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Which airport is best in New York City, and how do you get there?

By John Walton     Filed under: airports, New York, airport, new york city, nyc, JFK, Newark, LGA, EWR, airport rail, public transport, airport shuttle, John F Kennedy Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport, La Guardia Airport

Travellers to New York have three main airports to choose from: John F Kennedy (JFK) and La Guardia (LGA) in the Queens borough of NYC itself, and Newark (EWR) across the river from Manhattan in New Jersey.

Qantas flies QF107 and QF108 between Los Angeles' LAX and New York's JFK Terminal 7, home to British Airways and other non-American oneworld carriers. Qantas is the only Australia-based airline to serve the New York area.

Other travellers will have to change at a US west coast gateway (LAX or San Francisco's SFO, most likely) for a flight to New York on a US airline. But which one is most convenient for the city? Which has the best transport links? And which is the best all around to travel through?

John F Kennedy (JFK)

JFK is the airport most Australians are likely to see. Qantas flies there, and it's the largest and best-served airport in the NY metro area.
Among the US airlines, American, Delta, JetBlue, United and Virgin America fly to JFK direct from both LAX and SFO. American and United even have upgraded service with international-standard seating on some routes.

Unfortunately, JFK is also the most irritating to get to, and spans seven currently-operational terminals. Your options, in descending order of price and convenience:

  • 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.

Newark (EWR)

Newark (nobody calls it "Newark Liberty") is slightly less likely than JFK to be seen by Australians, as its main tenant is Continental (part of United these days).

Continental flies from LAX and SFO to Newark, and United flies there from its SFO base. American also flies to Newark from its LAX hub. It has three terminals and is slightly easier to navigate than JFK. It's more convenient if you're heading for the financial area around the World Trade Center or Wall Street, for the lower West Side below 33rd Street, or for the area around New York Penn Station.  

Transport options:

  • Taxi: $50-60 plus tolls and tip, taking up to an hour.
  • AirTrain plus the train: Newark is the only New York area airport with a train connection. The AirTrain peoplemover takes you to Newark Liberty International Airport train station for $5.50 in 7-15 minutes. From the train station, take the NJ Transit train to Newark Penn Station, and stay on it if you want to reach the confusingly named New York Penn Station in Midtown Manhattan. If you're heading for downtown Manhattan, the PATH commuter train will take you to the World Trade Center. (You can also change at Journal Square in New Jersey for several stops on the West Side of Manhattan: Christopher Street, and 9th, 14th, 23rd and 33rd Streets.)
  • Shared-ride shuttle services: full list at the airport authority's website.

La Guardia (LGA)

There are no west coast flights to La Guardia, the smallest of the big three New York airports, which is about 10 km from Manhattan. Only flights shorter than 2400 km away from La Guardia are allowed at the airport, with the exception of Denver, which is 2600 km away.

By contrast, LA and SF are about 4000 km away. The restriction was put in place to restrict overcrowding at the airport. 

So, Australians are least likely to encounter La Guardia unless they're connecting elsewhere in the US. And public transport options are limited:

So which airport is best?

There's no one answer to this question, because it really depends where you're going and how much luggage you have.

If you have enough luggage that using the NYC Subway will be a pain, aim for La Guardia or JFK because LGA has the cheapest cabs and JFK has a flat rate airport taxi tariff. You'll save $25 or so over Newark.

If you're travelling light, head for Newark or JFK because there's a relatively hassle-free connection to the NYC Subway and save you $40 or so.

If you're travelling in a group, choose La Guardia or JFK and share a cab.

If you're in a rush, avoid Newark and La Guardia: they have some of the worst delays in the country.

Do you have a preferred airport in NY? Drop us a comment below or tweet us: @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 9/4/11 by chandi

 

What's not mentioned in the article are travel times to and from each airport.

  From this point of view I find the recomended alternatives in the reverse.  For example to catch QF 108 from JFK one can spend more than 90 minutes on a taxi to JFK or catch the LIRR and be there in 30-45 mins.  Same applies for catching the train to Newark. 

If you know the train timetables you can leave a meeting (or a hotel) in Manhatten 3:30 or 4:00pm and checking in for QF108 at 5:00pm catching the LIRR.  If youa re taking a cab atleast allow for 90 mins crawing through the tunnel/bridge etc etc

I normally find during peak hours that catching the train to/from Newark or JFK atleast twice as fast as a cab.

Chandi

1 on 11/4/11 by John

Hi Chandi,

Yeah, I've been stuck on the Van Wyck or trying to get through the Holland Tunnel in a cab myself many a time, having spent a good part of my life in NY.

For the QF108 departure at 1845, I'd be wary of checking in as late as 1700. I'd be more likely to aim for 1630 at the latest, to allow for delays. That timing also allows for a little less rush-hour traffic.

I agree with you about the LIRR -- it's pretty convenient if you're familiar with how the Penn-Jamaica-JFK thing works, don't have too much luggage and can get to Penn relatively easily. But with anything more than a small suitcase plus carry-on, or if you're leaving from Downtown, or if you don't know how the double-transfer system works, a cab is the way to go for me.

 

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