Getting to the City: The Quick Way

Posted on 01 July 2011

Fly The Whale-adjusted

By Claire Walla

It’s happened. My undying loyalty to wheeled transportation’s been put into question.

It’s not exactly the bus’s fault. The Jitney has been my preferred mode of transportation over locomotives since I discovered that the Long Island Rail Road only offers two inconveniently well-spaced Sunday trips from Penn Station back to the remote depths of the East End: one a-tad-too-early (11:45 a.m.), the other way-too-late (9:16 p.m.).

But as smooth and luxurious as the open road may be, my preference has been lured beyond tracks and wheels.

Earlier this month, I headed to the East Hampton Airport to meet Andrew Clark, co-owner of Fly the Whale, a relatively new sky-high venture with regular weekend service through that well-traveled airway between the Big Apple and the East End.

Whale Force One - adjusted

I had never been to the East Hampton terminal before. As far as I could tell, it was unofficially reserved for portly businessmen in seasonally light-colored suits and statuesque women in multi-colored, floor-length sun dresses and oversized shades, flanked by a pair of leather bags fashioned by someone with an Italian-sounding name. (I saw at least one of each.) Stepping foot on that tarmac essentially required a certain amount of disposable income ($990 round-trip on The Whale, to be exact).

It’s not a financial realm with which I’m very familiar. I approached the airport in a purple sun dress, weighted down by a worn A.D.I.D.A.S. gym bag left over from my high school days as a power forward and an oversized all-weather Timbuk2 bike-messenger bag from the same era.

So, you ask, what was I—vintage bags and all—doing here, at the East Hampton Airport, just minutes away from my own chartered flight to the Manhattan?

It turns out we Hamptonians have the great fortune of being perfectly placed to take advantage of Fly the Whale’s “dead legs.” These are the trips this sea plane makes back to the city on Fridays after having dropped well-festooned urbanites off out east, and on Sundays after it’s brought the thoroughly bronzed city-dwellers back home. And at a whopping discount of 80 percent (which makes each leg of the journey a mere $100) even I and my high-school gym bag were ripe for the occasion.

My instructions were as follows: head to the tarmac Friday afternoon at 4:10 p.m. Pretty simple for airport protocol in this day and age. (No hour-long check-in. No metal detectors. No cumbersome customs agents.) And sure enough, as I wandered out into the sun’s butterscotch glow and stood amid the cacophony of rumbling Cessna’s on the black asphalt—which felt like a Technicolor version of “Casablanca”—I bumped into a bearded guy in aviators, khakis and dock shoes, who looked too easy-going to be a passenger.

This, I learned, was Kerry Hanger—the pilot.

Kerry - adjusted

Fly the Whale was established in the Hamptons last year after Hanger and Clark purchased their own sea plane from the one-and-only Hamptons-based pop star-turned aviator: Jimmy Buffet, who was then looking to ditch the 10-seater for a brand new set of wings. (Said new-and-improved Buffet-mobile—nearly identical to this one—sat just a few wing-spans away on the tarmac.) The appropriately named Hanger, the son of a Canadian pilot who himself flew a commercial airline route between the U.S. and Europe for several years; and Clark, who had been a real estate agent in Manhattan; teamed up with Melissa Tomkiel, a Manhattan-based lawyer who quit her job last year to join the boys and work full-time for The Whale. (The team spends its summers in the Caribbean chartering island-hopping flights, catering primarily to those seeking refuge at Richard Branson’s private island.)

Once the clock struck 4:30 p.m., we hopped in the veritable aeronautic mini-van and were off to the city.

You’ve probably heard it said life is a journey, not a destination. And in this case the journey was certainly grand.

At first the plane rocked gently like a kid on a balance beam with arms outstretched in attempt to gain composure, but it quickly steadied and rose swiftly above the tree-line, which from only a few hundred miles up looked like a fluffy green beard growing atop the East End. We continued effortlessly above residential areas, and—just for fun—descended to a stretch of airspace only slightly above the waves, soaring along the bayside cliffs of Stony Brook, low enough to look into the eyes of each boater we passed—though only momentarily (we were clocking speeds of 170 knots, or 196 mph, after all).

Manhattan - adjusted

The landscape changed around Queens, and suddenly we were approaching the lumbering swathe of skyscrapers fighting for space on the isle of Manhattan. From this vantage point—seemingly at eye-level with the monstrous buildings—the entire city looked accessible, almost reachable, as if made out of Legos. Flying parallel to the eastside skyline, we slowly sank back to Earth, finally hitting the East River with a few delicate taps before floating over to the dock at East 23 Street.

Life is usually more heavy on the journey, less focused on the destination. But, when it comes to getting off Long Island, ultimately it’s the destination that really counts.

We made it in about 40 minutes.

It’s true: $200 is still a pretty penny for a weekend romp in a city not exactly known for being cheap. It’s precisely $147 more than a round-trip Jitney ticket.

But when you’ve got less than 48 hours to walk about town—32 tops, when you factor in sleep time—slicing through the atmosphere will give you about three more hours to do with what you please.

Is it worth $147?

Consider this: on the way back to the East End, if the plane is packed with enough Sag Harborites, The Whale’s been known to touch down in the middle of Sag Harbor Bay, bringing passengers within steps of Main Street.

Out of the city and into the village in the time it takes to watch a sit-com?

That’s pretty darn convenient.

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19 Responses to “Getting to the City: The Quick Way”

  1. Barbara says:

    How disappointing to read our local newspaper and find a reporter writing about how wonderful the air flights are from the city to our area.
    Are you not aware that so very many East End local year round residents are miserable with the constant barrage of helicopters, jets and airplanes flying over our homes every Thursday through Monday from May until the middle to end of September???
    If you don’t receive a lot of negative comments from readers on this
    misguided article I’ll be surprised.

  2. Bob says:

    What a naive, and in my humble opinion, offensive article! I am mad that a staff reporter of the Sag Harbor Express would write an article like this – it’s totally lame, but mostly it’s ignorant of the local sensitivity to the current issue of jet, plane and helicopter noise ruining the Hamptons.

    Your article really hit a sore spot with me, and am sure with many other locals who subscribe to the Express as well.

  3. Kez says:

    I always find it funny when the people who “found” the Hamptons, complain bitterly about others coming in. People flying in greatly reduce the horrific traffic that catogorizes a typical Hamptons weekend. Do you honestly believe that if the airport was shut that people would stop coming? Get over yourselves and enjoy your day.

  4. Frank says:

    What an incredibly selfish attitude. It is all about you, isn’t it, so you can save a few hours to do as you please. Did you consider this mode of transportation is the most inefficient use of foreign oil? Did you consider this form of transportation creates more carbon emissions than any other?

    This article is incredibly irresponsible. Sea levels are rising, extreme weather events are occurring and the polar icecaps are melting. Rome is burning, this reporter and this newspaper could care less. We must do anything to save a few hours to do as we please. Unbelievable!

  5. lobec says:

    I enjoyed the article and found it informative. Why do people have to be so grouchy and mean in their comments? They don’t know the carbon footprint of others; it could be less than theirs. In any case, I’m considering flying the Whale on my next trip out.

  6. Marie Zerilli says:

    i thonk this articleglamorizig the sea plane is totally just adds to the alreadyenormous noise factor,our guests who arrive inthe conventinal ways cannot enjoy the beauty of the east end,coversation outdoors is impossible from friday to monday morning.whats happened to noise polution?

  7. Danrudan says:

    In choosing to write a puff piece about an airplane company doing the New York-Hamptons shuttle, the writer ignores the unending noise and vibration from airplanes and helicopters over the South Fork that has taken away from the quality of life we enjoyed just a few years ago. Is the Express saying it’s all about how to beat the traffic to and from Manhattan rather than preserving what is left of our quiet?

  8. Barbara says:

    And we find it “funny” that the “get over it” people actually don’t live here and contribute to our local economy 12 months of the year…
    You want grouchy? Try using the property you paid for in the summer
    months. No go. You have to go inside for any peace and quiet.

  9. Joe says:

    I loved the article and had to laugh at the poor attitudes of of the comments. Now I see (read) why people in the Hamptons have a bad rap. I had to email this to all my Manhattan friends who invest millions into your economy each year as I truly could not believe the whining. Totally embarrassing since I love sag harbor so much. Too bad.

  10. Joe says:

    Btw, getting to Manhattan for $100 bucks and 40 minutes is a thing of science fiction. You all should try it. I promise we will appreciate the visit and I’m sure many of you “natives” actually came from here! :)

  11. Milo says:

    What a great acticle Clair. I had no idea about this service and sounds trully tempting to try. Frank before you commented incorrectly on

    ‘Did you consider this form of transportation creates more carbon emissions than any other?’ You need to do your homework better before you start writing slur.

    The meat industry creates the most carbon emmissions by far out of all industries in the world, and I bet you eat a lot of meat! Also to say ‘this mode of transportation is the most inefficient use of foreign oil?’ Its not, if you take this aircraft, it will have 5-10 people most of the time on-board, if you do the sums it will work out more effiecient than driving a car (with the avarage of 2 people on board) back and forth.
    For those of you worried about aviation noise, would you rather one plane, which is half as noisy as a helicopter, flying back and forth once or twice a day or 3-5 helicopters. Well done Fly The Whale, I look forward to trying out your service soon.

  12. Ruledbyfools says:

    Come off it morons! You must be a jealous local. If your life is so impacted by sounds of the sky your miserable existence is pretty damn good. Who pays for your low taxes and beautiful land? It ain’t you babe. I am a local and it is the very least of my troubles. Go back to complaining about your aches & pains and the price of gas. Maybe you should take a one way ride.

  13. Peaceseeker says:

    The attitude espoused in Walla’s article indicates the total self absorption of many flyers, who believe they are entitled to a quick journey and “…to fly effortlessly over residential areas…” and their attitude apparently is–too bad about those living below the noise path. Now that’s pretty darned self absorbed.

    Fly the Whale and other aircraft fly over our homes early morning, late at night and all day during summer weekends. Vibrations from copter blades shake homes, shrill, ear-piercing whistles from corporate jets awaken infants and noise permeates neighborhoods that were peaceful and quiet only a few years ago. Many pilots ignore the recommended routes and altitudes and all craft release pollutants upon those under their low altitude flight paths.

    EH Town Board and Airport management and operators and pilots have ignored years of residents’ polite requests to reroute aircraft, so they should not be surprised that many of those pleas have now become angry protests. The right of residents to enjoy full use of their properties and any concern at all about the aircraft impact on the environment have apparently never been issues for either owner/operators or “air commuters” although both groups could certainly afford the additional fuel costs and surely abide an extra few minutes ride to help bring an end to the peace-shattering noise under the flight paths.

    There exists a simple way to end most complaints between residents and flyers and allow the many commercial aircraft operators to continue to enrich themselves. Flying the southern route out over the ocean would bring an end to the majority of residents’ pleas about aircraft noise over their homes. It would require courage and action by EH Airport and elected officials in East Hampton and Southampton Towns to bring about and enforce a route change. But courage apparently is in short supply; EH Airport management and elected officials simply place all blame on the FAA. Now that’s pretty darned weak.

  14. Barbara says:

    Thank you, Peacekeeper for a sane, courteous post.

  15. SHNative says:

    I was at a house when a helicopter flew so low that I could see the bolts on the underside of it….
    The people inside were terrified.
    On some days it is one helecopter every ten minutes. This air traffic has changed things here. It is sad to me.

  16. Hobiehead says:

    If you don’t like the noise of airplanes, move to an area that no one cares to visit.
    That noise you hear is your property value staying ahead of the curve.
    Appreciate what you have, you will have a better day.

  17. Bruce says:

    There are several trips on Fridays back to NYC, each with 9 empty deadhead seats. For 100 bucks you can’t do it in your car, paying gas tolls and parking. Up to 9 less cars on the road on a plane that’s going to run anyway.

  18. piloterror says:

    To SHNative….

    thats exactly why you should support the seaplane service in and out of long island.

    supporting the seaplanes will decrease the amount of noisy helicopters…
    the passengers aren’t going anywhere… if we just change their mode of transportation to a more environmentally friendly and less noisy type… everybody wins.

    support seaplanes!!!!

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