As a New York City based airline pilot, I’m frequently asked which NYC-area airport is the best. The answer is complicated, I’m afraid.
If you’re looking to escape stress, cost, and confusion, you should know that some airports are easier than others – depending on where you’re coming from and headed to. But all of them can be tricky – it is NYC after all.
The airline I work for requires NYC-based pilots and flight attendants to work from all 3 airports. Because of this, I often find myself spending way too many hours commuting to and from LGA, JFK, and EWR.
My intent is to use my experience commuting to all 3 NYC area airports in every way possible to make your life easier, and hopefully help you travel to and from the Big Apple stress-free.
1) John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)
- Most efficient at handling delays and large amounts of traffic
- The magnificent TWA Hotel makes going to JFK worth it on its own
- Best lounges, restaurants, and amenities
- Most flights options domestically and internationally
- It’s in New York
- It can be somewhat expensive to get here
- The terminals are pretty long, expect to walk considerably
- It’s in New York
Every airport in the New York City area has its issues. That’s what happens when you stuff hundreds of daily flights into the world’s busiest airspace. The city never sleeps and neither do its airports.
However, JFK airport has the best track record out of the 3. Its well-designed runway layout is optimized to capture airline traffic from all sides very efficiently. That’s how it can handle so much international and domestic service without (usually) coming to a halt.
So if you hear that you’re number 50 on a public announcement while taxiing out at JFK, content yourself by knowing you could be number 50 at some other airport 15 miles away and spend twice as long waiting on the tarmac.
Consider also that rental cars are easiest to get to and typically the cheapest from JFK. Simply take the AirTrain to the car rental center. On the way, make sure to stop at the TWA Hotel in terminal 5 for some amazing aviation history, a rooftop pool overlooking the runways, and an old Constellation!
Getting to JFK
Until LGA sees the completion of its $2 billion subway extension, JFK will be the easiest and sometimes cheapest airport to get to/from New York City. But it can still be a hassle.
Here are the fastest ways to get to JFK from the city:
Usually Quickest: Driving (25-180 minutes, tolls only from NJ)
If you want to get to JFK fast, driving is the way to go… except for rush hour, or anytime there’s an accident, or if you hit a pothole on the way (it happens, don’t ask me how I know).
Whether you’re coming from the north on the Van Wyck parkway or from the south on Belt Parkway, plan for delays – even if its midnight. Hey, it’s the city that never sleeps.
During rush hour, it could take 2 hours to get from the city to JFK. As travel returns post-Covid, you can expect to see this more often. However, under “normal conditions” it takes about 30 to 45 minutes.
Getting to either NYC airport from New Jersey is expensive. You’ll typically pay a $16 toll to cross state lines (welcome to New York!). The toll is cheaper on the way back though, only $15!
Parking at JFK: $18 to $39 per day
The real issue comes when you have to park the car. If you thought anything in NYC was a ripoff, wait until you get to the airport parking lot.
Thankfully JFK is much more reasonable than its siblings, starting at $18 for the economy lot and rocketing to $39 for the parking garage. To save on cost, shop around for “off-brand” lots that typically cost $7-10 per day. They do fill up early, so book ahead.
Most Convenient: Taking a Taxi, Uber, or Lyft to JFK ($35-200, 25-180 minutes)
Uber and Lyft to JFK from the city typically start around $35 at cheapest and can go as high as $120 during a surge. At that point, Uber Helicopters can literally be cheaper than a normal Uber, no joke.
Pro Tip: Most people (from outside the city) don’t realize that cabs have a flat rate of $52 (plus surcharges of $4.50 when busy) from Manhattan to JFK airport, which is quite often cheaper than Uber or Lyft. They also tend to know the best shortcuts and how to navigate traffic as efficiently as possible. The trouble is that the line for taxis at the airport can be very long.
Outside of rush hour, taking an uber or Lyft is usually the most efficient way to/from JFK, and it’s definitely the most convenient.
Cheapest: Public Transportation (~$10 per person, 1-2 hours)
Getting to and from NYC from JFK is actually pretty straightforward. You’ll simply take the AirTrain directly from your terminal all the way to the Jamaica and Howard Beach Stations, where you can continue on Metro or take a bus anywhere in the NYC area. It’s simply the same thing reversed to get to the airport.
Only downside: the AirTrain fee is $7.75 per person, plus you need to buy an MTA Transit card ($1 surcharge) to pay for it. Then you still need to pay the fare to NYC.
In total, the subway and AirTrain only take about an hour to/from the airport – if you can find room with your luggage. Note that I’ve never had issues finding room but I also avoid rush hour.
If you’re headed to/from NJ, prepare to pay an extra $12 or so for the New Jersey Coast Line into New York. From JFK to NJ takes around 2 hours, isn’t too complicated, but is quite a hassle.
There used to be an “airporter”/NYC Express bus covering JFK to Manhattan to EWR, but Covid destroyed it. Sorry.
Pro Tip: Use Google Maps or an app like NYC Transit or Citymapper.
2) LaGuardia Airport (LGA)
- Gorgeous new terminals are worlds apart from the other airports
- Some of the best food options, including fresh acai bowls (new Delta terminal)!
- Most convenient to New York City
- Most impacted by severe delays due to weather or staffing
- For now, if using public transportation you must take a bus
- Toughest to switch terminals (no AirTrain until next year)
LaGuardia used to be known as the red-headed stepchild of New York area airports, and aptly nicknamed “LaGarbage”. No longer.
After some serious reconstruction efforts (aided by Covid-reduced passenger traffic), LaGuardia has now become New York’s nicest airport. Not nice like friendly, come on… it’s New York City after all. I mean nice like beautiful.
The terminals are actually gorgeous, with superb views on Flushing Bay (side note: don’t ask me why it’s called that, I don’t want to know). And there’s actually great food options and excellent airline lounges.
Plus, it’s the closest to NYC. Even in rush hour, it shouldn’t take any longer than 45-60 minutes to get there. And when the new metro lines to the airport are finished, you can expect a consistent 30 minute transit to the airport. I can’t wait!
Downsides? Well, all this reconstruction has made parking a little difficult. Plus, it’s done nothing to alleviate the main issue causing delays: airline traffic. LGA has very limited space which is already used as efficiently as possible on a good day. So when the weather turns sour, it’s immediately plagued with delays – but usually not worse than EWR.
Its two runways and limited taxiway space simply limit throughput. There’s no real viable cure for that, unfortunately.
Getting to LGA
Fastest: Driving or Taking an Uber, Lyft, or Taxi (15 minutes to an hour, $35 to $100)
Hands down, even in traffic, there’s no quicker way to LGA than by taxi or ride share. This is especially true considering that you need to take a bus from the nearest metro stations to get to the airport – for now.
When the new metro line is compete, travel time from the city to LGA will take only 30 minutes! I can’t wait to see that happen….
You’ll typically pay $35 to $100 from the city, and travel times will range from 15 minutes to just over an hour.
Parking in LGA ($39 per day, yuck!)
LGA charges an insane $39 per day for parking. The upside is you can walk right across to the terminal.
There are providers offering cheaper parking, but they tend to fill up quick, are usually valet-parking, and you’ll need to take a shuttle to the airport.
Neither is optimal.
Cheapest: Public Transportation to LGA ($2.75 per person, 45 to 90 minutes)
Unfortunately, the only way to LGA by public transportation is by bus. This is highly inconvenient as the buses running don’t have much storage for luggage and are typically very full.
Make sure to buy a MetroCard in the terminal before hopping on a bus, and use an app (or Google Maps) to find your way.
The buses leaving LGA cost $2.75 per person.
3) Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
- Most convenient for those living in New Jersey or south
- Has an AirTrain
- Often plagued with significant, severe delays due to poor ATC staffing and layout
- Worst terminals out of the 3 (except terminal C)
- Most expensive to get to from the city
Newark has always been a great option for those living in New Jersey (or south). For everyone else, it’s a huge hassle.
Though travel times are actually often quicker (by road) than to LGA or JFK, they’re always more expensive. This is simply due to the fact that there are ridiculous tolls each way. And public transportation is slower and much more of a hassle to EWR.
The airport itself is plagued by delays constantly, not due to its layout, but due to perpetual low Air Traffic Control staffing. Nobody wants to work there.
This means you will see delays at Newark even on nice days – typically coded as due to “winds/weather/staffing”.
And though they have improved, the terminals aren’t that special – especially outside of Terminal C. In fact, Terminal A and B are pretty horrific.
All in all, Newark is definitely the last airport I’d pick to fly out of the NYC area.
Getting to Newark
Newark is located just off the New Jersey turnpike, making it very accessible to those living anywhere south of it and mostly a pain to those living north.
Fastest: Uber, Lyft, or Taxi to EWR (25 to 90 minutes, $70-200)
At the right time of the day, you can actually make it to EWR in 25 minutes from the city. At the wrong time, it could take an hour and a half.
The downside, as usual, is the price. It’s ALWAYS expensive to go to EWR from NYC. So even if you find a cheaper flight out of EWR, you’re likely to spend your savings getting to and from the airport.
I’ve seen fares as high as $200 during surges to get from NYC to EWR. Normally, it’s more like $70-80.
Parking in EWR: not terribly expensive
Compared to its siblings, parking in EWR won’t cost you an arm and a leg.
You have many different options at different price ranges to suit your fancy. That’s probably EWR’s main strong point.
And you always have the off-brand parking lots if you want to save some money, including at nearby hotels.
Pro tip: hotels often include a week of parking if you stay the night before your trip. Check with your hotel before traveling.
Cheapest: Public Transportation to EWR (40-80 minutes, $15+)
To get to Newark from NYC, you’ll have to get yourself to Penn Station. From there, you’ll take the NJ Coast Line followed by the AirTrain to your terminal.
It takes about 40 minutes from Penn Station and costs around $15 per person. Way too expensive for the hassle in my opinion.
Your favorite NYC-area airport might be different depending on where you live, your public transportation options, or even your airline status.
As a pilot who commutes to and from NYC airports on a weekly basis, JFK is the clear winner – but is by no means perfect.
The combination of decent transit times and cost, best consistency dealing with delays and irregular ops, and greatest number of options for international and domestic flying make it the obvious choice.
I hope this helps for any of your future travel plans. As always, feel free to contact me with any questions.