MSNBC Claims JFK AirTrain is Free?


Hmmm. Maybe I’m missing something. Isn’t it $5.00 to ride AirTrain to JFK? That’s what I’ve always thought. However, this caption on a new article says differently.

Further down in the article, it then says the AirTrain costs $5.00…so which is it?

Sounds like George Hobica,, didn’t check all his facts.

I combed the AirTrain website and couldn’t find anything about free rides. I thought perhaps you only had to pay in one direction, but couldn’t find anything like that.

Anyway, the article itself is a list of the Top 10 Easiest U.S. Airports to get to. Allegedly, JFK is in the top 10. Don’t know that I believe it though. Is it really that easy? I guess technically, it’s not that hard. It’s just a looooooong ride on the subway only to then have to get on the AirTrain. You could conceivably have to take a bus to the subway, then transfer from one line to get on the A, E, J or Z train, ride waaay out, then get on the AirTrain.

Easy? I guess, but it will take forever. For example:

From W 72nd Street, HopStop says it will take 1 hour 28 minutes to get to JFK. It says to take the 1 to 59th Street, then take the D to Rockefeller Center, then take the F to 71st in Queens, then take the E to Jamaica. Why not just stay on the 1 train to Times Square and catch the E there? That will add 10 more minutes to the trip, according to HopStop.

From the East Side, same time. From E 23rd Street is going to take 1 hour 26 minutes.

So think about the overall time frame we’re talking about here. Let’s say you have a 7pm flight out from JFK. They say you should be at the airport 2 hours ahead of time. Then you need to factor in the hour and a half you need to navigate the rails. That means you need to leave your Manhattan apartment at 3:30pm to catch your 7pm flight! If you’re flying out internationally, they say to be there 3 hours early, so that means you would have to leave at 2:30!

Yikes. Easy, maybe. Convenient? Uhhh…no.

20 thoughts on “MSNBC Claims JFK AirTrain is Free?

  1. it’s free to ride the AirTrain within the terminals/parking lots at JFK. it’s $5 if you’re connecting to either Howard Beach or Jamaica.


  2. Well, yeah. If you want a ride to the parking lot sure. The caption talks about getting to/from other mass transit and then says riders can use it for Free. Very misleading.

    Also, a ride to the parking lot doesn’t make the airport itself easier to get to. If that was the case, just about every airport has some sort of shuttle system (bus or rail) to get to the parking lots if they are far from the terminals.

    But what are your thoughts on the convenience?


  3. While it may not be particularly close to Manhattan, it is still more convenient than many large cities that I have been to. With New York, you have a 24-hour fully train/subway service that is fairly consistent.

    At LAX, it is possible to do it by public transit, but not if your flight is really early or late, and it is not convenient or clear (I know how to do it, and have explained it to a number of others who had no idea it was even possible). The process varies depending on where you are coming from, and is usually not any faster, and with traffic in LA, driving is a crapshoot too (especially during rush hour). The only reason it’s not an issue for me personally at LAX is that I live 2 miles from it.

    Many other big cities I have been to requires riding a bus for public transit from the airport, and frequently the only practical ways are shuttle vans, taxis, or rental cars, but New York is a city that I have no need to use one of those when going to the city, and $7 total is a good deal for going to the airport in any city (parking alone will cost that much for a few hours in many cities).


  4. LAX is much easier now that they introduced the FlyAway Bus from Union Station. You can get to Union by any train line and most bus lines. From there, the bus goes directly to the terminals and costs $4. The Metro train or bus costs $1.25 per trip or $5 for a day pass. (Taking the Green Line train to the airport is much slower.)

    This FlyAway bus beats driving to LAX because it uses the carpool lanes on two freeways and stops directly in front of all terminals. I have used it and it took only 35 minutes during stagnant rush hour traffic.

    You can also get a FlyAway bus from Van Nuys, and they are putting one in at Westwood I think. The airport owns/operates these buses, not the MTA. They are trying to add to this and build a network of these direct to LAX buses.

    One day we might have a quicker rail based alternative in LA, but right now the bus is the fastest.


  5. It takes roughly fifteen minutes to go from the AirTrain gates at Jamaica to a terminal at JFK. The E train schedule gives 35 minutes to get to Jamaica from Penn Station; add in five minutes for a transfer and you’ve got 55 minutes from Penn Station to the terminal.

    If I were going from West 72nd Street to JFK by subway, I’d walk to Central Park West and take the C to 42nd Street or the B to Seventh Avenue (whichever comes first) and change for the E. I could see that adding 20 minutes to the total, but not 35. So I’d say an hour and fifteen minutes. From East 23rd Street, I’d take the 6 up to 51st Street and change for the E there; about the same time. I don’t know why HopStop recommends taking the F and then switching to the E.

    There’s a quicker way, but it costs more. The LIRR takes 20 minutes to get to Jamaica from Penn Station, which basically means that the whole trip takes an hour from either West 72nd Street (by the 1 or C trains) or East 23rd Street (by walking or the M16). On the weekends you can get a CityTicket for $3, but the off-peak fare is $5 and the peak (weekday afternoon outbound) fare is $7. Add the $5 for the AirTrain to get $8/10/12 on top of what you pay for the subway or bus.

    These times are much quicker if you can get directly on the E, the A or the LIRR without a transfer, and that’s where the real convenience comes in. If you can walk to Penn Station or Flatbush Avenue Station in five minutes, you can be at JFK in 45 minutes. If you can walk to the E train (or the A downtown) in five minutes, you can be at JFK in an hour.

    As far as Los Angeles goes, isn’t there a Metrolink station at the Burbank airport?


  6. If you query the fastest itinerary, both Trips123 ( and Dadnab ( get you to the airport in under an hour.

    For example, if I query Dadnab:

    amsterdam ave and w 72nd st to jfk by 5 pm

    It returns the following itinerary:

    AMSTERDAM AVE AND W 72ND ST to JFK/depart 72nd St Station 1-2-3, W 72nd St & Broadway at 4:06 pm/Mta Nyc Transit-Sub Train #2-Flat Ave/arrive 42nd St-Times Sq 1-2-3-7-N-R-Q at 4:10 pm/depart 42nd St-Times Sq 1-2-3-7-N-R-Q at 4:13 pm/Mta Nyc Transit-Sub W Line-86 St/arrive 34th St-Herald Sq B-D-F-Q-N-R- at 4:14 pm/depart Penn Station New York, 7th Ave & 32nd Street at 4:21 pm/Mta Long Island Rr Babylon Line-Freeport/arrive Jamaica at 4:41 pm/depart Station D Jamaica Station, Station D Jamaica Staion at 4:48 pm/Jfk Airtrain Jamaica Line-Airport Terminals/arrive Terminal 1 at 4:56 pm

    As you can see, however, the trade-off is that it’s a four leg trip.


  7. I don’t think there’s any issue about the accuracy or truth of the different trip planners. Depending on their algorithms, the trip planners select among a number of different routes. Travel durations differ for each route.

    Where some of the trip planners disagree is simply in what constitutes the “optimal” route. “Optimal” doesn’t necessarily mean “least amount of time”. It some cases, the planners try to minimize transfers as well.


  8. Very interesting information that the Airtrain at JFK is free for drivers but not pedestrians. The nicest ride to the airport existed long before the Airtrain. It cost about $6, and involved getting on a special subway train at 34th St. and getting out somewhere (without stairs)and being taken by bus to the terminals (this was in the 80’s). It was called “The Train to the Plane.” Cheap, efficient, comfortable — no wonder the MTA decided to abandon it!


  9. The FlyAway to LAX is a good option, even though it is a bus (and coming from Van Nuys gets stuck in 405 traffic), but the route from Union station is very nice. The Westwood one is already open, although parking is very limited (weekend only for overnights unless you have a UCLA permit).

    It’s not surprising to me that AirTrain is free going to parking lots on the airport, you typically have to pay a high fee to park at the airport in the first place, and before AirTrain, I’m sure JFK was providing a free shuttle from parking to the terminals.


  10. Interesting tool you’ve got, Roger. The itinerary it gave is the same as the one I mentioned above – the 2/3 to the LIRR to the AirTrain. But while staying on the Seventh Avenue train will get you right to Penn Station, your system adds in a pointless transfer to the Broadway line to Herald Square, taking the passenger a long, noisy, crowded block out of the way. You might want to tweak that database.

    Anna, I took the “Train to the Plane” back in the 80s – it was okay, but not a big deal. After they eliminated it, they kept the shuttle bus, so right up until the AirTrain you could take the A to Howard Beach and switch to the bus.

    The problem with the bus was that it also served the long-term parking areas, so you would wait five or ten minutes for the bus, and then wind up looping around parking lots for another five or ten minutes before entering the terminal area. Plus lots of people have a thing against buses for some reason, so the train gets a lot more passengers.

    The MTA could reinstate the “Train to the Plane” if they wanted to – a super-express from downtown Brooklyn all the way to Howard Beach, connecting with the AirTrain. In fact, they could even have it terminate in Jamaica at the other end for people who want to go that way. I think they figured that people who are willing to pay the premium will take the LIRR instead.


  11. First of all, it’s not that JFK is that easy to get to, it’s that getting to airports via public transit in the United States is just that BAD. So it’s all relative.

    Secondly, forget what that bullshit hopstop website says. Why? Because the advice it gives on how to get to JFK is totally asinine. If you live in Manhattan you DO NOT take the subway to the Airtrain, you take the LIRR from PENN STATION. Anyone who would take the Subway from Manhattan to the Airtrain is just stupid. In a few years time, you’ll be able to catch the LIRR to the Airtrain from Grand Central too.


  12. Airtrain is actually pretty sweet and for me in Park Slope it’s faster than driving at all times of day except late nights. 5 minutes to Flatbush for the LIRR, 20 minutes to Jamaica and 15 to the terminals. Since LIRR runs on time, it can be predictably done in 45 minutes. Of course on the way home, it’s harder because missing the LIRR on a Sunday night can leave you waiting at Jamaica for an hour. But the taxi ranks at JFK are ridiculous, so I rarely do that.

    Another problem with that article is that for Chicago it mentions Metra (which is rarely used at the airport) and doesn’t mention CTA Blue Line trains which run to downtown and other popular neighborhoods. (Their Orange Line connects Midway also, for that matter.)


  13. I take the E to the Airtrain to JFK all the time, and even though I’m a 15 minute walk to the 6 train on the UES, going from the 6 to the E to the Airtrain, I’ve found that it’s consistently about 1 hour door to gate (although I’d generally give myself 1 1/2 hours just to be safe). Totally beats a $60 cab ride. And yes, easy. I directed an out of town guest how to get there via the E train, and she had no problem.

    Overall, I’m just really glad the option exists.


  14. The AirTrain is very convenient for some parts of Queens. I live a fifteen minute walk from the Woodside LIRR station, and last year I got to the terminal at JFK, ready to fly to Paris, and realized I forgot my passport! I called my wife and asked her to meet me at the station with it. I was able to get from Terminal One to the Woodside station and back in under an hour, and made my flight with time to spare.


  15. “Interesting tool you’ve got, Roger. The itinerary it gave is the same as the one I mentioned above – the 2/3 to the LIRR to the AirTrain. But while staying on the Seventh Avenue train will get you right to Penn Station, your system adds in a pointless transfer to the Broadway line to Herald Square, taking the passenger a long, noisy, crowded block out of the way. You might want to tweak that database.”

    Is this the precise itinerary you had in mind for getting to JFK by 5 pm on a weekday? The exact departure, arrival, and transfer times are critical, because they determine what the “optimal” itinerary is.

    Depart at: 4:04 pm
    Go To: 72nd St Station 1/2/3, W 72nd St & Broadway
    Board: Mta Nyc Transit/Sub Train #3/Nlts Ave
    Arrive at: 34th St-Penn Station Sta 1/2/3 at 4:09 pm

    Depart at: 4:15 pm
    Go To: Penn Station New York, 7th Ave & 32nd Street
    Board: Mta Long Island Rr Long Beach Line/Long Beach
    Arrive at: Jamaica at 4:35 pm

    Depart at: 4:42 pm
    Go To: Station D Jamaica Station, Station D Jamaica Staion
    Board: Jfk Airtrain Jamaica Line/Airport Terminals
    Arrive at: Terminal 1 at 4:50 pm


  16. Roger L. Cauvin wrote:
    “Is this the precise itinerary you had in mind for getting to JFK by 5 pm on a weekday? The exact departure, arrival, and transfer times are critical, because they determine what the “optimal” itinerary is.”

    What time does your app give for that 4:06 #2 train to get to Penn Station? You could probably find an even later train that would give you minimal wait time for the 4:21 Freeport train.


  17. Coming in at 9:30 am on a the Delta Terminal at JFK. Need to get to East 23rd St.What is the best way to go? There are 8 of us flying in together. We normally buy a 7 day subway pass for the time frame we are int NYC. Sounds very confusing. Are we better off getting a shuttle van or is it quicker to take the subway. Need exact info as we have never flown into a major city….Thanks!


  18. @Tommy Reynolds:
    Yeah probably the best way to go is to get a 7 day pass for each person in your group. The navigation may be a little overwhelming your first day but you’ll quickly get the hang of it. Dont be afraid to ask people for help.

    The Airtran is pretty easy too. However, it may not be the most convenient to get you into the city. You can get a driver and a van for $127. Or even an 8 passenger stretched limo for $135.

    The $16 per person may be well worth the money just to avoid the initial headache.

    Once you’re in the city, use the subway.


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