How to get from JFK Airport to Manhattan

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New York’s main international airport, John F. Kennedy International Airport, handes over 50 million passengers a year. The majority of Australians travelling to New York via Qantas, Delta (direct and through Virgin Australia code-share) and American Airlines from Australia will more often than not arrive into JFK airport. Passengers travelling on United will arrive into Newark Liberty International airport as they have just moved their operations from JFK to Newark in New Jersey.

The quickest way to get from JFK Airport to Midtown Manhattan is to use the JFK Airport train and change to the Long Island Rail Road at Jamaica station.

As your excitement continues to build as you have safely arrived on your flight and you are bravely fighting off the affects of jetlag, you’ve collected your bags and need to get yourself into Manhattan to begin your New York adventure, but how are you going to get there. JFK offers passengers numerous different options for getting from the airport to Manhattan and VisitingNewYork.com.au to run through each option, with the exception of 1 – we won’t go into how you can hire a car and drive into Manhattan – because even as a seasoned veteran of travelling to New York I will never, unless someone I cared about life depended on it, hire a car and drive myself into Manhattan – especially after a 22 hour journey to get there.

Taxi to Manhattan

The easiest way to get to Manhattan after your long flight from Australia is to simply jump in a cab and give the taxi driver your hotel or apartment address. Each terminal at JFK Airport has its own taxi rank located just outside the arrivals level. Most New York City cabs can take 3 adults comfortably with luggage, however if you are travelling with 4 people a dispatcher located at the front of the queue can organise for a small van taxi – this may take a little longer but in my experience the wait has been nothing more than 3 – 5 minutes once at the head of the queue.

Approaching the Queens – Midtown tunnel on the journey from JFK Airport

When you do get into a taxi the dispatcher will give you a yellow piece of paper with your taxi number on it to confirm that you are travelling in a licenced and authorised by the  New York Taxi & Limousine Commission. JFK Airport and VisitingNewYork.com.au recommends that you do not take a taxi that is not licenced or picking passengers from anywhere other than designated taxi ranks.

One of the best aspects of taxing a taxi from JFK airport to Manhattan is that the price is a flat rate of $52 plus toll and tip so you know exactly how much it will be before you get in (unlike La Guardia airport which does not offer a fixed price fare – it can be expensive if you get stuck in Upper Manhattan traffic). You can expect to pay around $60 for a taxi fare from JFK once you have factored in the tolls and tips – unless you have a great driver and you want to tip him or her more than the expected $2 – $3.

The taxi ranks at JFK airport are available around the clock whenever flights are expected. If you arrive and there are no taxis available a dispatcher located at each taxi rank will call for a taxi which shouldn’t take more than 5 – 10 minutes to arrive.

New York Taxi van

Wait times in the taxi ranks can be anywhere from 0 – 15 minutes depending on the time of day, the weather and how busy the terminal is (if there are more delayed flights etc than usual). As most connecting flights from Australia will arrive in the late afternoon / early evening you can realistically expect to wait on average 5 – 10 minutes. If you are arriving in winter make sure you have a good jacket to wear as it can get very cold and windy at the airport.

Need to know what to pack for a New York winter read our article: How to dress for a New York winter

JFK AirTrain

The JFK AirTrain is the quickest and cheapest option to get from JFK Airport to Manhattan, however not at the same time. Catching the JFK AirTrain actually allows you to choose between taking the MTA Subway (the normal New York subway service) from Jamaica Station or the Long Island Rail Road (the main commuter service into Manhattan from Long Island), below I’ll discuss the pros and cons of each.

JFK Airtrain station at JFK’s Terminal 8

The JFK AirTrain has its own station at each terminal and runs frequently 24 hours a day 365 days a year. It is free to ride the JFK AirTrain and doubles as a terminal transfer vehicle if you have to transfer between the terminals at JFK. For example if you are travelling between Australia and Boston you may have flown with Qantas from Australia’s East Coast and will be transiting to American Airlines for the relatively short hop from New York to Boston. After you have arrived into terminal 7 on Qantas you will need to jump on the AirTrain and transfer to American Airlines terminal 8 – the ride is only about 3 minutes between terminals.

You might also like: What to expect when arriving into New York on Qantas

Once you have collected your bags simply make your way across to the JFK AirTrain station located directly outside each terminal (the actual platform is located opposite the departures level which will generally mean you’ll have to go up an escalator or take the elevator up one level).

VisitingNewYork.com.au Recommendation

Make sure you get on a train that is going to Jamaica Station – not all trains go to Jamaica Station, some trains will visit an employee parking lot located at Howard Beach.

Once you arrived at Jamaica AirTrain Station you can follow the signs to either the MTA Subway or Long Island Rail Road

JFK AirTrain departure board

Jamaica Station to Manhattan by Subway

The cheapest way to get to Manhattan from Jamaica Station is by the Subway. A single ride ticket on New York’s MTA Subway is $2.75 and you can ride from one end of the subway to the other – but you can only exit once – ideally near your hotel! In addition to the single ride fare there is an additional $5 AirTrain entry / exit fee – so while the terminal transfer on the AirTrain is free, if you want to enter or exit the airport the fee is $5. In addition to this Australian travellers will also need to buy an MTA metro card for $1. Metro cards can be reused and value added to them so it’s a very worthwhile investment – plus they make a great keepsake, I have at least 3 in my travel wallet at any time.

Jamaica Station – change for the MTA Subway or the Long Island Rail Road to Manhattan

One word of warning for the subway – travelling with bags can be difficult – especially during peak hours. I have personally done it when only travelling with carry-on and it was still tight – particularly when I arrived smack bang in the middle of the morning rush and couldn’t move in the carriage for the last 3 stops to 42nd Street.

In total the trip from AirTran Station to your destination will be $8.75. Average travel times from Jamaica Station to Manhattan locales are as follows:

Destination Approx. travel time
Midtown Manhattan 50 minutes
Lower Manhattan 60 minutes
Upper Manhattan 75 minutes
MTA Subway ticket machine

Jamaica Station to Manhattan by Long Island Rail Road

The fastest way from JFK Airport to Manhattan is to change to the Long Island Rail Road at Jamaica Station. Whilst the Subway can take anywhere from 50 – 75 minutes the Long Island Rail Road will deliver you to Penn Station in the heart of Midtown in only 35 minutes from Jamaica Station. From Penn Station you can easily transfer to A, C, E, 1, 2, 3 trains and Times Square is only a short 10 minute walk.

The Long Island Rail Road will cost a bit more than taking the subway, it is a flat $15 for the journey to Penn Station, but there are some hidden advantages, other than the speedier trip. The Long Island Rail Road has been designed as a commuter train, that means there are more seats, the seats are more comfortable, better access for storing your bags, and if you arrive at the right time – it will be a lot less crowded.

Long Island Rail Road carriage

The Long Island Rail Road is VisitingNewYork.com.au’s tip for getting to Manhattan, especially if you are travelling with a group of friends, of whom each can take their own luggage.

Shared Ride / Shuttle Bus

Shared ride / shuttle services are available from JFK Airport and there are a number of different operators which have services available. Prices start from $20 per person and do not include tip.

As with shared ride / shuttle bus services offered around the world the services operating out of JFK Airport are notoriously unreliable. The pick-up locations vary depending on the terminal in which you have arrived and the location of the nearest bus – some companies won’t actually give you pick up details until you arrive via SMS / text message. Others will have a representative meet you at your arrival terminal before taking you to a central depot to catch their bus.

As is the norm with shuttle services the total time for the journey can range from anywhere from an hour up to 4+ hours depending on traffic, the number of other passengers on your shuttle and the location of your destination (hotel or apartment) compared to others on the bus.

I have heard horror stories of passengers coming off flights from Australia to then having to spend a hellish 3 hours on a shuttle bus as they were the first to be picked-up at the airport and the last to be delivered, and add to the scenario a new driver that didn’t know where their small hotel was located and a nightmare of peakhour traffic in Manhattan.

NYC Airporter bus heading from JFK Airport to Manhattan

VisitingNewYork.com.au recommendation

Avoid booking a shuttle / shared ride bus at all costs. The only time we would recommend booking a shuttle is if you had a travelling party of between 15 – 20 where you can hire out the whole bus – at which point there are better alternatives than normal shuttle bus operators at JFK Airport.

Private transfer / Limousine

If you want to start your New York adventure off in style why not organise a limousine to be ready to pick you up after you have collected your bags and ready to make Manhattan your own wonderland. Multiple registered (and un-registered) drivers operate limousine services from JFK Airport to Manhattan and other New York boroughs so it is important that you make a booking through a regulated and reputable service.

When you arrive you will either be met by your driver who is holding a sign once you exit the secure area of the terminal and assist you to his or her vehicle, otherwise you may be required to call your organised service and confirm your arrival – at which point you will be directed to where your driver will be waiting. This will generally be located near where the taxi ranks are for each terminal, however the driver may also be waiting in one of the many car parks which can be accessed by the JFK AirTrain or by simply walking.

When making a booking you will be presented with various options including the make and model of car and size (depending on the number of passengers).

Prices for transfers start from just $48 but do not include toll or tip and time of journey restrictions may apply.

Do you have any great or horrific transfer stories from JFK Airport to Manhattan, we’d love to hear about them, share them with us in the comments below.

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