Budget travelers who don't mind carrying their own luggage will find the AirTrain JFK a welcome addition to New York City's extensive public transit offerings. For $7.75 and in about an hour, visitors can make it between JFK and Manhattan.
You Should Know the JFK AirTrain
AirTrain JFK requires transferring to a subway or train in order to reach Manhattan. The AirTrain does not travel directly to Manhattan.
The AirTrain JFK, operated by the Port Authority of NY & NJ, offers service from JFK to subways/trains that connect to Manhattan. We were curious about how easy it would be to use, since taking the bus from LaGuardia to Manhattan seems easy, until you realize how difficult it is to get a MetroCard at LaGuardia airport, as well as find out which bus to catch.
Upon exiting our flight, we followed signs toward ground transportation and the luggage claim. We were pleasantly surprised to see an AirTrain sign, with an arrow pointing us outside. Paying careful attention to the signs, we were lead around a building and up an elevator to the AirTrain entrance. (AirTrain signs were placed fairly close together and made the otherwise complicated navigation easy, but watch for the signs.)
There are three AirTrain routes, and the arriving AirTrain announces its route clearly and loudly, so just listen to make sure you get on the correct train.
The Airline Terminal route (Inner Loop) offers free service between the various terminals. The Howard Beach (A) and Jamaica Station (D) routes circles the terminals in the opposite direction, both stopping at Station C/Federal Circle. The Jamaica Station route can be used to access the E train and LIRR at Jamaica Station (2nd to last stop on E in Queens). The LIRR (Long Island Railroad) is a bit more expensive, but easier for getting to Penn Station in Manhattan, faster, and perhaps a more comfortable ride.
Be sure to allow yourself 90-120 minutes to make the trip to JFK from Manhattan, particularly at rush hour. You should also be sure to check MTA's website for any train service issues that might impact your trip. If you're taking the A train to the AirTrain from Manhattan (or Brooklyn), be sure to board one bound for Far Rockaway or Rockaway Park. The A to Ozone Park/Lefferts Blvd does not connect to the AirTrain.
Pros, Cons, and Details
The AirTrain is affordable ($7.75 verses~ $45 cab fare) and efficient -- 35 minutes between JFK & Penn Station (using LIRR).
On the contrary, you have to carry your own luggage (and this might require carrying it up stairs). It's not always a great value for families and groups. Last, you'll have to transfer to the subway or LIRR to get into Manhattan.
At Federal Circle (C), riders can transfer between trains for Howard Beach (A) & Jamaica Station (D).
Station C also offers access to hotel shuttles and rental car services. Station B (Lefferts Blvd) on the Howard Beach route allows access to long term and employee parking.
Signs are posted for transfer between AirTrain & Subway/LIRR in Howard Beach and Jamaica Station. MetroCard vending machines are available just before the AirTrain exits in Jamaica/Howard Beach.
Coming from JFK, pay for AirTrain upon exit. Coming to JFK, pay for AirTrain at the entrance.