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The Ultimate 7 Hour JFK Airport Layover (by an Airline Pilot)

Should I leave New York’s JFK Airport on a 7 hour layover? What is there to do on a 7 hour layover inside JFK?

A 7 hour layover at JFK may seem to be that awkward amount of time where you’re not really sure if it’s worth leaving the airport for New York City, but you also don’t want to stupor in boredom stuck inside. But here’s why and how it doesn’t have to be!

As a New York based airline pilot living in Florida and commuting for work, I often arrive at New York’s JFK Airport way before I have to fly – just to leave some cushion in case of unforeseen delays. But contrary to popular belief, I don’t sit around and let my brain rot. I go out and make the most of it!

Luckily, JFK Airport is surprisingly great for any sort of layover – short or long. Even on a 7 hour layover, you have a ton of options to occupy your time and even have some fun.

Related: Ask a Pilot: Which NYC Airport is Best, LGA, JFK, or EWR? (2021)

My other Ultimate Airport Layover Guides: ATL | AMS | SEA | SFO | LAS | ATH | CDG | LHR | and more!

Should I leave New York JFK Airport on a 7 hour layover?

Photo CC BY SA 4.0: Jag9889 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:TWA_Hotel_at_JFK_Airport,_New_York_City_20190521-jag9889.jpg#:~:text=Author-,Jag9889,-Camera%20location
Retired TWA ‘Connie’ Constellation airliner is now being used as cocktail bar at JFK T5. [Photo CC BY SA 4.0: Jag9889]

The honest answer is: maybe. It depends on a couple factors;

  • Are you arriving to JFK from an international flight? If so, you’ll have to go through customs, then back through normal security again. Depending on how long it takes to get through customs, your options may become limited.
  • What time is your connecting flight departing? If it’s between 4PM and 10PM, you will have to contend with rush hour traffic. Same for flights departing between 8AM and 12PM.
  • Are you enrolled in TSA PreCheck, or better yet CLEAR? These options can give you the confidence to leave the airport knowing that security won’t take nearly as long coming back through.
  • Are you checked in your for next flight, including baggage (if checking it)? Waiting in line to check in will add considerable time to the process.
  • What’s the weather like? Inclement weather can severely disrupt NYC traffic at any time.
In terms of planning for time on your JFK layover, you should arrange to have:
  • Around 3 hours of transit time roundtrip/return to downtown Manhattan
  • About 1 hour (to be safe) to get back through security (or <5 minutes if you have CLEAR)
  • Additional time to check in for your next flight if it’s not already done
  • About 20 minutes to walk to the gate. JFK is big; some gates are far!
You should try to arrive at the gate before boarding time. This normally leaves 1-3 hours to explore NYC on a 7 hour layover!

So all of that being said, in my opinion, a 7 hour layover is the perfect/”sweet spot” amount of time to leave JFK airport and go explore. Plus, there’s more to see (and many closer options) than just the city!

Anything less than 6 hours from exiting the airport is not enough to comfortably go to downtown Manhattan, but you can still visit more local places around JFK.

Related: SFO International Airport: The Ultimate 3-6 Hour Layover Guide

10 things you can do without leaving JFK Airport

The first class bar on the Connie at the TWA Hotel at JFK is a must see.
This TWA “Connie” Constellation has a first class bar inside!

Even if you have enough time to leave the airport and come back on your layover, you may not have the energy. But worry not, JFK offers so much to keep you having a good time on any sort of layover. Here are the 10 top things to do at JFK on a layover:

1) Enjoy NYC’s finest food

From the most epic airport sushi you’ll ever eat (Deep Blue Sushi, Terminal 5) to epic French crepes at famous New York chef Andrew Carmellini’s “Croque Madame”, you can easily eat your boredom away at JFK. Other amazing places foodies will enjoy at JFK:

  • Bento Sushi in Terminal 4
  • Shake Shack in Terminal 4
  • Terminal 5’s Piquillo (Spanish Tapas)
  • Any Dunkin’! (My personal go to)

2) Visit the world famous TWA Hotel (and go for a swim?)

The heated pool at the TWA Hotel at JFK overlooks the whole airport!
You know what? There’s a bar up here too!

I’ve written about the TWA Hotel many times. In fact, it’s a huge part of why JFK Airport is my favorite in the NYC area!

From the epic “Connie” Constellation propeller airliner with a first class bar (and full cockpit!) to the always-85 degrees rooftop pool, you can’t get bored here. Plus, all of the memorabilia (including a fully functional 1950’s flight timetable!) makes you feel like you’re back in the golden age of aviation.

Exit security, take the AirTrain to Terminal 5 and follow signs to the TWA Hotel. You won’t regret it!

3) Relax at one of many excellent JFK lounges

The PrimeClass Lounge at JFK is one of the many complimentary PriorityPass lounges available.

There are 24 truly brilliant lounges you can enjoy at JFK. My favorite is Virgin Atlantic’s JFK Clubhouse, closely followed by the Delta SkyClub with a full observation deck in Terminal 4.

7 of the lounges are available to passengers with Priority Pass membership, including the Primeclass and Wingtips lounges.

Most lounges are accessible only by membership, credit card (such as a Delta Amex), or for first class passengers. But you can purchase entry into these lounges:

  • Aer Lingus Lounge (T1, $50 prepaid)
  • Air France/KLM Lounge (T1, $50 or 6,000 miles)
  • Alaska Airlines Lounge (T7, $50)
  • American Airlines Admirals Club (T7, $59, only if flying AA)
  • Etihad Airways First and Business Class Lounge ($130, only if flying Emirates or Etihad)
  • Etihad Airways Lounge ($75, if flying Etihad or Emirates)
  • Primeclass Lounge (T1, $59)

4) Get some exercise!

Walking is a great way to get exercise on your 7 hour JFK layover.
Terminal 4 in JFK offers over a mile of walking from one end to another. With great views along the way!

Whether I’m sitting in Atlanta Hartsfield International or laying over in SFO International Airport, one thing that never gets old is getting some exercise between flights.

For me, that means walking the length of the terminals. And there’s hardly a better place for it than JFK International Airport.

My personal favorites to walk are Terminal 4 (by far) with Terminal 7 in distant second place. You can easily walk over a mile each way in either terminal.

5) Meditate

Something that seemingly nobody knows JFK has: spiritual rooms. Though normally used for religious purposes, these rooms offer silence and stillness you’d be shocked can exist in an airport.

There is one on the departures level of Terminal 4 inside security, upstairs. It’s very close to where you end up after passing security.

6) Delight your tastebuds with a crafty NYC-style cocktail

Though I personally have not tried any of the incredible bars at JFK, I’ve only heard great things. Here’s what’s offered for a great time at JFK:

  • At Terminal 1, there’s not much good food or drink. Sorry.
  • Beer lovers can rejoice in Terminal 2 at BKLYN Beer Garden, with a fantastic pub menu curated by celebrated chef Laurent Tourondel.
  • In Terminal 4, Mi Casa Cantina and Restaurant offers tequila and mezcal. You’ll also find a Jamba Juice for a healthy smoothie (or even acai bowl!).
  • Terminal 5 has the Spanish Piquillo Tapas Bar.
  • At Terminal 7, Le Grand Comptoir offers a French-inspired wine bar. There’s also a full bar at the Thirsty Beer & Wine Bar.
  • Terminal 8 is host to the New York Sports Bar.

7) Go planespotting!

A Delta Boeing 767-400ER in special BCRF colors at New York JFK International Airport on a layover.
There is ALWAYS an interesting lineup of airplanes departing and arriving at JFK from all around the world, like this special BCRF-livery Boeing 767-400ER!

I might totally be outing myself as a huge nerd, but planespotting truly is one of the most fun things you can do at an airport.

My personal favorite spot is the Delta SkyClub in Terminal 4, but the TWA Hotel’s rooftop infinity pool is not so bad either!

This great guide has a list of alternative spots to suit your wildest aircraft spotting desires!

8) Dive into JFK’s amazing shopping scene

If you love shopping, Terminal 1 and 4 in JFK are the places to be.

You’ll find all sorts of designer boutiques – Guess, Kiehl’s, Victoria’s Secret, Hermès, Salvatore Ferragamo, Hugo Boss, and Jo Malone, mostly in Terminal 4.

Unfortunately many of the boutiques in other terminals are still closed from Covid-19.

9) Take a nap

Minute Suites is the best place to grab a nap on a layover without leaving the terminal. This is in JFK Terminal 4, near gates B36/38.

Though JFK isn’t really ideal as an airport to sleep in, you do have several great options.

The Minute Suites in terminal 4 have private mini-suites with a napping couch, TV, and work desk. But if you want real, solid sleep, head to the TWA Hotel. The rooms have insanely good noise isolation and pretty good blackout curtains.

Priority Pass members get one hour free! (Subject to availability)

Alternatively, you can book either day rooms or night rooms, or rooms for several hours.

10) Get some of that JFK spa treatment!

Get a spa treatment or massage on your layover at the XpressSpa.
Getting a massage will help relieve the stress of traveling… and kill some time.

As of March 2022, your only option for spa treatment at JFK is the XpresSpa in Terminal 4. They are open Monday – Friday, 8AM – 9PM and offer massages and nail care.

Not a bad way to kill some time!

To summarize, here are the 10 things you can do on a layover at JFK:

  1. Enjoy NYC’s finest food
  2. Visit the world famous TWA Hotel (and maybe swim in its rooftop pool!)
  3. Relax at one of many excellent lounges (paid or by membership)
  4. Walk the length of the terminal (I do it all the time!)
  5. Meditate in one of the spiritual rooms
  6. Delight your tastebuds with a crafty cocktail
  7. Go planespotting!
  8. Dive into some shopping
  9. Take a nap
  10. Treat yourself to a spa

In the meanwhile, you can always catch up on work with free wi-fi featured all around the airport!

Leaving JFK airport on a 7 hour layover: the ultimate taste of New York City

Times Square is one of the coolest experiences in New York City - and you can totally see it on a 7 hour layover from JFK!
Times Square is one of the coolest experiences in New York City – and you can totally see it on a 7 hour layover from JFK!

One of the best things about JFK airport is just how connected it is to everything. Although it’s a huge airport serving a city of 10 million people (and even more visitors), its location is quite convenient.

A 7 hour layover is plenty to make it to Manhattan and visit a couple of the hotspots NYC has to offer. But even if you have a bit less time, Queens and Brooklyn have a lot to offer. And plus, you can always Rockaway to the beach.

The SkyTrain connects JFK Airport directly to New York’s enormous subway system. I usually just use Google Maps to plan my trips into the city, but there are fabulous NYC Transit apps available that make it even easier.

Leaving the airport:

  1. What to see in Manhattan during your layover
  2. Where to store your luggage at JFK
  3. How to get to Manhattan from JFK efficiently
  4. Other amazing places closer to JFK for those sensitive on time

Spending your 7 hour layover in Manhattan

Purchase “skip the line” tickets and you can make it to the Top of the Rock, even on a short layover!
Top of the Rock(efeller) offers quick, amazing views of the city. Grab some skip the line tickets and head here on your layover!

Those looking to get an awesome taste of New York City will love to head downtown, if only for a few hours. A 7 hour layover is perfect for this – but you’ll have to pick and choose what you want to do wisely.

My recommendation is to pick and choose one or two of the following to visit in Manhattan:

  • Central Park
  • Times Square
  • The “Rock”, Rockefeller Center (if the line is short – and only by reservation)
  • Wall Street
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Empire State Museum
  • Guggenheim Museum
  • A sightseeing ferry of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
  • Brooklyn Bridge/DUMBO Area
  • One World Trade Center
  • ChinaTown
Tip: Make sure to buy a "Skip the Line" ticket if you plane to visit the Rockefeller or Empire State Building.

Storing your luggage in JFK

As you exit into the Arrivals area of T4, you’ll see the bag storage area. Super convenient for a JFK layover.
As you exit into the Arrivals area of T4, you’ll see the bag storage area. Super convenient!

You probably don’t want to drag your suitcases in and around busy metro stations, throughout Central Park, or on the train.

Worry not – JFK actually has baggage storage facilities. They include:

  • Terminal 1 Arrivals – Smarte Carte Bag Storage, $4-20 per day per suitcase, Open 7AM-10PM
  • Terminal 4 Arrival – Smarte Carte Bag Storage, $4-20 per day per suitcase, Open 24/7

Getting to Manhattan efficiently

The next thing you may be wondering is: how do I get to Manhattan from JFK? Which method is best?

Once again, it depends. Sometimes public transportation is quicker than taking a taxi, and it’s always the cheapest.

But there’s an even faster, and fun way to get to Manhattan for those in a hurry – by helicopter.

Methods of getting from JFK to Manhattan

  1. Public Transportation (bus or train)
  2. Taxi vs Rideshare
  3. Renting a car (including Teslas!)
  4. The Cool Way: Helicopters

How to get out of JFK Airport by Public Transportation

The AirTrain connects all the terminals of JFK with the subway and LIRR at Jamaica Station.
The AirTrain connects all the terminals of JFK with the subway and LIRR at Jamaica Station.

So obviously, public transportation is the cheapest (and often quickest!) way to get anywhere from JFK. But just how cheap is it?

Surprisingly, not that cheap. Just taking the AirTrain from JFK to the Jamaica Station costs $8. If you don’t have a MetroCard, you’ll have to pay an additional $2 for one (and wait in line). From Jamaica Station, you have the option of taking:

  • The subway (slower, cheaper): $2.75, 70-90 minutes total from JFK to Manhattan
  • The Long Island Rail Road (LIRR, faster, more expensive): $10.75+, 50-60 minutes total from JFK to Manhattan

The quoted total time from JFK Airport to downtown Manhattan is 50 minutes by LIRR and 75-90 minutes by subway, but it can be longer. Beware of full subway cars; if you’re returning during rush hour, waiting for room on a car could slow down your plans, even though the trains stop every other minute or so.

And dragging your suitcases is a pain in NYC public transportation.

To summarize, it’s quite simple to get to downtown Manhattan from JFK:
From the Official JFK Airport website, a summary to your options to Manhattan by subway.
  1. Take the AirTrain from any terminal, at any time, to the Jamaica Station. (5-15 minutes, $8 + MetroCard)
  2. Ride on the Subway ($2.75, E to Midtown Manhattan, J/Z to Lower Manhattan, 60-90 minutes)
    1. Or, pay a little more for speed; take the LIRR for $10.75 directly to Penn Station, 25 minutes or so

Sometimes quicker, definitely more expensive: taxi or rideshare

Taking a taxi from JFK airport can often be cheaper than Uber or Lyft - and a great way to maximize your layover.
Taking a taxi from JFK to Manhattan is often cheaper than Uber or Lyft.

For those of you wishing to speed things up, you may be inclined to go for a taxi or some sort of rideshare app.

But this part may surprise you – taxis from JFK are not always faster than taking public transportation. Here’s why:

  • There’s often a line for taxis, and a wait for rideshare
  • At rush hour, it’s simply slower to drive to JFK than it is to take the train
It can take an hour or more to drive from the city to JFK during rush hour. 

Taxis to Manhattan are a fixed $52+tolls, but at the right time of the day, you could get from JFK to downtown in only 35 minutes. Rideshares tend to be more expensive.

The more flexible layover option: Renting a car

You can now rent Teslas from Hertz! Renting a car is a flexible alternative to explore New York City on a layover.
A Tesla makes the perfect rental car to explore New York City. [Photo credit: hertz.com]

Another option for a layover in JFK is to rent a car. These are generally cheaper than taking a taxi or a rideshare.

It’s super easy to get to the rental car center by AirTrain from any terminal. And the drop off process is easy with most rental car providers as well. Currently, Hertz is offering 30% off on electric vehicles – the perfect ride to explore NYC.

The hangup comes when you consider the difficulty and cost of finding parking in New York City. Most parking garages charge upwards of $50 per day, minimum, with required valet service (and often long waits to retrieve your car).

So the flexibility of having a rental car at your disposal may actually end up being a huge thorn in your side – if you’re headed to the city.

There are plenty of alternatives for those looking for a fun layover outside of Manhattan.

Fastest transportation to Manhattan from JFK: helicopter!

Taking a helicopter is a great way to maximize your layover AND enjoy epic views of New York.
5 minutes. That’s all it takes from JFK to Manhattan with Blade. Cost? $195 [from blade.com]

If you really want to eek out every minute of your layover in New York City, plus enjoy some once in a lifetime sightseeing on the way, consider taking a helicopter from the airport to Manhattan.

BLADE offers surprisingly affordable service; as low was $195 per seat each way. I mean, it’s not that affordable, but when you consider that you’ll likely pay $60-100 for a rideshare, if you’re traveling alone, this can actually make a lot of sense.

Included in the price are amazing views of New York!

Did you know there are other great (and closer places) than Manhattan to check out on a 7 hour layover in NYC?

There are plenty of great places to visit much closer to JFK airport on a layover.
You wouldn’t know New York has nice beaches… until you head to Rockaway on your layover there! (Photo: Urielevy, CC BY-SA4.0)

Just because you’re in New York doesn’t mean you can only visit Manhattan. There are tons of other fantastic and much closer places to visit that won’t leave you sweating for time.

For example, as a lover of the ocean, I naturally gravitate towards the beach. And the beaches surrounding NYC are surprisingly nice! Rockaway is the starting point to see them, and it’s SUPER easy to get to from JFK.

On top of that, most of these places are easily accessible by public transport from JFK. They include:

  • Jamaica Bay (Shirley Chisholm State Park, 15 minutes by Uber or taxi)
    • Great for walking, enjoying the NYC skyline, and even getting tanned in summer
  • Rockaway Beach (22 minutes by taxi, 32 minutes by train)
    • Lovely, mostly unspoiled beaches with a seemingly endless boardwalk and lots of parks
  • Corona Park (20 minutes driving, 1 hour by public transportation)
    • A great park in a foody, trendy part of Queens
  • Queens Botanical Garden (25 minutes driving, 50 minutes by public transportation)
    • Historic parks of all themes, fun for walking and families
  • Jackson Heights or Astoria (35 minutes driving, 1 hour by train)
    • Tons of great restaurants with street side dining and a true NYC feel

I personally prefer heading to the beaches than Manhattan. Not only is it super close to JFK, it is simply more relaxing. And what’s better than relaxing between flights?

Disclaimer: I’m an affiliate with CLEAR, Hertz, PriorityPass, and Welcome Pickups, and as a result collect revenue based on some of the links above. This is what enables me to keep this small website running at zero cost to you. Thanks for supporting!

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