Parking and Driving Tips at JFK Airport

How to make easy pick-ups and drop-offs

jfk airport new york city usa
••• Walter Bibikow / Getty Images

If you need to pick up or drop off family or friends at JFK Airport, you can do that hassle free with a little preparation and a mobile phone.

Cell Phones Simplify Pickups

Mobile phones, especially smartphones that can access flight arrival or departure information, take the guesswork out of delays. In some cases, your friends or family members can even list your mobile phone to receive text notifications in the event of a delay or other pertinent information.

JFK Cell Phone Parking Lot

JFK Airport is one of the few airports in the country with a designated cell phone parking lot. At two free lots adjacent to the airport, you can wait with your car before picking up your passenger friends or family. It sounds like free parking for your phone, right? Well, actually, it is free parking for you to stay waiting in your car by the phone. As soon as your passengers get their luggage from baggage claim and they are about to exit, they can tell you to drive up. These lots are only minutes away from the terminals.

The purpose of these lots is to reduce congestion at arrival areas by preventing cars from continuously circling around the airport. Parking or waiting on airport roadways are prohibited at all times. This free lot allows you to wait in a safe place, and you can avoid paying a fee at the airport parking lot. 

It is important to remember that once you're in the airport, unless your car is in a parking lot, you must stay with your vehicle at all times.


Travel Time

JFK Aiport is one of the busiest airports in the world. Traffic to and from the airport, especially during rush hour, can be heavy. From most points in midtown Manhattan to JFK, give yourself one hour to get to JFK. In rush hour, add 30 to 60 minutes to that estimate. Rush hour in New York City is roughly from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

One to two hours before you plan to leave for the airport, start checking your GPS to see what current traffic time estimates are looking like as these travel times fluctuate. And, of course, check to see if the flight arrival or departure is on time.

Stress-Free Tips

Bring a co-pilot to help you read the signs when approaching the terminals. Driving combined with all that reading as you search for one of eight terminals at JFK Aiport can be a major stressor.

If you arrive at the terminal and your party is not at the curb yet, you may get waved off by the police or airport personnel. Know this. Accept it. Do not fight it. If you get a chance to stand a few minutes, then consider yourself lucky.

Drive smart, too. New York drivers may be impatient. Some may be discourteous. Buck the trend and be nice. Let others in. Other drivers honking? Take a deep breath and keep your cool. The last thing you want is an accident on the way to the airport or road rage to set in moments before you pick up your party.

When to Use a Parking Lot

If you want to do a quick pick up and you know your passengers are waiting for you at the curb, then drive up and get them. Time it well since you will not be able to stand there.

If you can't coordinate with your passengers, then it might be best to use the short-term parking lot nearest their gate and have a plan to meet them.

If you are an out-of-towner or have to pick up children or someone in a wheelchair, then it would be better to park in the short-term parking lot and meet your party in the terminal. Each terminal at JFK Airport has short-term parking for a nominal fee.

Can You Go to the Gate?

Only ticketed passengers are allowed through the security lines at JFK. You can enter the terminal and go up to the security checkpoint to see your friends and loved ones off. If the passenger needs additional assistance, you will need to contact the airline in advance.

Pickup at the AirTrain Stations

Some might think that it is a lot easier to pick up or drop off at the AirTrain stations, but in actuality, it is only easier if you are located near one of the stations in Jamaica or Howard Beach.

Usually, traffic flows nicely once in the airport. The convenience of picking up or dropping off an individual with all their luggage makes door-to-door service worth it in the end.