Improving Mass Transit to NYC Airports Can’t Come Soon Enough

by on August 2, 2014 · 43 comments

in New York, Transportation

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The question of improving New York City’s public transportation options to the city’s three major airports came up  at a recent MTA Reinvention Commission meeting. We put TPG Contributor Adee Braun on the case to see how New York’s airport transportation stacks up to other major international cities. She also provides you with everything you need to know to get to and from LGA, JFK and EWR.

During a recent public MTA Reinvention Commission meeting, the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Transportation, Joan McDonald, cast a critical eye on infrastructure and transportation options to New York City’s major international airports.

“We need an AirTrain that goes to LaGuardia,” said McDonald. “And do we have dedicated lanes that go to LaGuardia and JFK? People are willing to pay for that. And we just have to personally—I think we have to bite the bullet and move on. But I don’t make all those decisions. Just that one little caveat at the end.”

Commuters at the airport.

Commuters at the airport

LaGuardia is the only one of the metro area’s three major airports that does not have AirTrain, a convenient monorail that connects the terminals to parking, public transportation and the city center. New York’s airports are connected to a web of transportation options. Sorting through them all can be daunting and confusing, especially when compared to many international cities that make getting to the airport by train a cinch. So, how do New York’s airport transportation options stack up?

LaGuardia Airport (LGA): The smallest and closest, just eight miles from Midtown Manhattan in Queens. With no subways to the airport, you’re best bet is usually connecting to a public bus and hoping that there’s no traffic.

Public transport


The M60 Bus to LaGuardia Airport costs the same as a subway ride

As of this past May, the M60 Bus began running “Select” service to LaGuardia, which means that the trip from Upper Manhattan got a little faster (by 10-15%). The subway does not go to the airport, but the bus does connect to 12 subway lines (with a free transfer). The journey takes 30-45 minutes and costs $2.50 with a MetroCard, which can be purchased at each terminal.

Taxis, Car Services & Shuttles

Metered taxi cabs can be picked up from any terminal. It’s a half hour ride to Midtown (depending on traffic), $25-$37 without tips or tolls. Many car services offer scheduled pickups including Carmel and and Dial 7: $30 and $34 respectively.

The NYC Airporter shuttle bus runs to Manhattan, takes 30-45 minutes and runs every 30 minutes to the city’s main transport hubs and connects to all three airports. $13 one-way. Other shuttle services (small vans) range in price, including SuperShuttle and GO Airport Shuttle. Tickets can be purchased online or at the terminal. Uber cars cost $36-46, including tips but not tolls.

John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK): Located about 15 miles from Manhattan in Queens, the airport is fairly well connected by public transport to the AirTrain.

Public Transport

JKF AirTrain

The JFK AirTrain is a clean and efficient monorail that connects to terminals, parking and transportation

The AirTrain JFK  connects to the commuter rail (LIRR) and the subway: the E at Jamaica Station goes to Midtown (50 minutes) and the A at the Howard Beach Station goes farther south (60 minutes). No tickets are required for the AirTrain, simply purchase a Metrocard once you get to the subway station. It’s $7.50 ($5.00 for the AirTrain and $2.50 for a single subway ride), and there’s a $1 fee for purchasing a new MetroCard.

The Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) runs frequently to Penn Station. It takes about half an hour and costs $15.50 which includes the AirTrain fee.

Taxis, Car Services & Shuttles

Taxis to Manhattan cost a flat rate of $52 excluding tolls and tips and takes 30-60 minutes. The NYC Airporter shuttle runs every half hour and takes about 60-90 minutes to Penn Station, $16 one-way. Car services cost $44 (Carmel) to $48 (Dial 7). Uber flat rates start at $65.

Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR): Located 15 miles from Manhattan in New Jersey, it is not connected to the NYC subway system, but rather by fairly reliable train service which gets you to the AirTrain.

Public Transport


With no subways servicing Newark Airport, New Jersey Transit offers a convenient connection to Manhattan

AirTrain Newark (which recently completed renovations) connects all terminals to parking and rail in about 10 minutes. NJ Transit trains take about half an hour to New York’s Penn Station (confusingly, there’s also a Newark, NJ Penn Station), running 6 times an hour on weekdays. Tickets can be purchased at the AirTrain terminal, $12.50 one-way includes the AirTrain ride. NJ Transit buses also run frequently to Port Authority. A one-way ticket is $8 for an hour ride (it’s not direct) depending on traffic.

Taxis, Car Services, Shuttles & Coaches

Taxis can be picked up at all terminals. The trip to Midtown costs $50-$70 excluding tolls and tips, and takes about half an hour. Car services take just as long with prices ranging from  $48 (Dial 7) to $46 (Carmel). Uber flat rates start at $65.

Olympia Trails run express coach buses every 15 minutes to Midtown for $16 one-way, 30-45 minutes. SuperShuttle and GO Airport Shuttle both go to Manhattan for about $20.

Lets compare New York’s options to some international airports

A terminal at London's Heathrow Airport

A terminal at London’s Heathrow Airport

London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR): The Heathrow Express train takes 15 minutes to Paddington Station. One-way tickets are £21 (about $35) and can be purchased at the airport station or online. The Piccadilly Tube Line gets to central London in 40-50 minutes, a single rides costs £5.70 (about $10). Several coach buses also leave from the airport to destinations across the UK.

Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG): Paris’ efficient VAL electric rail system connects to all three of the city’s major airports and to public transportation. The RER B train goes to central Paris, connecting to several Metro lines along the way. It takes 30-40 minutes and costs €9.75 (about $13). Coach service by Roisybus takes 45-60 minutes to central Paris and costs €10.50 (about $14). Several public buses also service the city. You can also pick up the TVG high-speed train at Terminal 2 if you’re heading beyond Paris.

Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport (AMS): Trains depart foten from the airport’s large station to central Amsterdam. The ride takes 15-20 minutes, a one-way ticket costs €3.80 (about $5). The #370 public bus gets to central Amsterdam in 30 minutes for €3.60 (about $5) one-way. The same train station also services the Dutch national rail system and the high-speed Thalys train to Antwerp, Brussels and London.

While New York City has three major airports serving the metro area with multiple transportation options, the lack of train service to LGA leaves something to be desired, especially when compared to other major international airports. The affordability and ease of use with Paris and Amsterdam’s mass transit options are unquestionable, and while London’s Heathrow Exrpess may be a little spendy, its ability to get you to the city quickly and conveniently is well worth the cost.

What do you think? How do you prefer to access New York City from the area’s airports? What improvements would you like to see?

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Brian Lesko

    For a cheaper option from JFK, you can always take the Q10 bus from Terminal 5 to the Ozone Park station at the end of the A line. Total cost: $2.50

  • Jon

    An even faster way for LGA that always gets overlooked, take the EFMR7 trains to Roosevelt-72nd (74th for the 7), then take the Q70 express bus. Takes just as long as the M60/125th St but more dependable traffic conditions.

  • john

    LIRR takes 20-22 minutes and costs $7-$9.50 depending on time of day (plus airtrain $5). more shoddy reporting on this site.

  • Ed

    The advantage of AMS, CDG and LHR over JFK and LGA are that there is a single transportation connection from the airport to the city. No need to change trains. In contrast, JFK and LGA require you to change trains/busses in bad neighborhoods.

  • Dan’s the Man

    Brian- Your way is certainly cheaper but it would take much longer but if you have the time it is a good option.

    Ed- It is very safe to take the public transportation options to JFK even late at night.

  • Alex

    Great tip. This is my preferred way of getting to LGA.

    A side note on LGA: sadly traffic in the airport is sometimes so bad that it may take you as long to get to your terminal as to get to the airport in the first place. Traffic management in the airport is atrocious.

  • R B

    I lived in Paris, London, HK, NYC (Manhattan and Brooklyn). I think the infrastructure of the airports in the tri-state area is inconvenient. JFK is worse than an international airport in a third world country.

  • Alex

    AMS is great, I also liked Chicago(ORD) airport. It was very easy to find my way around and to get to the center of the city.
    Getting to and from EWR is pretty bad unless you get a ride.

  • Jim Baround

    “the lack of train service to LGA leaves something to be desired, especially when compared to other major international airports.”

    Why would we compare a domestic short haul (<2000 miles) airport with major international airports?

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  • TravelFanatic

    The Q70 express bus worked amazingly from LGA for me last week. One quick transfer to the subway and in Manhatten in approx 30 mins. I rate that pretty good, especially compared to my home airport of YYZ. Now that is a mess for public transit!

  • agl

    This is a timely piece. The public transportation options from the two NYC international airports (JFK and EWR) are a complete joke. (And let’s not even talk about the state of the roads leading to and from those airports…) Greatest city in the world? Give me a break. To get to JFK you need to take a LIRR to Jamaica, then change to an AirTrain. And you can’t even do it on the SAME TICKET! You have to buy two different tickets. Watching tourists trying to navigate this “system” upon arrival is heartbreaking. EWR is only slightly better because the change between the commuter rail and the AirTrain is a bit quicker. But compare this to Hong Kong for example, where you arrive at a spotless terminal and walk about 150 yards from baggage claim to the express train, with ticket in hand (because you can buy it prior to exiting baggage claim). You jump abourd a clean train and 25 minutes later, at most, you are in central Hong Kong.

  • cthej

    My fav is Geneva, where as you exit the baggage claim they give you a FREE ticket! It gets you on any train or bus and will take you to any place in the city. And we all know about Swiss cleanliness and efficiency. (Your free ticket expires after one hour.)

  • http://www.lmfao.sssr/ Willie The Shake Speare

    This article can be summarized as: “An uninformed bloggers guide to NYC airport transportation, OR, how to cook up an blog posting in 20 minutes by copying the most obvious tricks for the internet”.

    There are many gems in the topic of NYC airport transportation, including, but not limited to:

    - how to pay the absolute minimum price, for each airport,
    - how to make your trip faster,
    - what are the hidden ways to get to airport that no one knows about.

    Here are a few breadcrumbs:

    - don’t pay the $5 Airtrain fee from JFK, but still get on “A” train,
    - alternate ways to get to LGA, e.g., different buses,

    - use trains other than NYC Subway to get to airpots (PATH to EWR, LIRR to JFK).

  • http://www.lmfao.sssr/ Willie The Shake Speare

    If you call those bad neighborhoods, than what do you call South Side in Chicago?

  • http://www.lmfao.sssr/ Willie The Shake Speare


  • http://www.lmfao.sssr/ Willie The Shake Speare

    Sadly, what does not come across in this blog post, is the message that LGA is the easiest airport to get to.

  • http://www.lmfao.sssr/ Willie The Shake Speare

    “the lack of train service to LGA leaves something to be desired, especially when compared to other major international airports.”

    Utter BS. LGA is the easiest and cheapest airport to get to. There are many, many routes, and proximity to the city can not be overlooked.

  • thepointsguy

    I suppose easiest is relative. For business travelers especially, reliability is key. All LGA options depend on the traffic situation, which can be crippling at time. Which option do you recommend that does not vary greatly due to traffic?

  • Poptarts

    Thanks for the post and all the work you put into writing it! I bookmarked it for future travel to NYC.

  • http://www.lmfao.sssr/ Willie The Shake Speare

    Nothing in the quoted sentence alluded to traffic conditions. However, a good knowledge of the city’s traffic conditions can help improvise on the fly.

    But before I provide my answers, I think the blogger should provide statistics by time of day, and day of week, of times to get from NYC to LGA, and from LGA to NYC.

    If the business traveler is coming to NYC for business once in a blue moon, the best strategy is to plan for ample time.

    If the said business traveler is doing this trip 52 times a week, then I think statistics will help figure out the best (maybe not the fastest, but the lowest variance).

    What is better:

    - NYC to LGA, trip time mean of 30 minutes and stdev of 30 minutes, OR
    - NYC to JFK, trip time mean of 1 hour and stdev of 15 minutes?

    IF I was making that trip 52 times a year, I would choose the first.

    FYI, I made those numbers up, but conservatively speaking, they are close to being correct.

  • Brian Lesko

    The Q10 also goes to the end of the E line at Kew Gardens.

  • Brian Lesko

    Cheapest (but more time-consuming) method from EWR to Manhattan is to go downstairs to ground transportation at A, B, or C terminals and take the NJ Transit #62 bus to Newark Penn Station for $1.50, then go upstairs to catch the PATH train for an additional $2.25 to Christopher/9/14/23/33 St. To go any farther uptown than 33rd St., you can take the subway from Herald Square. As I recall, the subway entrance is just a few steps away from the PATH exit. You can load the PATH fare onto your NYCT MetroCard but must pay a separate $2.50 fare to transfer to the subway.

  • thepointsguy

    “The bloggers should provide stats by time/day/week/ to/from”… I think you misunderstood the point of this post, which is entitled “Improving Mass Transit to NYC Airports Can’t Come Soon Enough”

    Not “A scientific analysis of the cheapest and fastest ways to get to NYC airports”

  • thepointsguy

    What difference does it make if a super busy airport serves mid/long to ultra long haul flights? Because someone only flies on a 3.5 hour flight into the city vs. 8 hours doesn’t make much of a difference whether the airport should have convenient, fast mass transit- no?

  • No Tattoo

    I can’t believe that the author of this article didn’t do his or her research. The Q70 bus started last September, and it takes maybe 10 minutes from Roosevelt Avenue/Jackson Heights. From my apartment in Chelsea, it’s less than one hour door-to-door to LaGuardia. Try that with JFK or Newark.

  • AJ

    Umm, If you are in Chelsea You should definitely be able to get to JFK in an hour. Newark probably even faster if you time the NJT.

  • http://www.lmfao.sssr/ Willie The Shake Speare

    You have a point.

    However, I would argue that improvement can not be done effectively without understanding the current problems using a method that goes well beyond the anecdotal.

  • thepointsguy

    I 100% agree that new solutions should take into account the stats you mention- but the MTA should be doing those calculations- not some small time points blog!

  • http://www.lmfao.sssr/ Willie The Shake Speare
  • JustSaying

    Excellent logistical post……..

  • No Tattoo

    No way I can make it to JFK in an hour. I have to transfer from the F to the E at Jackson Heights, then it’s a long ride on the E to Sutphin Blvd./JFK on the subway, then the Air Train…by the time I’ve made it to Sutphin Blvd., the Q70 bus from Jackson Heights has long since arrived at LGA.

    Yes, supposedly is 20 minutes from Penn Station to the EWR stop, but then one has to get on the long slow ride on the monorail to actually get to the terminals.

  • Jim baround

    While the length of the flight itself should not specifically matter, comparing LGA with a major international airports transportation links doesn’t make sense. First, these airports are generally bigger in passenger volume. Would it make sense to invest the same amount of money in a people mover to LGA as to JFK when JFK has double the passenger traffic? I don’t disagree that rail service to LGA would be great, but to say it leaves something to be desired compared to major international airports is like saying compared to major international airports service from LGA to London sucks.

  • Dean

    Also good to know the buses when, say, the airtrain screws you over and you have to watch from the window as your NJ Transit train pulls into and leaves the station in the time it takes you to slowly roll 100 feet. Not that I’m bitter.

  • Europod

    “Lets compare New York’s options to some international airports.”

    By “international,” you mean European? sad.

  • Europod

    Exactly. New York proclaims itself as the world’s greatest city. It’s more like world’s most inconvenient (and rude) city.

  • Europod

    Your breadcrumbs adds nothing to the original article. In fact, it makes things more confusing. You must work for the mayor’s office.

  • Europod

    10 minutes via bus from Roosevelt Ave? Sure…at 3 am when there are no cars around. Unfortunately, the Q70 doesn’t run at 3am. Try 30 minutes.

  • Dennis

    Having lived in Hong Kong for four years, I can attest that the airport situation is dismal! Absolutely amazing that there is no direct highway or single train from manhattan to the terminal.

  • http://www.lmfao.sssr/ Willie The Shake Speare

    I suggest you learn what breadcrumbs mean.

  • john

    Is that the only comment you replied to? How about you fix the article? Or is this blog really about credit card referrals with some “content” to make it less obvious

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