Photo by VIIIPhotography/Shutterstock
Photo by John Arehart/Shutterstock
The recently opened TWA Hotel has introduced some great new restaurants and bars to the JFK scene.
Is LaGuardia, JFK, or Newark the best airport for your travel needs? We break down each airport’s best features, where to eat there, and how to get to and from these New York hubs.
New Yorkers and visitors alike are blessed with convenient air access to and from numerous points away thanks to the fact that New York shares nonstop flights with almost every major city in the world as well as with countless smaller centers.
Those flights are facilitated by the three major airports that serve New York City and its environs: LaGuardia Airport (LGA), John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), and Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR). There are benefits and drawbacks to each from a passenger’s perspective, including their distance from Manhattan (and the relative ease—or lack thereof—of getting to each).
I’ve flown out of every terminal at each of these three airports myriad times and have eaten everywhere from Dunkin’ and Auntie Anne’s pretzels to the very fancy British Airways Concorde Room and Air France’s lounge. While I’ve personally come to love flying out of the United Airlines terminal at Newark, JFK will connect you with the entire world, and LaGuardia (which often gets a bad rap) is undergoing numerous improvements. Here, we outline what each airport has to offer.
John F. Kennedy International Airport, also known as JFK, is an international hub on par with other major global airports such as London’s Heathrow Airport, Frankfurt Airport, or Dubai International Airport. Simply walking through the terminals presents a who’s who of international airlines and a potpourri of people from around the world. It makes for fascinating people-watching.
JFK is definitely the easiest way to get from the New York area to destinations around the world due to the sheer number of nonstop flights available on major international carriers such as British Airways, Turkish Airlines, Air China, Lufthansa, Delta, and American. The one major airline that doesn’t fly out of JFK is United, which uses Newark as its main hub. More about that below.
Unlike London’s Heathrow Express or Hong Kong’s Airport Express, there is no direct train service between Manhattan and JFK. Nevertheless, for around $15 you can take the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) from Penn Station in Manhattan to the Jamaica station in Queens, and transfer to JFK’s AirTrain, which takes passengers directly to the airport terminals for an extra $7.75 per person. Consider this the best-kept secret of getting to JFK, but not by design. The LIRR does a mediocre job of promoting the option and a worse job explaining to tourists how to use the service. The signage is very poor and the route names don’t even mention the airport. But the LIRR will get you to the airport from Manhattan in less than an hour. You can save $5 and take the A subway line out to the Howard Beach–JFK Airport stop, and then connect to the AirTrain. But this will be about 45 minutes longer and makes at least a dozen stops between JFK and Manhattan. Our advice is to take the LIRR if you’re keen on using public transportation.
Traveling by car highlights the biggest drawback of JFK; it is some 30 miles outside Manhattan, which wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the all-too-common traffic along the way. And you can definitely expect to hit some unless you’re driving to or from the airport after 10 p.m. at night or early in the morning prior to 7 a.m. When there is no traffic, the drive is about 45 minutes, but during most of the day and evening passengers should figure on a 75- to 90-minute car ride to or from Manhattan. The flat rate fare from JFK to Manhattan via a classic yellow cab is $52 (if you include surcharges during peak periods, tolls, and tip, you can figure on about $60). From Manhattan to JFK, however, you’re paying whatever the meter indicates for a 90-minute trip plus tolls and tip, which will usually set you back at least $60 and likely more. On-demand rideshare services like Lyft and Uber are typically cheaper; I recently took an Uber to JFK from Brooklyn on a Saturday morning at a cost of $36 (it would have been about $50 from Manhattan, and is more expensive during rush hour).
There is a smattering of van services between JFK and Manhattan, which are a great way to save money but not time. Go Airlink charges $20 per person to go from JFK to Grand Central Station, which is a good deal particularly if you have a lot of luggage and don’t mind sharing a ride and experiencing multiple stops at various hotel pickups along the route.
The absolute fastest way is via Uber or Blade helicopter service, which takes around five minutes, and flies between a helicopter pad in Manhattan and a private terminal at JFK. It’s about $200 for an Instagram-ready seat.
Depending on which terminal you’re in, you’ll either have ample options or pretty slim pickings for things to do before your flight or during a layover. Here is a breakdown of what to expect in every terminal, each of which has its own distinct features and design.
There are big changes afoot at JFK. A $13 billion renovation led by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is kicking off in 2020. Terminal 8 is undergoing a renovation and expansion, and British Airways will move into the terminal in 2022, abandoning Terminal 7. That terminal will be demolished, and Terminal 5 will be expanded to take over the space. Finally, terminals 1 and 2 will be demolished and will double in size, replaced by a new Terminal 1. The impact on transportation remains to be seen. If LaGuardia’s renovation is any indicator, car traffic will be much worse before it (hopefully) gets better.
One of the buzziest features of JFK is the throwback glamour of the recently opened TWA Hotel. The formerly abandoned mid-century terminal turned hotel is near JetBlue’s Terminal 5, and sports a rooftop pool with runway view, a cocktail lounge inside a restored Lockheed Constellation L-1649A airplane, a sprawling sunken lounge that was restored to its original 1962 glory, and the Paris Café, a restaurant by Jean-Georges Vongerichten (who has Michelin cred and is behind Jean-Georges and ABC Kitchen in Manhattan). The TWA Hotel is like stepping back in time and is worth popping into for a meal or a drink or staying overnight in the mid-century–inspired rooms if you need a place to crash before or after your flight. I’d take hanging out at the TWA Hotel over most lounge experiences at JFK.
LaGuardia Airport will soon boast the newest and freshest terminals and passenger gates of the three New York–area airports. A massive and ongoing development project will transform a hub that former Vice President Joe Biden likened to a “third-world country” into a modern collection of terminals.
LaGuardia is the closest airport to Manhattan, and that’s its strongest selling point, for now. The airport could be one of the best in the United States when it’s completed in 2022. But it will never be a world-class international airport like JFK or Newark because of its “perimeter rule,” which caps most nonstop flights to and from the airport at a distance of 1,500 miles. Delta is investing in making LaGuardia a major hub; it already operates 40 percent of all flights out of the airport, with American operating 25 percent. Top destinations from LaGuardia are Chicago, Atlanta, and Florida.
Direct public transportation to LaGuardia from Manhattan is nonexistent, and it’s a shame. Several years ago, to save a few dollars, I took the subway to Queens and then the Q33 bus to the airport, and did so at around 5 a.m. in the wintertime. I do not recommend the experience as it was painfully slow and required a wait outside at the bus stop with my luggage in tow during the dead of winter. But it only cost around $3, which is a steal.
Nowadays, there is direct bus service on the Q70 from the 61st Street–Woodside stop on the 7 subway line, but most tourists—hard-core budget travelers notwithstanding—will simply opt for a rideshare, taxi, or paid van service.
You can take a paid van service from Grand Central Station but are required to leave significantly earlier than your flight—some three hours beforehand so that passengers can’t claim their van was late.
The most common option is a taxi or rideshare service. It’s about a $35 taxi ride from Manhattan to the airport (and vice versa) and takes from around 40 minutes with no traffic up to one hour during peak hours. The rideshare experience is becoming more convenient at LaGuardia; there’s a dedicated level in the parking structure for the new main terminal, Terminal B. Passengers call for their car and walk over to a designated parking spot to meet their driver—it works pretty well.
So why does LaGuardia have such a bad reputation? Well, up until its current transformation it was dirty, crowded, and small. Thankfully for current travelers, the airport is already much improved from its former incarnations, and passengers are benefiting from the changes. Here are some of the best ways to spend your time before your flight or during a layover at LGA.
LaGuardia’s redesign and construction moves the entire facility closer to the highway, which gives taxis and rideshare vehicles easier access to the terminals. There will also be about two miles of additional taxiways created for aircraft that is intended to increase on-time performance by allowing for better movement of planes on the ground.
Newark Liberty International Airport is a tale of two cities. On the one hand, there are terminals A and B, which are dark and utilitarian, with beige and brown serving as the dominant color schemes. The culinary “standouts” here are Panda Express, Tony Roma’s, and the Budweiser Brew House, and there’s a gift shop simply named America! that sells, well, American-themed products. Terminal C, on the other hand, is where Newark really shines. With its sleek design and outstanding dining options, this is probably the single best airline terminal in the New York area.
If you’re flying with United or a United partner airline, you’ll be flying out of Newark. But there are other reasons to consider this airport. It’s not that difficult to reach with public transportation, as detailed below, and it offers a fair amount of international service, minus some of the chaos of the more popular international hub JFK. Sure, security lines can get pretty long during peak travel times at Newark too. But 38.5 million passengers traveled through Newark between January and October 2019 (the most recent data provided by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey), compared with the 52.8 million passengers who traveled through JFK during the same period. So getting through Newark is usually a bit easier.
Over the last few years, United Airlines has been trumpeting that it is actually much faster to get from Manhattan to Newark than to JFK. (The airline used real-time taxi data in a creative campaign). And it’s true. A ride to or from Newark is typically between 30 minutes and one hour. That said, taxi rides to Newark are expensive. Your fare from Manhattan will be at least $65, plus a surcharge and a charge for the return tolls paid by the taxi. That can add up.
Where Newark actually does pretty well is with the public transportation options. Travel to Newark by train is quite good by New York standards. From New York’s Penn Station you can get to Newark Liberty International Airport Station with a New Jersey Transit train. It’s about a 25-minute trip and costs around $15 per person. You then transfer to the free AirTrain, which stops at each terminal. The entire trip from Manhattan is about one hour, including transit to New York’s Penn Station.
The same companies that operate shuttles between Manhattan and JFK or LGA also operate shuttle services to and from Newark for around $20 per person.
If you have a flight out of Newark, or find yourself with a layover there, here is what each terminal has to offer.
New York is called the city that never sleeps. A secret from a New Yorker, however: Manhattan does actually sleep. You can jet across Manhattan to Newark, JFK, or LaGuardia with little traffic hassle after 10 p.m. and before 7 a.m.—the later at night and the earlier in the morning, the better. I’ve personally made it from JFK to Manhattan in 40 minutes, and from LaGuardia to Manhattan in about 25 minutes, in the middle of the night after arriving from a late flight. But I also drove from Brooklyn to Newark for this story at 8:30 a.m. (peak rush hour) on a Monday and made it in 46 minutes, which is not bad. So you can get lucky, but it’s often worth going extra early or waiting a bit to avoid the worst of the traffic.
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