As a New York City based pilot living in the Washington DC metro, I’m one of tens of thousands facing the same predicament: how can I commute from Washington DC to New York City (NYC) as efficiently as possible?
The answer might surprise you.
Commuting to NYC: it’s a tough one
Whether it’s for business meetings, conventions, special events, fun, or work, a smooth commute is absolutely crucial. Trust me, I can’t be late for my assigned flights out of New York City’s 3 airports.
After years of commuting from Washington DC to New York City, I have a pretty good handle on the pros and cons of buses, trains, ubers, driving, and flying (by plane and helicopter!) So far, I’ve only missed one commute.
If you’re new to the commute to NYC or have been facing endless frustrations, you’re not alone. I’ve spent many long nights figuring out my commute plans – especially during Covid-19 when bus routes, trains, and flights were basically nonexistent.
Here’s how you can figure out your ultimate commute from Washington DC to New York City.
Related: Ask a Pilot: Which NYC Airport is Best, LGA, JFK, or EWR?, including commute comparisons to downtown Manhattan.
Is it best to fly, drive, or take a bus or train from DC to New York City?
The answer is: yes!
But seriously, it depends. You have to decide what mix of cost, speed, and convenience you prefer when commuting from DC to NYC.
Weather impacts each mode of transport from DC to NYC, some more that others. No option is totally reliable, but some are better than others.
But there is a new contender to consider: floatplanes!
Layover in DC? Make sure to check out: Washington Reagan Airport (DCA): The Ultimate 4-6 Hour Layover.
Fastest: Flying from DCA to LGA
Usually, flying to NYC is the quickest. Though flights are typically scheduled for an hour and 25 minutes, they take less than an hour about 80% of the time.
Most planes flying these routes are 2×2, meaning you won’t have a middle seat.
One issue to consider, however, is weather delays; New York airspace is easily overwhelmed by bad weather. Still, there are rarely delays of more than an hour.
If flights are delayed due to weather, chances are trains, buses, and car traffic are all affected too.
Pro Tip: In any case, you can standby for an earlier flight and if lucky, arrive on time or even early! Just ask a gate agent.
Benefits of flying to NYC:
- Boarding up to 5 minutes before departure
- Quickest transit time (typically under one hour)
- Complimentary beverages, including coffee, beer, and wine
- Free Wi-Fi above 10,000 feet
Downsides of flying to NYC:
- Flight availability (15-20 flights per day, not hourly anymore – especially weekends)
- Weather delays
If this is your typical commute, I highly recommend applying for CLEAR1. TSA PreCheck is pretty crowded these days – but in all my years as a pilot I’ve never seen a line for CLEAR.
Laying over near JFK? Here are the best hotels you can book around the airport.
A new, fast and convenient flying option from DC to NYC: Floatplanes!
If you’re familiar with the history of Wall Street, you’ll know that floatplanes are nothing new.
In the history of New York City, there have been floatplanes to/fro cities across the Eastern Seaboard, from Philly to Boston to DC and more.
Tailwind Air, known for their convenient direct seaplane service from New York City (Manhattan E 23rd St) to Boston (Fan Pier Marina), is now offering that same service to Washington-Dulles.
Flights depart once or twice per weekday, and costs tend to rival typical Amtrak prices. Duration of flight is 90 minutes filled with more intimate views of the gorgeous Mid-Atlantic.
Benefits of taking a floatplane from DC to NYC:
- Direct drop off at E 23rd St in Manhattan
- Super convenient for those working outside of DC in Northern Virginia
- Only show up 10 minutes before departure
Downsides of taking a floatplane from DC to NYC:
- Only one or two flights per day
- Prices are higher than for normal flights
- No service from December to March
- Flights take 90 minutes
Most Convenient: Driving from DC to NYC
As much as I hate to admit it, I often find myself driving to and from work.
Sometimes, the schedules just don’t line up. Other times, it’s just quicker door-to-door or more convenient.
The biggest downsides to driving from DC to NYC are fuel, toll, and parking costs. Parking is extremely expensive in New York and so are the tolls to get there. In gas and tolls alone, you’ll end up paying about $55 each way. THEN, you still have to pay insane parking fees in New York.
This can easily drive costs higher than the other ways of getting to New York, even flying. Pun intended.
Benefits of driving from DC to NYC:
- Most convenient, no public transportation necessary
- Sometimes quickest door-to-door
- You can’t miss your car even if you’re running late
Downsides of driving to NYC:
- Tolls, gas, maintenance, insurance, parking costs
- Often unpredictable and slow traffic
- Stress of driving, possibility of breakdowns, and potholes (I’ve had 3 flats driving to/from NYC)
A good compromise: Acela or Amtrak Trains from Union Station (WAS) to Penn Station (NYC)
Though it might be obvious, trains are usually the second fastest way to get from DC to NYC, after flying. Plus, Amtrak schedules allow for earlier and later departures and arrivals compared to flying.
Depending on where you are commuting from in DC, it may be harder getting to Union Station than Reagan National (DCA) airport. On the New York side, Penn Station will remain more convenient than LaGuardia (LGA) at least until the NYC Metrorail extends to LGA in 2022.
Fares start reasonably (around $39 for non-refundable tickets) but skyrocket during peak times or when booked last-minute.
Benefits of the Acela and Amtrak DC-NYC lines:
- Stations are more convenient to each city, possibly saving you on ridehsare/taxi costs
- Duration of 3h20m, 3x slower than flying but slightly quicker than driving
Downsides of the Acela and Amtrak DC-NYC lines: :
- Trains are known to break down enroute or face track delays
- The ride can be noisy, wobbly, and uncomfortable
Cheapest, Slowest: Taking a bus to New York
I often regard buses to New York as the clunkiest way to get there from DC. However, they are by far the most affordable.
Buses are pretty convenient because they drop you off downtown, but they’re not great for anyone who has motion sickness. They typically offer WiFi but it’s almost always too slow to even use.
The boarding process is often a mess and can even be unnerving, and the buses are often late – probably due to traffic. I would consider taking a bus the least reliable method of transportation to New York City.
Benefits of taking a bus to NYC from DC:
- By far the cheapest (usually)
- Typically goes from downtown DC to downtown Manhattan
Downsides of taking a bus to NYC from DC :
- Can be a pretty rough ride
- Schedules are not great, often tardy
- Service fees are added to reservations
Make sure to check out other articles from the Travel Like a Pilot section!
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