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JFK vs. LaGuardia vs. Newark: Which NYC airport should I fly into?

Nov. 10, 2019
9 min read
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With the biggest population of any U.S. city, New York has not one, not two, but three major airports. Choosing which one to fly into or out of -- JFK, LaGuardia or Newark -- is a decision influenced by which airline you're flying and your destination. Today we're going to take a look at these and other considerations to see how these three stack up against each other to help you make an informed decision.

Distance to downtown and transportation options

It's hard to pick a center of New York, but for this post, I'll use the Metropolitan Museum of Art, halfway up Central Park at 82nd Street and Fifth Avenue.

Seeing Central Park from the air is a real avgeek treat. Photo by Alberto Riva/TPG
Seeing Central Park from the air is a real AvGeek treat. (Photo by Alberto Riva/TPG.)

Here's how the three airports compare in accessibility from Manhattan:

Getting into ManhattanJFKLaGuardia (LGA)Newark (EWR)
Distance (by car)18.5 miles8.5 miles21 miles
Time (by car)45-90 minutes25-50 minutes40-85 minutes
Average Uber cost$75$45$70
Public transitJFK AirTrain/E train (subway)/6 train (1 hour 20 minutes)Q70 bus/E train (subway)/6 train (1 hour)AirTrain Newark/Newark Airport Express/6 train (subway) (1 hour 30 minutes)

As anyone who's ever traveled to New York knows, the saddest part of this chart is the sheer range of times it can take to go between Manhattan and the airports because of traffic. LaGuardia might seem like the closest option, but the intense construction there can cause significant delays simply leaving the airport. Depending on what time your flight arrives or departs, you might miss traffic entirely or you might get caught in the midst of one of the most frustrating rush-hour commutes anywhere in the country.

Airlines and flight options

There's certainly some overlap, but it's easy to think of the three New York airports as serving different roles.

JFK is the primary international airport, where you'll find most of the long-haul flights departing and landing. It's a major hub for American Airlines, Delta and JetBlue, and the following international carriers also fly from JFK:

  • ANA flies to both Tokyo Narita (NRT) and Haneda (HND) daily with a 777-300ER
  • JAL flies to both Tokyo Narita (NRT) and Haneda (HND) daily with a 777-300ER
  • Cathay Pacific flies to Hong Kong (HKG) 3x daily with a 777-300ER
  • EVA Air flies to Taipei (TPE) daily with a 777-300ER
  • Turkish Airlines flies to Istanbul (IST) twice daily with a 777-300ER and an A330
  • Lufthansa flies to Frankfurt (FRA) twice daily with a 747-8 and an A340, and once daily to Munich with an A340
  • British Airways flies to London (LHR) as often as 10x daily with a mix of 747 and 777 aircraft
  • Qatar flies to Doha (DOH) twice daily with a 777-300ER and A350-1000
  • Emirates flies to Dubai (DXB) twice daily with an A380
  • Etihad flies to Abu Dhabi (AUH) daily with an A380
  • Air India flies daily to New Delhi (DEL) with a 777-300ER

There are many other unique and luxurious international carriers that fly in and out of JFK. In addition, you'll find domestic service to almost every major airport across the country, including short flights along the East Coast and longer transcontinental flights. Airlines compete heavily for a share of the premium transcontinental market. American Airlines flies a specially configured, three-cabin A321T with lie-flat first- and business-class seats, JetBlue flies its unbeatable Mint product (also on an A321) and Delta flies 767s with lie-flat seats.

Newark, by comparison, is one of United's largest hubs. The Star Alliance carrier doesn't operate out of JFK. A number of international Star Alliance airlines fly into Newark as well as JFK to take advantage of the connecting traffic United can offer them. These include SWISS, Lufthansa, Air India, Ethiopian and TAP Portugal. Singapore Airlines operates the world's longest flight between Singapore and Newark every day. A number of other international airlines fly into Newark, including Emirates, Cathay Pacific and El Al.

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Singapore operates the world's longest flight from Newark with an Airbus A350-900ULR.

LaGuardia, by comparison, is much smaller both in the land it occupies and the number and types of planes it accommodates. Other than a few flights to Canada, you won't find any international routes and you won't find any service to cities farther west than Denver (DEN). Because of its proximity to the city, the three legacy U.S. airlines all fly out of LaGuardia, although Delta and American have a larger presence than United. LGA is also Southwest's lone foothold in New York, after the popular and affordable airline decided to pull out of Newark entirely earlier this year. JetBlue also has a large presence at LaGuardia, though you'll only find its Mint product flying on select routes out of JFK.

Airport amenities and perks

JFK is spread across six terminals, most of which are not connected airside. (Don't let the numbering confuse you. Terminals 3 and 6 were demolished about 10 years ago.) This means that your predeparture experience will vary widely, depending on which airline you're flying.

Many international airlines use Terminal 4 because it has a number of gates that are compatible with the double-decker 747s and A380s. This is also where you'll find the largest Amex Centurion lounge, once it opens in the first half of 2020. Many airlines operate their own lounges at JFK, including Lufthansa (T1), Air France-KLM (T1), Korean Air (T1), Etihad (T4), Virgin Atlantic (T4), Air India (T4), Emirates (T4), SWISS (T4) and British Airways (T7).

When it comes to U.S. airlines, American Airlines has a Flagship lounge and Flagship First dining space in Terminal 8 just past security. This is also where you'll find Bobby Van's, a great steakhouse that participates in the Priority Pass program, meaning eligible members can enjoy $28 off their bill. Priority Pass also has options in Terminal 7 (Alaska Airlines lounge), Terminal 4 (Wingtips lounge) and Terminal 1 (Air France lounge and Korean Airlines business-class lounge). Delta doesn't have a premium lounge for its long-haul passengers, but you will find Delta SkyClubs in Terminals 2 and 4.

Newark's international service is dominated by Star Alliance airlines, so most international business-class passengers will prefer the United Polaris lounge or United's not-so-secret restaurant, Classified, if you're able to score a reservation. Beyond that, you'll find a few lounges from international airlines like Lufthansa, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic and a number of United Clubs for passengers who don't meet the stricter access requirements for the Polaris lounge. The Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, as well as the Art & Lounge, are accessible to Priority Pass customers.

United Polaris lounge, Newark. (Photo by Zach Honig /The Points Guy.)

Although LaGuardia generally shorter flights than JFK or Newark, it has a few decent lounges. The most exciting is the Amex Centurion Lounge, accessible to holders of a Platinum Card® from American Express or Amex Centurion card. The lounge is located before security between the B and C concourses, which means that you can access it no matter what airline you're flying but also that you'll need to leave the lounge a little earlier than usual in order to clear security.

Centurion Lounge, LaGuardia.( Photo by Lan Paje/The Points Guy.)

Other than that, your lounge options are limited to an Air Canada lounge, a United Club, an Admirals Club, and a few Delta SkyClub locations. Notably there are no Priority Pass lounges at LaGuardia, making the Amex Platinum far and away the best credit card for lounge access if you frequent this airport.

Bottom line

Other than geographical location, the biggest differences among New York's three airports are the airlines and types of flights they serve. Both JFK and Newark offer services to destinations all over North America, as well as a number of truly long-haul flights. These airports have a number of great lounges, although other than a few Priority Pass locations, they generally cater to premium-cabin passengers and top-tier elites. Flights from LaGuardia, by comparison, top out at about four and a half hours. It makes sense, then, that there would be fewer amenities, although the airport gets a huge boost from the often-crowded Centurion Lounge.

If you're loyal to United or flying to Asia, you might have to fly out of Newark. If you're not loyal to a single airline, you're likely to base your decision on convenience. Depending on where in New York you're heading to (or starting from) these three airports can feel worlds apart. Rush-hour traffic may be the deciding factor when you pick an airport.

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.