wi-Fi. And it lined up six helicopters that plucky Uber users can hop into.

Initially, Uber wanted to fly passengers between hotels — a stunt it has pulled in Cannes, the Hamptons, India and a few other places. Turns out, Vegas banned helipads after 9/11. So CESers have to settle for an air tour of the Strip. For $99, Uber users can get a ride to the airport, where Maverick Helicopters — a local operator with a fleet of sleek, $3.3-million-a-pop seven-seater choppers — takes them air bound. Weather permitting.

(Coincidentally, Uber began the service the day before the company settled its investigation with the New York attorney general over its user privacy practices with its “God View” tracking tool.)

Uber isn’t trying to build a new business, a spokeswoman said; it won’t be a Blade competitor. (Maverick gets the full $99, although Uber does take its usual cut on the ride to the airport.) But Uber has deployed its typical shrewdness in the city, dropping prices well below taxi rates at times and surging them way up at others. Several drivers, all new to the service, said they had to adjust quickly to Uber’s practice of ramping up rates suddenly to get them on the road — then dropping them just as suddenly.

As for the helicopter ride, it does indeed qualify as baller. Maverick primarily offers night tours, where the view is spectacular (see below). Or so I’m told; I went up in the mid-afternoon, when the weather permitted.

Clouds aside, the ride did offer a stellar look at the city. In less than 30 minutes, I had moved from an Uber car to flying obscenely close to the tallest tower in Vegas. The one with “Trump” on the top.

Uber said 39 people shelled out $99 for the tour on its first day.

Modern Las Vegas – : @2ndfloorguy

A photo posted by Maverick Helicopters (@maverickhelicopters) on

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