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Sprint to Narita on a luxury Hermes helicopter
"Experiential" luxury travel for the mega-rich may be closer to becoming mainstream than you think
My Tod’s tap nervously as I watch the ground slip slowly by.
I glance at my Rolex.
“Relax,” I chuckle to myself. “The jet won’t leave without you.”
I pick a piece of fuzz off my Ermenegildo Zegna suit and adjust my Louis Vuitton Evasion sunglasses.
The pilot looks back at me, smiling, and I acknowledge him by raising my glass of Cristal.
Then I settle into the helicopter’s soft, calf-leather seats and thumb through a Japanese luxury magazine (back to front, of course).
I gaze out the tinted window and wonder if the people below are taking note of this remarkable flying machine’s pedigree.
My chariot is l'Hélicoptère par Hermès, a bespoke beauty properly called Eurocopter EC135 that defines jet-set style.
So powerful is the spell it casts that it can make you feel like a tycoon, even if you’re wearing Banana Republic jeans, worse-for-wear Valentino sunglasses and scuffed-up Skechers.
The $10 million Hermès helicopter (black, white, with a splash of orange) is the fastest -- top speed is 250 kph -- and most fabulous way to get from Tokyo to Narita International Airport.
“Our female passengers say it makes them feel like they're inside a Hermès bag,” says Takako Otsuka of Mori Building City Air Services.
Tom Cruise inaugurated this luxury airport transfer service in 2009, and since then it has ferried more than 4,000 passengers between Narita and central Tokyo.
I tested this chic chopper out one sunny morning, lifting off from a heliport atop a midtown skyscraper.
“Where are you headed?” I asked the passenger across from me after sitting down, trying my best to seem blasé.
“London,” he replied.
“Business or pleasure,” I asked, yawning.
“Business,” he said.
Then he cut short our warm exchange by turning to look out the window as we swooped past Tokyo Tower.
I did the same, wishing I had in fact ordered Champagne as the cabin filled with white noise, and train tracks, streets and freeways below became ever smaller.
To my left was the metropolis’ measureless expanse. To my right, the deep blue of Tokyo Bay.
Fifteen minutes later, we touched down at a heliport that’s a short limo ride away from Narita.
Paying big bucks to take a pimped-out whirlybird to the airport when plenty of car, train and bus services exist in Tokyo might seem wacky.
But it’s part of the growing “experiential” side of luxury travel.
“All over the world, luxury shoppers tell us they’d rather spend more on experiences than on clothes and jewelry,” says Michelle Eirinberg Kluz of Boston Consulting Group.
A BCG report from June 2012 suggests experiential luxury now makes up almost 55 percent of total luxury spending worldwide and, year on year, has grown 50 percent faster than sales of luxury goods.
“Although experiences are more intangible than an item, consumers consider them more memorable,” says Eirinberg Kluz.
That appears to be the case for people who are choosing the Hermès helicopter to make their arrival to downtown Tokyo, or departure from it, unforgettable.
“Some people use this service when they go on a honeymoon, go abroad for their anniversary or to make a marriage proposal,” says Otsuka.
“It seems to be a special event for most passengers to take a helicopter flight, especially using our ARK Hills heliport,” says Otsuka’s colleague, Akiko Nguyen.
She’s also quick to point out that the rooftop location, 37 stories above ground level, was featured in the 2010 movie “Inception.”
“We're having very positive feedback from passengers. It's an unusual experience looking over the city of Tokyo,” Nguyen continues.
“For business travelers, the efficient transportation minimizes their travel time.”
Business or pleasure, Tom Cruise or Leonardo DiCaprio, if you can afford the tab on the Hermès helicopter, it’s all yours -- literally.
The service has changed recently, so instead of being able to book individual seats, passengers must reserve the entire chopper.
The downside: it’s more expensive. The upside: no small talk with London-bound businessmen.
My London-bound businessman was on his way to his private jet or first class seat by the time the ground crew told me we needed to head back to Tokyo.
I finished my latte in the small heliport lounge, grabbed a few more magazines and all too soon was airborne again.
I looked down and three employees were saying goodbye, bowing in unison. I gave them a wave, regretting that my Yves Saint Laurent Chyc cashmere-lined suede gloves were at the cleaners (and that I hadn’t had a manicure in a week). Then we were off.
I sat back and prepared to drink in the view again (in lieu of Cristal). Flying in style -- it sure beats taking the bus. Now if only they could do something about my wardrobe ...
The basic rate for renting the Hermès helicopter for a one-way transfer (including car service) is ¥280,000 (US$3,578).
More on CNNGo: More than an airport, Narita is a must-see city