Fast flights, long trains and seaplanes: What’s the quickest way to get to Boston from New York?

Oct 11, 2021

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New York City and Boston. The cities are tied by history, geography and even heated sports rivalries (think: Yankees versus Red Sox).

But, at just about 215 miles apart, the cities are also tied by a thick web of transportation links that cater to both business and leisure travel between the two Northeast metropolises. There are flights — including airline shuttles with hourly service — tons of trains, buses and, more recently, even a seaplane route. But it can be hard to sort out which options are the best mix of speed, affordability and convenience.

To help put it all in perspective, TPG sent four reporters on a rush-hour “race” from New York City to Boston, each one opting for a different route between the cities. Two flew by commercial jet (one on a 7:30 a.m. United Airlines departure from Newark and another on an 8 a.m. Delta Shuttle flight from LaGuardia). Another took Amtrak’s higher-speed Acela, leaving from Penn Station at 8 a.m. And, finally, our fourth racer decided to put the seaplane to the test with a scheduled departure that left from 23rd Street and the East River at 7:55 a.m.

To keep a fair and even playing field, each mode was selected for the departure that left closest to 8 a.m. TPG’s racers started at the Oculus transport hub at 6 a.m., which sits in New York’s Financial District just a stone’s throw from the World Trade Center. A winner would be declared for the first TPG staffer to reach the finish line: Faneuil Hall Marketplace in central Boston.

It’s the latest in TPG’s series of races that first began in 2019 with a race from New York to Washington, D.C. TPG has since followed with versions from New York to the Hamptons (did the helicopter service win?) and another from Boston to New York.

Now, the race series resumes in 2021 with our latest installment. Read on for a play-by-play account of each half-hour of the race as experienced by reporters Stella Shon, Vikkie Walker, Zach Griff and Tanner Saunders.

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(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.)

6 a.m.

Zach: With a 7:30 a.m. scheduled departure from Newark Liberty International (EWR) Zach would be the first of the group to take off. He was in a bit of a rush to leave for the airport at 6 a.m., though the dark and damp Monday morning meant city streets were still sleepy. Ordering a Lyft to the airport — faster than taking the PATH train and connecting in Newark Penn Station — took just minutes, though the $56.66 price seemed a bit more expensive than usual.

Stella: Tailwind Air recommends that passengers arrive 20 minutes before the scheduled departure. Since Stella still had almost two hours to kill, she decided to go back to her apartment to catch up on work for an hour.

Tanner: Flying out of New York’s LaGuardia Airport (LGA), Tanner started his journey by calling an Uber to take him on the estimated 24-minute ride. It took about five minutes for the Uber to arrive and, before long, he was cruising across the Brooklyn Bridge on the way to his 8 a.m. Delta Shuttle flight.

Vikkie: There was no way Vikkie would beat Tanner or Zach to Boston, but she figured she might have a chance against Stella. At 6 a.m. sharp, she entered the 1 train WTC Cortlandt Street station. Vikkie briefly considered grabbing an Uber but decided to save some cash, paying the $2.75 fare and charging it to her The World of Hyatt Credit Card, which earns 2x on local transit and commuting.

6:30 a.m.

Zach: By now, Zach was already enjoying free breakfast in the United Club in Terminal C of Newark Airport (Honey Nut Cheerios and packaged hard-boiled eggs). His Lyft receipt shows that he arrived at the airport at 6:19 a.m., and, despite a very busy morning at the airport, he cleared security with his backpack in just minutes. There were lines everywhere — both at economy and Premier check-in areas, and even at TSA PreCheck security. But with no wait at all, Clear saved the day.

Stella: By 6:30 a.m., Stella was back in her apartment. Facing only a 10-minute drive to the New York Skyports seaplane base, she was slowly getting ready to leave again.

Tanner: After a slightly wild Uber ride across Brooklyn and Queens thanks to rain and a wet highway, Tanner made it safely to LGA’s Terminal D. After closing out the $57 Uber trip, Tanner made his way through a surprisingly quiet terminal with essentially no wait times for any security line. Less than five minutes after he walked in he was past security and searching for caffeine to keep going.

Vikkie: Vikkie arrived at New York City’s Moynihan Train Hall at 6:30 a.m. There weren’t many people milling about, and the ceiling was bathed in pretty purple light. Vikkie’s train was scheduled to leave at 8 a.m., so she had ample time to relax. Her ticket was originally in Amtrak’s Acela business class, which generally doesn’t come with lounge access unless you’re an elite. Wanting to have a quiet place to nap and work, she applied a 12-hour upgrade to switch to Acela first class. She earned the upgrade after opening a brand new Amtrak credit card.

Vikkie decided to grab a quick meal and found the food selection had changed little from her last experience in the lounge. She opted for Apple Jacks cereal and cranberry juice.

7 a.m.

Zach: Boarding began a full 40 minutes before departure. As a Premier 1K member, Zach decided to preboard — this way, he could settle in, grab some cabin shots and try working on his laptop before departure. That strategy failed. His seatmate boarded shortly thereafter, making it hard for him to use his 13-inch MacBook Pro without elbowing his neighbor. Though the plane would ultimately be faster than the train, the latter definitely would have offered more room to spread out.

Stella: Stella was now on her way in a Lyft to the marina, located on East 23rd Street and the FDR Drive. With plenty of visible signage, it was easy to find the marina and the Tailwind Air lounge. It was a small setup with just the necessities: a few couches and Wi-Fi.

Tanner: By 7 a.m., Tanner had walked the entirety of Terminal D to check out all its recent upgrades, since it was his first time there since Delta moved its shuttle service in 2019. Without lounge access, and not wanting to sit for a proper meal at one of the swanky restaurants, he grabbed a Red Bull for energy. He also bought a Sprite to toss in his backpack, since he figured the very short flight to Boston wouldn’t offer beverage service. Making his way to Gate 98, the very last one, Tanner took a seat to people watch in the half-hour he had until boarding.

Vikkie: Vikkie was still hanging out in the lounge. She tried to nap, but found it far too chilly to get comfortable. The Wi-Fi was strong, however, so she settled into a velvet seat and caught up on a Netflix show.

7:30 a.m.

Zach: Zach paid just $118.40 for his one-way flight booked less than a week before departure. At that price, he thought that perhaps United was having trouble filling up the plane. He was wrong. The plane ultimately pushed back with just a handful of empty coach seats. As for upgrades, only two Global Services passengers got the coveted bump to first class, leaving 54 elites — business travel is clearly coming back — in the coach cabin.

Stella: As one of only three passengers on the flight, getting set up was a breeze. The crew weighed Stella’s bag to ensure that it was under 20 pounds and gave her an amenity kit with pretzels, a small water bottle, alcohol wipes and earplugs for the ride. Although Stella arrived 45 minutes before departure, she recommends that passengers skip the lounge altogether and come exactly when Tailwind Air suggests: 20 minutes prior to departure.

Tanner: Still waiting to board, Tanner failed, again, at a Super Hard level on Candy Crush while listening to the business travelers around him make early morning phone calls and organize meetings with colleagues.

Vikkie: At the lounge, Vikkie swapped out her cranberry juice for a La Colombe coffee with two creams and one sugar.

8 a.m.

Zach: Though the United flight was scheduled at an hour and 15 minutes, it took just 42 minutes from takeoff until touchdown. The seatbelt sign was off for just about 10 minutes, so Zach stayed seated throughout the flight. Wi-Fi was available for $5.99, but it barely worked, so he resorted to staring at the clouds and doing some offline work. At least he was able to grab the final extra-legroom window seat on the flight — there was a misaligned window, but it sure beat the more cramped spot he originally had.

Stella: Although it was a gloomy morning in Manhattan, the rain finally subsided as the seaplane was arriving. The crew had informed Stella the seaplane would be about 10 minutes late due to weather conditions. The seaplane circled the East River before docking at 8:02 a.m.

Tanner: Sitting comfortably in his Delta Main Cabin seat near the rear of the plane, Tanner chatted with his neighbor about the necessities of caffeine on a Monday morning. The entire boarding process was quick and easy, and with the 2-2 seat configuration, felt much less stressful than on larger planes.

Vikkie: Vikkie’s train pulled out of Penn Station on time. She was seated in first class, which was half empty and mostly quiet. There was no chance she would win, but she figured she would at least have a more comfortable ride up to Boston than the others.

8:30 a.m.

Zach: Zach’s flight parked at Gate B24 at 8:29 a.m. From there, he was off to the races to try to become the first to arrive at Faneuil Hall. He exited the secure area at 8:37 a.m. and decided to take the Blue Line downtown. Though Google Maps was showing it was just a 13-minute car ride on surface roads, Zach didn’t want to gamble with rush-hour traffic. Taking a ride-hailing service definitely wasn’t in the cards, since he knew from an April trip that pickups required a long trek to the garage.

Stella: Boarding was simple and easy. We were in the air by 8:04 a.m. — just two minutes after the plane docked at the marina. Arguably the best part of this flight was the sweeping views of the Manhattan and Brooklyn skylines. The seaplane flew near New York’s JFK before turning north to Boston.

Tanner: Having taken off slightly earlier than scheduled, Tanner’s Delta flight was already preparing for its descent. The quick flight didn’t stop him from connecting to the Wi-Fi. For $4.95 he was able to purchase 30 minutes of connectivity, though the rather slow connection was only available for less than 15 minutes of the flight. As he expected, there was no drink service on the shuttle.

Vikkie: Vikkie’s train was passing through Mamaroneck in New York’s northern suburbs. She wasn’t ravenous but ordered a fruit plate, mostly because she had a craving for pineapple.

9 a.m.

Zach: At 8:55 a.m., Zach was finally boarding the Blue Line subway. At Logan, the Blue Line departs from a station that isn’t attached to the terminal; reaching it requires a (free) shuttle ride. Zach ended up on Route 55, the slower shuttle bus that stops at all terminals. As the bus slowly made its way along its route, Zach thought about ditching his original plan and hopping in a cab instead.

Stella: By 9 a.m., Stella was well into her flight. With only eight passenger seats, everyone had both aisle and window access. Overall, Stella found the leather seats comfortable, and the engine was not as loud as she had expected. Stella didn’t end up using her Sony noise-canceling headphones or the earplugs from her amenity kit. She was able to even fall asleep for 30 minutes.

Tanner: Tanner’s plane had touched down at Boston Logan 10 minutes earlier, and Tanner found himself wondering if the taxi time would be longer than the entire flight.

Vikkie: Vikkie’s train was just pulling into Stamford, Connecticut. It was going to be a long day — at least compared to her airborne competitors.

9:30 a.m.

Zach: In the end, Zach was glad he stuck with the Blue Line. It took just three stops and under 10 minutes to reach the State Street station in central Boston. From there, it was a four-minute walk to the finish line at Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market. He was the first to arrive at 9:06 a.m., easily winning the race measured both by when he arrived and total door-to-door time. Better yet, his $2.40 metro ride was significantly more affordable than taking a cab or a ride-hailing service, which would have cost $20 or more.

Stella: As the seaplane began its descent, Stella could finally start to see Boston from afar. Unfortunately, since there was low cloud cover this morning, the crew couldn’t land on Boston Harbor. Instead, the seaplane landed at 9:33 a.m. at the Signature private terminal at Boston’s Logan International Airport.

Tanner: Tanner’s flight deplaned very quickly and the gate was right next to the exit. He made his way out of the airport and was able to get an Uber in about five minutes for the roughly 10-minute, $23.32 ride to Faneuil Hall. By 9:30 a.m. he was on location, but realizing he’d arrived in second place.

Vikkie: Now passing through Milford, Connecticut, Vikkie ordered another coffee and resigned herself to the fact that she had over two hours to go. All of the other racers were now on the ground in Boston.

10 a.m.

Zach: By 10 a.m., Zach was already comfortably seated, working on his laptop and catching up on the day’s news. It was a quiet morning in Quincy Market.

Stella: The crew informed Stella that only 15% of flights are diverted to Logan. When that happens, Tailwind Air has a backup plan for its passengers to help them get to their final destination – a covered water taxi that leaves from the Hyatt Regency right by the airport. Stella took the hotel shuttle to get to the Hyatt, then the water taxi to Pier 4 in Boston.

Tanner: After buying a hot coffee to warm up on the brisk Boston morning, Tanner found Zach in Quincy Market and sat down to process the pros and cons of his quick commute from New York City.

Vikkie: Was passing through Middlesex County, Connecticut, east of New Haven, heading for New London.

10:30 a.m.

Zach: As Zach (and the team) continued to wait for Vikkie, it became clear to him that flying was easily the fastest way to get between New York and Boston. As long as the airspace is open and the FAA’s penalty box isn’t in use, Zach will always be on “Team Airplane.”

Stella: With the hotel shuttle and water taxi, it took about 20 minutes to get across Boston Harbor. From there, the meeting point at Faneuil Hall was a 10-minute Uber ride. If your seaplane ride happens to land at Logan instead of the Boston Harbor, Stella recommends taking an Uber (or the Blue Line) straight to your final destination. While the water taxi views were lovely, she would have saved a lot more time. Her arrival at Fanueil Hall put her in third place in the race.

Tanner: Having recently made the drive to Boston and remembering the insane traffic (especially in Connecticut), Tanner concluded that the 30-minute flight to Boston was absolutely the best way to get to Beantown. It saved so much time and Boston’s airport — unlike those in New York — is close to the city’s business centers, tourist attractions and educational institutions.

Vikkie: Vikkie was still on the train. As Vikkie arrived in New London, Connecticut, she caught up on a few work emails and aimlessly scrolled Twitter. She would have checked Instagram or Facebook, but found they were both curiously down.

11 a.m.

Vikkie: Arriving in Providence, Rhode Island. At least the view was nice!

11:30 a.m.

Vikkie: Vikkie logged into a work Zoom meeting, but the Wi-Fi on the train was too unstable; she could barely make out the contents of the meeting. She hoped she didn’t miss anything important.

12 P.M.

After arriving at Boston’s South Station at 11:42 a.m., knowing she was dead last, Vikkie figured it couldn’t hurt to grab a bite to eat before meeting the others at Faneuil Hall. She can’t seem to get lucky in a TPG race, as she came in third place in the race from Boston just two years prior. After a quick Uber, Vikkie finally arrived to meet the others, who gently ribbed her for insisting on taking Amtrak when traveling on the East Coast. They may have a point.

Key Takeaways

Amtrak Acela Commercial jet Seaplane
Pros
  • Great lounge in New York City, which you can take advantage of if a top-tier elite or traveling in first class
  • Decent foot room and doesn’t feel cramped, unlike traveling on a regional jet
  • A large table at which to eat and work
  • Ability to work uninterrupted from boarding to arrival.
  • The fastest way to get between cities
  • The shortest time in motion
  • Airport lounge access, and you can earn and redeem frequent flyer perks
  • You can arrive at the pier 20 minutes before arrival; virtually no lines are involved
  • Near private experience with no more than eight passengers on board
  • Pick up and drop off from the heart of downtown New York and Boston with beautiful views
Cons
  • Slow, especially between New York and Boston
  • Poor Wi-Fi, which can make it difficult to work productively
  • Can be pricey unless you book far in advance or score a deal
  • Hard to be productive with airport transit, quick up-and-down, limited room
  • Prone to delays during inclement weather
  • Expensive; prices began at $395 one-way
  • Working is a challenge since there’s no tray table or Wi-Fi
  • When flights are affected by weather, you’ll land at Logan rather than Boston harbor, lengthening your overall travel time
  • Can only bring up to 20 pounds of luggage
  • No frequent flyer program

Amtrak Acela: With an 8 a.m. departure on Amtrak Acela, the train virtually ensured Vikkie would finish last compared to her high-flying racemates. But she also (mostly) prefers comfort over convenience and Amtrak’s Acela first class offers that. From ample legroom on the train to a meal and a gorgeous lounge, Vikkie felt relaxed when she pulled into Boston. The Moynihan Train Hall’s location in Midtown New York City makes it accessible almost anywhere, and she saved on what likely would have been a costly Uber by taking the subway ($2.75).

Commercial jet: Flying in the morning was the fastest option. Traffic was light in New York and the morning rain turned out to be a non-issue. There were no air traffic control delays or ground stops. But it was not the most productive way to travel. Between the Uber or Lyft ride, the airport lounge, security and waiting for takeoff and landing, the plane travelers were working, at best, in a series of short bursts.

Seaplane: Tailwind Air advertises that the seaplane is the fastest way to get to and from New York to Boston, getting you in and out within two hours. For those who view time as money, this is a real advantage over a typical commercial flight, which requires ample time to go through security and to get to and from the airport. Unfortunately, Stella flew on a rainy day with low cloud cover, meaning that the flight time was longer and — the real clincher — that it landed at Boston’s Logan International Airport instead of the seaport. Stella was still impressed with the experience of the seaplane (and especially the views of both New York and Boston!), but consider that it may be pricey and — if there’s poor weather — may not be the fastest way to get you to your destination.

Cost & time breakdown

Amtrak Acela Delta Shuttle United Shuttle Seaplane
Time from the Oculus to Faneuil Hall 6 hours, 9 minutes 3 hours, 36 minutes 3 hours, 14 minutes 4 hours, 30 minutes
Time in motion 3 hours, 42 minutes from departure to arrival 34 minutes from wheels up to wheels down 42 minutes from wheels up to wheels down 1 hour, 28 minutes from wheels up to wheels down
How we got to station/airport MTA subway ($2.75) Uber ($57.36) Lyft ($56.66) Lyft ($21.77)
How we left station/airport Uber ($7.53) Uber ($23.22) Blue Line “T” ($2.40) Lyft ($9.78)
Ticket cost $131 $104 or 8,000 Delta SkyMiles $118.40 $595
Transportation cost per minute $2.61 $0.85 $0.91 $2.32

Overall thoughts

While our three reporters who flew to Boston all arrived rather quickly, the diversion of Stella’s seaplane to Logan is proof that taking a flight can be easily complicated by weather and other delays. Though the two shuttle flights were neck-and-neck, Vikkie’s Amtrak journey was exactly what we expected: slow and steady.

But even though the train was slower this time and weather affected the seaplane, it doesn’t mean that one of these four options isn’t right for you. Based on where you live, simply getting to one of the New York City area’s three airports could add a significant amount of time depending on traffic and the time of day. And even if it’s slower, sometimes a nice, long train ride is the perfect way to spend a few hours taking in the scenery. The single-biggest perk of the train, however, might be the ability to work uninterrupted from boarding to arrival.

It’s also worth noting that both Vikkie and Stella’s total transit time likely would’ve been much shorter had they not had to begin the race at the 6 a.m. starting point. One of the advantages to both the train and the seaplane is a convenient, in-town location for departures. For both of those options, showing up 20 minutes before departure is all that’s needed — very different than the early arrival one needs to navigate airport security and make it to a gate when flying commercial.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.)

Whatever option you decide to take, be sure to follow TPG for more exciting races in the future – and the tools and knowledge you need to find the best way to take your next trip.

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