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Three major airports serve New York City: John F. Kennedy International Airport (tel. 718/244-4444) in Queens, about 15 miles (1 hr. driving time) from midtown Manhattan; LaGuardia Airport (tel. 718/533-3400), also in Queens, about 8 miles (30 min.) from Midtown; and Newark Liberty International Airport (tel. 973/961-6000) in nearby New Jersey, about 16 miles (45 min.) from Midtown. Information about all three airports is available online at www.panynj.gov/airports. I prefer LaGuardia, because it’s the closest airport to Manhattan. However, JFK has the best reputation for timeliness, such as it is, among New York–area airports; Newark has the worst. None will offer the best airport experience of your life. Note: As we all know, the experience of flying has gotten more and more complicated. Now we have body scans and patdowns. This, of course, is not limited to our fair city, but it’s best to plan as best you can to deal with it all.

Almost every major domestic carrier serves at least one of the New York–area airports; most serve two or all three.

Choosing Your NYC-Area Airport -- It’s more convenient to fly into Newark than JFK if your destination is Manhattan, and fares to Newark are often cheaper than those to the other airports. Newark is particularly convenient if your hotel is in Midtown west or downtown. Taxi fare into Manhattan from Newark is roughly equivalent to the fare from JFK—both have AirTrains in place, but the AirTrain to Newark from Manhattan is quicker.

Getting into Town from the Airport

Since there’s no need to rent a car in New York, you’re going to have to figure out how you want to get from the airport to your hotel and back. For transportation information for all three airports (JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark), call Air-Ride (tel. 800/247-7433), which offers 24-hour recorded details on bus and shuttle companies and car services registered with the New York and New Jersey Port Authority. Similar information is available at www.panynj.gov/airports; click on the airport at which you’ll be arriving.

The Port Authority runs staffed Ground Transportation Information counters on the baggage-claim level at each airport where you can get information and book various kinds of transport. Most transportation companies also have courtesy phones near the baggage-claim area.

Generally, travel time between the airports and Midtown by taxi or car is 45 to 60 minutes for JFK, 20 to 35 minutes for LaGuardia, and 35 to 50 minutes for Newark. Always allow extra time, especially during rush hour, peak holiday travel times, and if you’re taking a bus.

Subways & Public Buses -- For the most part, your best bet is to stay away from the MTA when traveling to and from the airport. You might save a few dollars, but subways and buses that currently serve the airports involve multiple transfers, and you’ll have to drag your luggage up and down staircases. On some subways, you’d be traveling through undesirable neighborhoods. Spare yourself the drama.

The only exception to this rule is the subway service to and from JFK (to a certain extent), which connects with the AirTrain.

The subway can be more reliable than taking a car or taxi at the height of rush hour, but a few words of warning: This isn’t the right option for you if you’re bringing more than a single piece of luggage or if you have very young children in tow, since there’s a good amount of walking and some stairs involved in the trip, and you’ll have nowhere to put all those bags on the subway train. And do not use this method if you’re traveling to or from the airport after dark or too early in the morning—it’s not the safest or fastest way during those times. 

Taxis -- Despite significant rate hikes the past few years, taxis are still a quick and convenient way to travel to and from the airports. They’re available at designated taxi stands outside the terminals, with uniformed dispatchers on hand during peak hours at JFK and LaGuardia, around the clock at Newark. Follow the GROUND TRANSPORTATION or TAXI signs. There may be a long line, but it generally moves quickly. Fares, whether fixed or metered, do not include bridge and tunnel tolls ($4–$6) or a tip for the cabbie (15%–20% is customary). They do include all passengers in the cab and luggage—never pay more than the metered or flat rate, except for tolls and a tip (8pm–6am a $.50 surcharge also applies on New York yellow cabs). Taxis have a limit of four passengers, so if there are more in your group, you’ll have to take more than one cab.

  • From JFK: A flat rate of $45 to Manhattan (plus tolls and tip and a 50¢ N.Y. state tax) is charged. The meter will not be turned on and the surcharge will not be added. The flat rate does not apply on trips from Manhattan to the airport. 
  • From LaGuardia: There's no set fare, but you can expect the meter to run about $24 to $28, plus tolls and tip. 
  • From Newark: The dispatcher for New Jersey taxis gives you a slip of paper with a flat rate ranging from $50 to $75 (toll and tip extra), depending on where you’re going in Manhattan, so be precise about your destination. New York yellow cabs aren’t permitted to pick up passengers at Newark. The yellow-cab fare from Manhattan to Newark is the meter amount plus $15 and tolls (about $69–$75, perhaps a few dollars more with tip). Jersey taxis aren’t permitted to take passengers from Manhattan to Newark. 

Private Car & Limousine Services -- Private car and limousine companies provide convenient 24-hour door-to-door airport transfers for roughly the same cost of a taxi. The advantage they offer is that you can arrange your pickup in advance and avoid the hassles of the taxi line. Call at least 24 hours in advance (even earlier on holidays), and a driver will meet you near baggage claim (or at your hotel for a return trip). You’ll probably be asked to leave a credit card number to guarantee your ride. You’ll likely be offered the choice of indoor or curbside pickup; indoor pickup is more expensive but makes it easier to hook up with your driver (who usually waits in baggage claim bearing a sign with your name on it). You can save a few dollars if you arrange for an outside pickup; call the dispatcher as soon as you clear baggage claim and then take your luggage out to the designated waiting area, where you’ll wait for the driver to come around, which can take anywhere from 10 minutes to a half-hour. Besides the wait, the other disadvantage of this option is that curbside can be chaos during prime deplaning hours.

Vehicles range from sedans to vans to limousines and tend to be relatively clean and comfortable. Prices vary slightly by company and the size of car reserved, but expect a rate roughly equivalent to taxi fare if you request a basic sedan and have only one stop; toll and tip policies are the same. (Note: Car services are not subject to the flat-rate rule that taxis have for rides to and from JFK.) Ask when booking what the fare will be and if you can use your credit card to pay for the ride so there are no surprises at drop-off time. There may be waiting charges tacked on if the driver has to wait an excessive amount of time due to flight delays when picking you up, but the car companies will usually check on your flight to get an accurate landing time.

I’ve had the best luck with Carmel (tel. 866/666-6666; www.carmellimo.com) and Legends (tel. 888/LEGENDS [534-3637] or 718/788-1234; www.legendslimousine.com); Allstate (tel. 800/453-4099 or 212/333-3333; www.allstatelimo.com) and Tel-Aviv (tel. 800/222-9888; www.telavivlimo.com) also have reasonable reputations. (Keep in mind, though, that these services are only as good as the individual drivers—and sometimes there’s a lemon in the bunch. If you have a problem, report it immediately to the main office.)

For a bit more luxury and service, the best option I’ve found is Luxor Limo (tel. 866/998-4111; www.luxorlimo.com), where the cars are spacious and the drivers as reliable as you will find, and with rates not much higher than the above-mentioned companies. These car services are good for rush hour (no ticking meters in rush-hour traffic), but if you’re arriving at a quieter time of day, taxis work fine.

Private Buses & Shuttles -- Buses and shuttle services provide a comfortable and less expensive (but usually more time-consuming) option for airport transfers than do taxis and car services.

SuperShuttle and New York Airport Service serve all three airports; Olympia Trails/Coach USA serves Newark. These services are my favorite options for getting to and from Newark during peak travel times because the drivers usually take lesser known streets that make the ride much quicker than if you go with a taxi or car, which will virtually always stick to the traffic-clogged main route.

The familiar blue vans of SuperShuttle (tel. 800/258-3826; www.supershuttle.com) serve all three area airports, providing door-to-door service to Manhattan and points on Long Island every 15 to 30 minutes around the clock. You don’t need to reserve your airport-to-Manhattan ride; just go to the ground-transportation desk or use the courtesy phone in baggage claim and ask for SuperShuttle. Hotel pickups for your return trip require 24 to 48 hours’ notice; you can make your reservations online. Fares run from about $13 to $28 per person, depending on the airport, with discounts available for additional residents in the same party.

New York Airport Service (tel. 718/560-3915; www.nyairportservice.com) buses travel from JFK and LaGuardia to the Port Authority Bus Terminal (42nd St. and Eighth Ave.), Grand Central Terminal (Park Ave. btw. 41st and 42nd sts.), and Penn Station (Seventh Ave. btw. 31st and 32nd sts.). Look for the uniformed agent near the airport’s ground transportation center. Buses depart the airport every 20 to 30 minutes (depending on your departure point and destination) between 6am and 11pm. One-way fare from JFK to Manhattan is $7, $20 round-trip; from LaGuardia it’s $5 one-way and $25 round-trip.

Olympia Airport Express (tel. 877/863-9275; www.coachusa.com/olympia/ss.newarkairport.asp) provides service every 15 minutes (every 30 minutes from 6:45 a.m. to 11:15 p.m.) from Newark Airport to Bryant Park (at 42nd St. and Fifth Ave.), the Port Authority Bus Terminal (on 42nd St. btw. Eighth and Ninth aves.), and Grand Central Terminal (on 41st St. btw. Park and Lexington aves.). Call for the exact schedule for your return trip to the airport. The one-way fare runs $15, $25 round-trip; students $10 one-way, $20 round-trip; and seniors and passengers with disabilities $7.50 one-way, $15 round-trip.

AirTrains to Newark & JFK—the Very Good & the Not-So-Very Good -- First the very good: AirTrain Newark, which connects Newark-Liberty International Airport with Manhattan via a speedy monorail/rail link. Even though you have to make a connection, the system is fast, pleasant, affordable, and easy to use. Each arrivals terminal at Newark Airport has a station for the AirTrain, so just follow the signs once you collect your bags. All AirTrains head to Newark International Airport Station, where you transfer to a NJ Transit train. NJ Transit will deliver you to New York Penn Station at 33rd Street and Seventh Avenue, where you can get a cab or transfer to the subway or bus.

A trip from the Upper West Side to the Newark Alitalia terminal, for example, was quick and convenient, and cost me about $15 ($13 for the AirTrain link via Penn Station plus $2.50 for the subway to get to Penn Station). That’s a savings of at least $54, compared to what it would have been if I took a cab, not to mention the time I saved. NJ Transit trains run at least six times an hour from 6am to 9pm and four times an hour from 9pm to midnight (there is no service from 2 to 5am), and depart from their own lobby/waiting area in Penn Station; you can check the schedules on monitors before you leave the airport terminal, and again at the train station. NJ Transit tickets can be purchased from vending machines at both the air terminal and the train station (no ticket is required to board the AirTrain). The one-way fare is $13 (children 11 and under ride free). On your return trip to the airport, the AirTrain is far more predictable, time-wise, than subjecting yourself to the whims of traffic.

Note that travelers heading to points beyond the city can also pick up Amtrak and other NJ Transit trains at Newark International Airport Station to their final destinations.

Now the not-so-very good: A few bumpy years after opening in 2003, at a cost of nearly $2 billion, AirTrain JFK is operating somewhat more efficiently. Though you can’t beat the price—it’s only $5 if you take a subway to the AirTrain, $13 if you take the Long Island Rail Road—you won’t save much on time getting to the airport. From midtown Manhattan, the ride can take anywhere from 40 minutes to over an hour, depending on your connections. The connections can be confusing. Only a few subway lines connect with the AirTrain: the A, E, J, and Z; the E, J, Z to Jamaica Station and the Sutphin Blvd.–Archer Ave. Station; and the A to Howard Beach. The MTA is contemplating adding connections to the AirTrain in lower Manhattan sometime in the next decade, but there’s not much else they can do now to speed up the trip.

A word of warning for both AirTrains: If you have mobility issues, mountains of luggage, or a bevy of small children, skip the AirTrain. You’ll find it easier to rely on a taxi, car service, or shuttle service that can offer you door-to-door transfers.

For more information on AirTrain Newark and connection details, call tel. 888/EWR-INFO [397-4636], or go online to www.panynj.gov. For connections to trains, contact NJ Transit (tel. 973/275-5555; www.njtransit.com) or Amtrak (tel. 800/USA-RAIL [872-7245]; www.amtrak.com). For more information on AirTrain JFK, go online to www.panynj.gov. For connection details, click on the links on the website or MTA’s site, www.mta.info/mta/airtrain.htm.

Getting to the Other Boroughs & the ‘Burbs

If you’re traveling to a borough other than Manhattan, call ETS Air Service (tel. 718/221-5341) for shared door-to-door service. For Long Island service, call Classic Transportation (tel. 631/567-5100; www.classictrans.com) for car service. For service to Westchester County or Connecticut, contact Connecticut Limousine (tel. 800/472-5466 or 203/974-4700; www.ctlimo.com).

If you’re traveling to points in New Jersey from Newark Airport, call Olympic Airporter (tel. 800/822-9797; www.olympicairporter.com) for Ocean, Monmouth, Middlesex, and Mercer counties, plus Bucks County, Pennsylvania; or State Shuttle (tel. 800/427-3207; www.stateshuttle.com) for destinations throughout New Jersey.

Additionally, New York Airport Service express buses (tel. 718/875-8200; www.nyairportservice.com) serve the entire New York metropolitan region from JFK, Newark, and LaGuardia, offering connections to the Long Island Rail Road; the Metro-North Railroad to Westchester County, upstate New York, and Connecticut; and New York’s Port Authority terminal, where you head for New Jersey.

If You’re Flying into MacArthur Airport on Long Island -- Southwest Airlines and US Airways both fly into New York via Long Island’s MacArthur Airport, 50 miles east of Manhattan. If you’re on one of these flights (because the price was sooooo low), here are your options for getting into the city: Classic Transportation (tel. 631/567-5100; www.classictrans.com), and Legends (tel. 888/LEGENDS [534-3637] or 718/788-1234; www.legendslimousine.com) will pick you up at MacArthur Airport and deliver you to Manhattan via private sedan, but expect to pay about $130 plus tolls and tip for door-to-door service (which kind of defeats the purpose of flying a budget airline). Be sure to arrange for it at least 24 hours in advance.

For a fraction of the cost, you can catch a ride aboard a Hampton Jitney coach (tel. 631/283-4600; www.hamptonjitney.com) to various drop-off points on Midtown’s East Side. The cost is $25 per person with no reservation ($12 by reservation), plus a minimal taxi fare from the terminal to the Hampton Jitney stop. Hampton Jitney can explain the details and arrange for taxi transport. Note: The stop is referred to as Islip/MacArthur Airport on the Hampton Jitney schedule.

The MTA offers a discount ticket package on the Long Island Railroad from Penn Station to MacArthur (including a shuttle ride to the airport from the station) for $16 ($12 for seniors). If you're already on the island, the fare is lower. For more information, call tel. 718/217-LIRR (217-5477), or visit http://mta.info/lirr. For additional options and the latest information, call tel. 888/LI-AIRPORTS, or visit www.macarthurairport.com.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.