Using Public Transit Between JFK Airport and Manhattan

illustration of JFK's airtrain and specific tips mentioned in the article

TripSavvy / Tim Liedtke 

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. It connects JFK airport to LIRR trains as well as the New York City subway. It costs $7.75 to ride when taking it to one of the subway stations (it's free to use if you're only being shuttled between airport terminals). Visitors can make it between JFK and Manhattan in less than an hour combing the two.

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 is operated by the Port Authority of NY & NJ and offers service from JFK to subways/trains that connect to Manhattan. Upon exiting your flight you follow signs toward ground transportation and the luggage claim. You'll easily see an AirTrain sign, with an arrow pointing you outside. Pay attention the signs. Depending on which terminal you are in you may have to take an elevator or escalator to the platform. In a few terminals you must walk outside. (Note: AirTrain signs are placed fairly close together and make 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, or the inner loop, offers free service between the various terminals. The AirTrain sometimes only travels in one direction, so you may have to travel a loop to get to where you need to go. You'll need to take this loop if you have airplanes that transfer at different terminals.
  • To reach the A train on the subway you will take the Howard Beach loop. Note, look for signs that declare where your AirTrain is headed. You cannot get to Howard Beach on a train bound for Jamaica Station. The Howard Beach Route will also take you to Lefferts Blvd where you get access to long term and employee parking.
  • To reach the E train on the subway or the Long Island Railroad trains you need to take the Jamaica Station route. Both the LIRR and the E train will take you into Manhattan. While the Long Island Railroad is a bit more expensive, it's easier for getting to Penn Station in Manhattan, and it offers a faster and more comfortable ride.
  • All the routes take you to Federal Circle Station where you can pick up rental cars or a hotel shuttle.

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. It only costs $7.75 to use. That combined with a $2.75 one-way Metro Card trip means you will be paying $10.50 to get from Manhattan to JFK. That is a lot cheaper than cab fare, which costs at least $52

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.

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.