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Airport Guide: New York John F Kennedy (JFK)

By John Walton     Filed under: airports, New York, travel tips, JFK, airport guide, New York JFK

Travelling to New York's John F Kennedy International Airport? We've put together the latest in our series of 'need-to-know' airport guides to speed you through one of the world's most confusing airports.

The basics

New York John F Kennedy (JFK) is one the busiest international airports in the world. It's one of three major airports in the New York area, the others being Newark (EWR) in New Jersey and LaGuardia (LGA) between JFK and Manhattan. Make sure you're looking at the right airport!

JFK itself is 25km southeast of Manhattan in the New York borough of Queens -- and it can take anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours to get there under normal circumstances. Always ask your hotel concierge or a local contact whether traffic is expected to be particularly heavy.

Qantas is the only Australian airline to fly to JFK, with a Boeing 747 continuing on from Sydney. It's probably most comfortable ways to get to NYC from Australia, especially in business class.

There's airport wifi (see below) but no SIM card shops that we've ever been able to find. Read on for a potential solution, though...

The JFK airport website is remarkably informative -- worth a browse if you're new to JFK or haven't been through in a while.

Apps

There's no official airport app, and we haven't yet found a decent unofficial one that gives you more than arrivals and departures info.

There are a few good apps for New York itself, though -- including the very useful KickMap family of apps for the New York Subway. (iTunes AU | iTunes US)

You can also get the latest delay information (but not much more) on Twitter from the airport authority that runs all three main NYC airports.

Major airlines

As befits one of the world's busiest international airports, dozens of airlines fly into JFK.

Among the US airlines, American, Delta, JetBlue, United and Virgin America fly to JFK direct from international Australian traveller gateways Los Angeles LAX and San Francisco SFO.

Hawaiian Airlines also flies via Honolulu, though it's a devil of a connection for Australians..

American and United even have upgraded service with international-standard seating on some routes, which they call Flagship Service and United p.s. respectively. Ask your travel agent or the airlines if those flights are available for your schedule if you can get them.

Qantas' daily QF107 and QF108 New York-Los Angeles flights are only available to passengers connecting to or from Australia, but they're the most comfortable way to make the LAX-JFK trek.

Airlines, terminals and connections

JFK is a built-and-rebuilt mess of perpetual construction. Good luck navigating it!

Seven separate terminal buildings surround a freeway loop in an elongated U shape. Apart from road connections, there's the AirTrain elevated transit system, which is your best way for getting between terminals.

Most serve domestic and international flights interchangeably, so you'll find domestic and international areas in some terminals. Confusingly, there's no terminal 6, so they're numbered 1-5, 7 and 8.

  • Terminal 1 is a "foreign carriers" terminal for Air France, Japan Airlines, Korean Air and Lufthansa.
  • Terminal 2 is a Delta regional terminal, which is currently being connected by a walkway to Terminal 4.
  • Terminal 3 is used by Delta. It's the old Pan Am terminal you might remember from history, but it's being knocked down and Delta flights spread between T2 and T4.
  • Terminal 4 is the "everyone else" terminal, currently undergoing expansion. Notably, Virgin America uses T4 for its flights to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas.
  • Terminal 5 is home to JetBlue, a US low-cost carrier that offers a surprisingly pleasant alternative to the older US airlines in economy.
  • There's no Terminal 6.
  • Terminal 7 is owned by British Airways and used by oneworld partners Qantas, Cathay Pacific and Iberia. United, US Airways and Japanese airline ANA also use the place.
  • Terminal 8 is the largest at JFK and is home to American Airlines plus oneworld partners Finnair, Royal Jordanian and LAN. Jet Airways and Qatar Airways also use T8.

As you'll imagine, connecting is a palaver, although the AirTrain shuttle is free around the airport precinct once you're past baggage claim. At peak times it's every 7 minutes, and off-peak it runs every 15 minutes.

The airport has a full list of airlines by terminal if yours isn't mentioned above.

Hotels

To get to the dozen or so airport hotels, take the AirTrain to the Federal Circle station, where shuttle buses await.

There's no one standout hotel, though the best of the bunch are the Hilton, the Courtyard by Marriott -- and, surprisingly, the relatively low-end Hampton Inn, which several people have praised to us this year. By contrast, the DoubleTree has had an awful reputation for years.

To and from the airport

Public transport to and from JFK is an absolute pain. Your best bet is a taxi, unless there is something going on in NYC that means traffic gridlock (the US President visiting, the UN General Assembly meeting, major sporting events, and so on) -- ask your hotel concierge well in advance.

Options in full:

  • Taxi: there is a $45 flat fare (plus tolls and tip) to Manhattan. It should take roughly an hour, but can be much more in rush hour. (Don't forget that minimum check-in times in the US are earlier before your flight than you may be used to.) A cab is the best bet for anyone with luggage.
  • AirTrain plus the Subway: if you don't have much luggage, try public transport. The AirTrain is a peoplemover that takes you to either Howard Beach (for the NYC Subway A train for Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn) or Jamaica (J and Z trains for Lower Manhattan and E train for Midtown Manhattan). The AirTrain is $5, plus $2.25 flat fare on the subway. If you're heading for New York's Penn Station, you can also take the Long Island Rail Road commuter train there from Jamaica, although the fare is $8 on top of the AirTrain $5. The journey into the city takes just over an hour. Full details can be found on a PDF from the AirTrain authorities.
  • Shared-ride shuttle services: these are likely to be about $10 cheaper than the cab but can involve a lot of waiting and being driven around NYC to drop other people off first. The airport authority's website has a full list.

For more information and further links, check out the airport's "Ground Transportation" page.

Insider tips and tricks

Allow plenty of time getting to and from JFK. Seriously. Getting stuck in a cab on the Van Wyck Expressway and being worried about missing your flight or meeting is one of the worst ways to start or finish a trip.

JFK is very, very prone to weather-related delays. Summertime? Thunderstorms in New York and knock-on delays from across the US. Winter? Snow, icing and assorted wintry slush. June-November? The potential of hurricanes. Make sure your travel insurance is up to date and you have backup plans whenever flying through JFK, and remember that Newark and LaGuardia can also be options if things go awry.

Unlike other airports, mobile phone networks don't have shops in JFK to sell you a SIM on arrival. Consider a rental 3G-to-wifi router (AKA a mifi) from Tep Wireless to pick up when you arrive to connect your smartphone, tablet and laptop. It's relatively expensive for longer trips, but the T-Mobile 4G signal is fast, and there's an unlimited data option. 

Airport wifi is provided by Boingo, and runs from $5/hour to $10 for a month at all Boingo hotspots.

Make sure your taxi driver obeys the $45 flat rate to Manhattan. Notices reminding you of this should be posted inside the cab. But don't forget that any bridge/tunnel tolls and tips (since this is the US, you're looking at around 20 percent tip) are not included.

This is America, so the TSA rules supreme over security checkpoints. Take a deep breath. And a book. Make sure you arrive early, especially at T4, which is one of the worst for queues.

In Terminal 1, many of the dining options are in a food court before security. Consider stopping off there before you go through if you're hungry -- the lounges are relatively unlovely and the food there isn't great.

The same pre-security food situation applies to Terminal 4, although the lounges are better (particularly the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, which is well worth the entry fee charged to Virgin America Main Cabin Select members).

If you're flying on Delta, do keep an eye out for changes to your terminal between the time you book and the time you fly. Delta's flights are shifting terminals as the old Pan Am terminal gets demolished.

On Qantas, BA or Cathay from Terminal 7? Consider stopping off for an expensive but usually good bite at Wolfgang Puck Express or Balducci's (which also has locations in T2 and T3) after security.

Travelling via Vancouver? Cathay Pacific is one of the few international airlines allowed to fly between Canada and the US, which it does en route to Hong Kong -- but unlike Qantas' LAX flights, Cathay's allowed to sell seats even if you're not travelling onwards form Vancouver. Since Cathay's seats and service are far superior to the competitors, it's a very useful option. Plus, you'll get full Qantas frequent flyer miles and benefits.

Terminals 1, 4 and 7 are home to the stupidly named but rather convenient XpresSpa, where you can get the kinks worked out or your nails touched up.

None of American's lounges in Terminal 8 are much hack, frankly. Consider the Vino Volo wine bar, or Bobby Van's Steakhouse instead.

AusBT reader tips

If you're a frequent captive in the JFK zoo, or even if you've just discovered a nifty trick about the place, now's your chance to share your insider knowledge with other AusBT readers.

Leave a comment below or join the conversation on Twitter: we're @AusBT.

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About John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

 

Have something to say? Post a comment now!

1 on 26/6/12 by Francesco

That airport is a nightmare! 

If you have a connection with another airline you can easily make a mistake with terminals and the queue is always long. Duty free shops are not decent for one of the most crowded and important airport in the world.

Connections are terrible: taxis are the best way, but you can never know how much time they take... Once I missed the flight even if I took it four hours before my flight, because of a big accident and any works (I also had to pay 180$). Public transport are absolutely inadequate, the journey is infinite and then you have to take the AirTran. 

In my opinion it's ridiculous the airport of one of the most important city in the world is so inaccessible. They should build a sort of JFK express, like Heathrow, to connect quickly the airport with the city.

1 on 26/6/12 by John

I'd gladly give up the duty free shops for an extension of the AirTrain into Manhattan. The idea that you have to change at Howard Beach for the subway or Jamaica for the LIRR with your luggage is ridiculous.

You're not wrong about the connection nightmare either. It's one of those airports where codeshares are especially annoying, because you have to double-check which airline is actually operating your flight or earn yourself a mad dash from terminals when you realise your flight is actually on another airline. Grr.

1 on 26/6/12 by Francesco

Taking NYC subway with a luggage is impossible! It could work if there was a dedicate subway city-airport (like Madrid, for examples) with no many stops and larger carriages for luggages. Unfortunately in NYC you see lots of tourist with their giant luggages who hinder other people (especially in the rush hour it is annoying). You can neither work and I hate waste my time!

1 on 27/6/12 by John

Oh, I'd never recommend the subway at peak time for anyone with luggage. But if you're heading to the financial district with a smallish bag, it's faster than a cab and a lot cheaper. The LIRR into Penn Station should in theory be better, except that you're then at Penn Station, which is disgusting.

1 on 27/6/12 by Francesco

I absolutely agree about Penn Station. My hotel usually is in lower manhattan so I have no problem with work. In my free time I usually go uptown by subway (I hate cabs). I love running and relaxing in Central Park or walking on Broadway. In general if you need to move across Manhattan and you don't have a bag subway is the best way. 

Unfortunately JFK is lack of easy connections and this is a big problem!

1 on 27/6/12 by John

You're not wrong...but remember back in the days before AirTrain where you had to take a bus between terminals after arriving from an international flight? Those were the days...

1 on 27/6/12 by Francesco

Please don't make me remembered!!! Even if I shouldn't complain... Wanna talk about Italian airports...?

 

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