JFK’s AirTrain: A Modern 24-Hour a Day Monorail

How to get to JFK Airport: Take the JFK Airtrain. Ad Meskens photo.
How to get to JFK Airport: Take the JFK Airtrain. Ad Meskens photo.

Budget Travelers Save Time & Money With JFK’s AirTrain

By Marina Solovyov

Delta check in at JFK Airport. Take the Airtrain to the airport from Manhattan.
Delta check-in at JFK Airport. Take the Airtrain to the airport from Manhattan.

Getting to and from JFK on AirTrain is fast and easy. You can travel to Manhattan’s Penn Station on the Long Island Rail Road in about 35 minutes and to most parts of New York City on the subway in about an hour. AirTrain JFK runs 24 hours a day, every day.

If you use JFK Airport for recreational or business flights, the JFK AirTrain may be perfect for you. Between the pricey cab or Uber fare and heavy traffic, getting around in New York City can be a frustrating and expensive experience, especially if your destination is JFK.

You can use the JFK AirTrain Metrocard just like the regular subway.

With the AirTrain, you can travel by subway train all the way from the Empire State Building to JFK Airport.

What is the AirTrain?

The AirTrain is a service brought to travelers by the New York and New Jersey Port Authority. It was a project begun in 1999 to reduce the heavy traffic on roads and save travelers hours of sitting in road traffic.

New York City in 2019
New York City in 2019


The $1.9-billion cost of the project was funded through the Port Authority revenues and a $3 surcharge to passengers departing from NYC.

The AirTrain has been running since 2003 and overall has been a success, with more than 30,000 passengers taking advantage of the service in its first year alone. It runs 24 hours a day between Howard Beach, Jamaica Station and the airport.

AirTrain goes between JFK International Airport, MTA Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), the MTA New York City Transit and Subways, and local buses.

It’s also a great way to get around the airport, passing by rental car service, the parking garage, hotel shuttles, and all the terminals.

JFK AirTrain Cost

After these stops, passengers continue along avoiding NYC traffic until they reach either their destination or a connecting stop. The cost is just $8.25 a ticket (in each direction) in addition to a $2.75 metro pass or an LIRR pass. AirTrain is free unless you start or end your journey at Jamaica and Howard Beach Stations.

Travel time is estimated at one hour with the connecting stops to AirTrain. The AirTrain website gives a detailed explanation of which stations to use if you are coming from New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut.

AirTrain is often the quickest way to JFK.
AirTrain is often the quickest way to JFK. Hustlers in Port Authority will try to charge you money to show you where the buses leave for the airport, but just find it yourself!

Midtown Manhattan

For example, from Midtown Manhattan, the most direct route is via Penn Station and an LIRR train to Jamaica Station. (Be careful – not every train stops there.) From Jamaica Station follow the signs for the AirTrain. Connect with the E Train to get to JFK. Also, you can connect to the AirTrain at Sutphin Blvd-Archer Ave Stop. About 35 minutes!

For the following areas Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island, Westchester, New Jersey, Newark Airport, Connecticut, use the Trip Planner from JFK’s website to find the quickest route.

Keeping Down the Costs

There are several options for purchasing MetroCards. The Pay per Ride option is $5 and gets the traveler a free transfer between the subway and local bus, between local buses but not between the subway and AirTrain. Kids under 5 years old ride free.

The Gate with Brian Cohen has good info on buying the ten-ride package. Important to note that if you already have a MetroCard for the New York City subway system and want to save a dollar, you cannot purchase a special ticket for AirTrain by refilling your MetroCard. This is because the special ticket of ten rides for $25.00 requires its own MetroCard and cannot be mixed with any other user on the same MetroCard.

AirTrain is accessible via local buses.
AirTrain is accessible via local buses.

All these passes are available at the Howard Beach and Jamaica stations, LIRR, and subway stations; various metro card vendors throughout the airport and NYC sell them too. For more information on costs and passes, check the AirTrain website.

Saving Time with AirTrain

The AirTrain service operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The trains run on a schedule from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. (every 2-8 minutes) and 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. (every 6-12 minutes).

Train times vary anywhere from 4 to 16 minutes between the station and terminal, but within the terminal, an estimate of 8 minutes is sufficient to get around all the terminals, parking, hotel, and other stops. For more details about your particular stop, check out the diagram and itinerary at Getting Around JFK.

Some Things to Consider

While many travelers have found AirTrain to be a huge time and money saver, others find AirTrain annoying and ineffective. Some say there are too many changes between stops to get to the AirTrain.

One man quoted on the Gothamist website said he had to “take his luggage and load it in a taxi to Penn Station or schlepp luggage from a subway to Penn, then figure out a schedule for an LIRR train to Jamaica and only then board an AirTrain.” Although his total cost came to $6.75, the multiple stops were not worth the trouble to him.

New York's Empire State Building
New York’s Empire State Building

Some travelers would rather split a taxi or an Uber to bring the cost down, and some business travelers get reimbursed for their expenses.

If you have one wheeled bag, the AirTrain might be right for you. If you have a lot of luggage, you might save the cost of an Uber, but end up wishing you could throw your luggage on the tracks.

A Few Other Options Between JFK and Manhattan

If for whatever reason, the AirTrain isn’t the option you want to take you can look into the following alternatives:

From Midtown Manhattan/East and West Side grab the New York Airport Service Express Bus for only $15. The bus leaves every 15 to 30 minutes running on a schedule from 6:15 am to 10:10 pm. The estimated travel time is 45-65 minutes, yet it is a longer ride during peak hours.

You can also try the AirLink which is also on-demand for 24 hours. AirLink is another door-to-door service that will bring you to JFK starting at a cost of $17 (between Battery Park and 125th Street).

If you are looking for a private car or van service, try the Super Saver, ETS Air Shuttle, or Westchester Express (Republic). These rides go all over Manhattan; prices vary. A new Airtrain was proposed to serve as the Laguardia Airtrain, but plans got caught up in politics and the idea never made it past the DiBlagio era.

So the bottom line here is the next time you need to get to JFK airport, you have more options than paying $50 for a cab!

Marina Solovyov

Marina Solovyov is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts and a former intern at GoNOMAD.com. She lives in Tokyo, Japan.

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