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It’s the part of the trip no one likes to think about until the last minute: how to get to the airport. But whether you’re rushing to make your outbound flight, or prolonging the final moments of vacation bliss, the mad dash to the airport doesn’t have to be a source of stress.
Major hubs around the world have come a long way in creating fast, reliable routes to get between downtown and the airport — and with the exception of a few destinations, airport shuttles and express trains are offered at extremely reasonable rates, so you won’t break your vacation budget on airport transportation.
To help you catch your next flight in the fastest (or most affordable) way possible, we selected some of the busiest airports in the world, based on volume of international visitors — hence, Atlanta (ATL), Dubai (DXB) and Tokyo Narita (NRT). We also considered some of the most popular destinations on the map, including New York City and London.
From high-speed trains to helicopter rides, these are the best ways to get to 10 major airports around the world, whether you’re looking to save money or get there as quickly as possible.
Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK)
Beijing’s network of 21 subway lines helps travelers reach their destination quickly and painlessly. That makes a huge difference, especially in those super sticky, muggy summer months, when traffic is to be avoided at all costs.
Cheapest way to get there: The Airport Express runs on a loop, shuttling passengers between two major downtown stations (Dongzhimen and Sanyuanqiao), to the airport and back again. The cost of a ticket is just 25 yuan, or $3.89, and with machines in all stations (including Terminal 1 and 2, where the train stops), the entire process is as straightforward as it is affordable.
Fastest way to get there: In addition to being the cheapest way to reach the airport, the subway is also technically the fastest route between PEK and the city center (16 to 20 minutes). But Beijing also has a network of 16 bus lines, so if you prefer traveling above ground, that’s another option. Keep in mind that these rides, depending on traffic, can last anywhere between 30 minutes and an hour.
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
Los Angeles (LAX) ranks up there as one of the least pleasant airport commutes in the US — whether you’re coming off a long trans-Pacific flight, or taking a quick jump over to SFO, there’s nothing relaxed about it. Until the proposed LAX Metro Connector takes shape, your options boil down to the affordable FlyAway service, and rideshare apps like Lyft and Uber.
Cheapest way to get there: The cheapest way to travel to and from the airport is the FlyAway. This is a solid, reliable bus service with six different pick-up points scattered around Los Angeles. The cost varies depending on where you board ($8 for Hollywood, $9.75 for Union Station) — pretty reasonable considering you get dropped off right at your departures terminal. If you’re leaving LAX, catch a FlyAway bus at the lower arrivals level.
Fastest way to get there: If buses aren’t your thing, and your friends are too busy taking selfies at LACMA to help you out, your best bet in Los Angeles is Uber or Lyft. Depending on traffic, you may get from downtown to LAX in less than 25 minutes. The FlyAway, on the other hand, could take over an hour.
Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)
Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) is the main hub for American Airlines, making it an important connecting point for international and domestic passengers. Looking to kill time? Head to Terminal D, which recently unveiled the largest duty-free store in the country.
Cheapest way to get there: As far as getting to DFW inexpensively, the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) orange line runs here, and a local day pass starts at just $5. The ride from a central stop like Victory or West End Station will take 45 minutes to an hour. The Super Shuttle is another solid option. Shared rides from downtown hotels start as low as $21, though be sure to plan well in advance, as your driver will likely be picking up other passengers from different parts of town.
Fastest way to get there: A 30-minute drive from downtown Dallas, DFW is well-served by rideshare services like Uber and Lyft. So if you have the extra cash (rates vary widely, typically $25 to $50, depending on time of day), the sprawling airport is a breeze to get to in a car.
Narita International Airport (NRT)
The Tokyo underground metro system is a marvelous network of overlapping and interlocking subway lines. It’s no surprise then that Tokyo’s Narita airport (NRT), the city’s main portal for international flights, offers a dizzying selection of ways to between downtown and NRT.
Cheapest way to get there: The cheapest way to get to NRT is usually to buy a bus ticket (1,000 yen, or $9.08) and catch the Tokyo Shuttle, which runs three times every hour between the Tokyo Station Keisei bus stop and the airport. (Unfortunately, late night and early morning fares double to 2,000 yen, or $18.15.)
The subway is also an affordable option. At the airport’s subway station, travelers can pay 1,030 yen (approximately $9.36) to ride the Keisei Main Line Limited Express, which takes around 70 minutes to reach Ueno Station. From here, it’s another 160 yen ($1.45) to connect to the JR Yamanote Line to reach busier hubs like Shinjuku or Tokyo Station. The entire trip can be done in reverse, too, for travelers flying out of NRT.
Fastest way to get there: If you’re really pressed for time, the JR Narita Express (N’EX) is the way to go, as it cuts the time between Tokyo Station and NRT down to about 50 minutes. While it costs slightly more — 3,020 yen ($27.42) or 4,000 yen ($36.32) for a round-trip, which is a better deal than two one-way fares — the ride comes with other perks, too. The high-speed rail service offers ergonomic seats, power outlets and punctual departures from Narita station every 30 minutes.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
Flying out of the world’s busiest airport, with nearly 104 million passengers annually, can be daunting. Even if you’re just transferring between flights, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) can be overwhelming for first-time visitors (there are more than 100 shops and restaurants here, to put it in perspective).
Cheapest and fastest way to get there: The cheapest way to get to and from ATL is also the speediest. The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transport Authority, or MARTA, has two lines (the Red line and the Gold line) that terminate at the airport. The ride takes around 15 minutes from downtown Atlanta, and once you’ve purchased a Breeze card ($2), tickets cost just $2.50 each way. Take that, Atlanta traffic.
Heathrow Airport (LHR)
London’s main airport received over 78 million passengers in 2017, and with a major expansion on the way, it’s more important than ever that Heathrow offer a reliable, speedy connection to the city center. Luckily, as one of the world’s most visited cities, London has had the hang of this for a while.
Cheapest way to get there: The Piccadilly line is your cheapest option for reaching LHR from central London. Though the cost fluctuates depending on where you get on, plan on spending around 6 pounds ($8) for a ride from popular stations such as Knightsbridge, Piccadilly Circus and King’s Cross. (The Tube, as it’s called, shuts down between midnight and 5:00am, so if you need a cheap ride at night, consider the N9 bus from Aldwych.)
Fastest way to get there: Most travelers simply opt for the Heathrow Express, which has been in operation since 1998. Though more expensive than the tube (14.30 pounds, or about $18.80 with advance purchase), the dedicated shuttle cuts travel time between Heathrow and Paddington to just 15 minutes. There’s Wi-Fi on board, too, but don’t plan on getting too much work done; by the time you’re all logged in, the train will be pulling into the station.
John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)
Of New York City’s three major airports, JFK is the one international travelers are most likely to encounter (though a recent report shows it’s no longer one of the world’s busiest). Unfortunately, there’s no easy-on, easy-off shuttle train, à la London’s Heathrow Express or Hong Kong’s Airport Express. But with a little planning, the path to and from the Big Apple can be (mostly) painless.
Cheapest way to get there: If you want to feel like a real New Yorker, there’s the AirTrain. With stops at every terminal, the AirTrain connects to the MTA subway at two points: Howard Beach (get there on the A train) and Jamaica Station (serviced by the E, J and Z trains). All in, the two tickets — subway fare plus the AirTrain ticket — cost $7.75.
(Because TPG is based in NYC, we know that, while it might not be the overall fastest or cheapest option, the Long Island Rail Road is a good choice, too. Like the MTA, the LIRR also connects to the AirTrain at Jamaica, and it can shave 15 minutes off the commute to Midtown. Expect to pay $15 for the two tickets.)
Fastest way to get there: If you’re really in a pinch, unfortunately, it’s hard to find a fast way to get between JFK and Manhattan. Even a classic yellow taxi or an Uber, depending on traffic, can take more than an hour — and there’s nothing speedy about taking public transportation, either. So for travelers in a hurry, there’s BLADE Bounce. The “Uber for aviation” service offers private airport transfers for $895, or you can jump on an existing flight from Manhattan to JFK starting at $195 — consider it a sightseeing tour and airport shuttle all rolled into one.
Dubai International Airport (DXB)
The recent, breakneck development of flashy Dubai was designed with tourists in mind — and that means easy, fluid connections between all of the major landmarks, including DXB. While the airport is full of fun ways to pass the time, including snooze cubes, a spa and more than 80 restaurants, it’s also well-serviced by metro lines, bus routes and taxis.
Cheapest way to get there: Once again, the cheapest method of transit is the subway. From downtown Dubai (near the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall) travelers can catch Dubai’s red line, which runs all the way down to the Dubai Marina area, where many hotels are found. The cost? Less than 4 dirham ($1.09) for a one-way ticket. The ride to DXB will take 20 to 45 minutes, depending on where you’re staying. In the other direction, the red line leaves from Terminal 1 and Terminal 3 every 10 minutes, and makes stops along Sheikh Zayed Road.
Fastest way to get there: While the Dubai metro system runs smoothly, a taxi might beat out the rail when it comes to speed — if traffic conditions are right. A taxi will usually get you from your hotel room to the airport terminal in under 45 minutes (and closer to 15 if you’re traveling to DXB from downtown). Prices can vary, but expect to pay at least 55 dirham ($15), and as much as 129 dirham ($35).
O’Hare International Airport (ORD)
With a public art program that places murals and sculptures all over the terminals, Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD) is known as one of the most colorful airports in the US. It’s also well connected to downtown Chicago.
Cheapest way to get there: Use the CTA Blue Line, a $5 one-way ticket, to cross the 18 miles between the city center and ORD. The trains run all night, every day of the week, though the journey will take about 45 minutes.
Fastest way to get there: A regular old taxi, an Uber or a Lyft might be the fastest route. This will cost around $40 for a 25 to 35 minute ride. However, that estimate doesn’t take rush hour into consideration. Our advice? Unless you’re flying at an off-peak hour, you still may want to go with the metro.
Hong Kong International Airport (HKG)
Touching down at Hong Kong Airport, which receives 1,000 flights every day, can be a real treat for air travel enthusiasts. The Aviation Discovery Centre, located on the departures level in Terminal 2, offers a flight simulator, interactive exhibits and even a Sky Deck with front row seats to the runway.
Cheapest Way to Get There: It’s not the sexiest way to get around, but Hong Kong airport’s public bus system comes in handy if you’re counting pennies. By bus, it takes a minimum of 30 minutes to reach HKG from Kowloon, and closer to an hour from Hong Kong Island, though both rides cost around 39 HKD ($5). As a consolation, you’ll get to enjoy the view over the longest road-rail suspension bridge in the world.
Fastest way to get there: Clocking in at just 20 minutes, the ride to Hong Kong’s airport from Kowloon on the Airport Express is lightning fast, and the ride from Hong Kong Island is only four minutes longer. Tickets are between 90 HKD ($11.57) and 100 HKD ($12.74), respectively. The Airport Express is just another example of why Hong Kong’s ultra-clean, orderly metro system is a delightful part of any trip to this major metropolis. As an added perk, you can even check into your flight from the metro station.
*An earlier version of this story did not include the LIRR connection to the AirTrain at JFK, but we have decided it is a popular enough option to add.
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