Can you get to popular hotel zones in NYC from the airport?

I get this question all the time. The answer is that you indeed may, and some may be faster than road transport! I definitely would NOT recommend renting a car if you plan to stay in the city. Parking costs are high, and traffic is notoriously bad. With NY being a very walkable city, or hop on a subway or bus. I recommend taking transit. This blog post will show you how you can start your visit to NY!

There are 3 major airports serving New York City. The closest to Manhattan is LaGuardia, but it is the worst for a transit connection, although it is possible, and it will get better in the future. The second closest airport is not in NY but is in New Jersey. Newark International Airport is a hub for United Airlines. The third and final airport is JFK International Airport. It is the largest international hub for city. I will give directions for each and then my picks at the end.

First, let us start with LaGuardia.

Currently, there is no rail transit access to LGA. But, there are options. The MTA does have two bus lines that serve the airport. 

  • M60-SBS is a high-quality bus route that connects the airport to Manhattan and multiple subway lines. You must pay the fare before boarding the bus. Standard MTA bus/subway fares apply. The bus connects with the following subway lines
    • N/Q at Astoria Blvd in Queens.
    • 4/5/6 at 125th St/Lexington Ave in Manhattan
    • Metro-North trains at 125th St/Park Ave
    • 2/3 at 125th St/Malcolm X Blvd
    • A/B/C/D at 125th St/St. Nicholas Ave
    • One at Broadway/116th St (Also Columbia University)
  • Q70-SBS is a high-quality bus route that stays in Queens but also connects with subways lines. You must pay the fare before boarding the bus. Standard MTA bus/subway fares apply. The bus connects with the following subway lines
    • E/F/M/R/7 at Broadway(Queens)/74th St
    • LIRR/7 at Roosevelt/61st St

There are other transportation options such as private buses, taxis, and Uber/Lyft. There is a hotel cluster in Long Island City Queens around Queens Plaza. If you stay in this district, I would recommend a Taxi or Uber/Lyft. 

Next up is Newark Airport.

This busy airport is well connected to NYC. The airport has a monorail system called AirTrain that links all three terminals, rental cars, and parking. It also connects to the Newark Airport Train station served by frequent NJ transit commuter trains as well as Amtrak Trains. 

NJ Transit has ticket machines at Airtrain stations as well as the airport station. The fare to NY is around $13/person. You want to take trains to NY Penn Station. Amtrak also heads to NY, but tickets might be higher. From the airport station to NY is about 25 minutes. I would recommend avoiding morning rush hour as these trains tend to be very crowded, making bringing luggage aboard nearly impossible.

If you choose a hotel in Jersey City or lower Manhattan, you may decide to take the train just one stop to Newark Train station and transfer to the PATH trains to World Trade Center.

Newark Airport also has express buses, shared vans, taxis, Uber/Lyft to NY. The buses are around $13, taxis/Uber/Lyft around $70~$80 plus tolls. Tunnel tolls are about $14 to NYC, if the turnpike is chosen, there are more tolls there.

Finally, there is JFK Airport.

JFK is the furthest from Manhattan, but there are several options to choose from. The first step is the AirTrain. There are 3 AirTrain Routes — the inner loop (Clockwise), which serves the Airport Terminal. The Outer Loop has two routes, both serving all the airport terminals and the Gateway station for rental cars and hotel shuttles. One way continues onto Jamaica Station in Queens and the other to Howard Beach Station in Queens. These trains link to various options for the city.

  • Jamaica Station- Served by the E/J/Z subway trains as well as the LIRR. For Midtown and westside of Manhattan, the E-train is the best bet, with a 30-minute ride weekdays and weekends (lower Manhattan in just under an hour). For Williamsburg Brooklyn/lower Manhattan, the J/Z is your path at about 50 minutes. You may also ride the LIRR for a higher fare, which goes to Penn Station in Manhattan in about 20~25 minutes.
  • Howard Beach – Served by the A-train. The A will take you to Downtown Brooklyn (30 min) and lower Manhattan in about 40 minutes, mid-town in just under an hour.

JFK also has many ground transportation options, but with it being much further from Manhattan, is very subjective to traffic and thus cost are much higher. It could 45 minutes; it could be 2 hours. I would dissuade folks from that alternative.

I have taken the options from JFK and Newark, not LGA (I personally do not like LGA). Newark is quick by train, but commuter trains are not designed for large luggage pieces. Also, rush hours make it worse. Plus, if your hotel is not near Penn Station, you will need to take a taxi or the subway. So I consider the options a little limited. JFK, despite the fact it further afield, has better options. Depending on your hotel locations, you maybe be able to get to your hotel without changing trains by taking the subway options. The subway transfer from the AirTrain is near the start of those lines. Therefore, you should be able to get on the train, even with luggage. Just a word of caution that getting off the train might be difficult during Rush Hour. You may also want to consult the latest subway maps and identify stops that are handicapped accessible, which translates that there are elevators which is better for luggage. My personal choice is taking the E-train as it runs pretty frequently from the airport and has a fast run to the city. The A-train frequency from Howard Beach is a bit less. The J/Z is the most scenic option as it is elevated for most of its route, but it also the slowest option.

So next time you are in NY, take the train from the plane.

Most Americans love their car, and I love my car as well. It is personal freedom, moving inside your bubble. It feels “safe.” But board a bus or a train with a lot of other “strangers,” your personal bubble gets very small and uncomfortable. Thus a particular perception of safety seems diminished. This is despite statistics that driving your vehicle is a much more significant safety risk than riding a train or even an airplane.

So why do folks from other nations tend to use public transportation more? Most likely, it is simple economics and speed. When using a bus or a train often, you don’t need to figure out where to park your car. In big cites, parking is expensive. You might only need one car at home instead of the American standard of two, or maybe not a car at all.

I could go into politics about car use is subsidized, but I want to focus in on making public transportation use a considered alternative during your travels. I’m not a therapist, but I am hoping I can reduce the fear of using public transport. So I will lay out what I know I worry about when I visit a new city, so you know you are not alone, even by one who loves public transport. 

FEAR # 1: I will get lost

This is a valid fear, even while driving. But driving, you think you are in control. If you are on the wrong train, you think you do not have control. 

Tip #1: Study maps of the cities you intend to visit. For transit, however, you need to go a step further. You need to know how often the bus or train comes. You don’t want to go somewhere, then when you wish to return you find out the next train or bus is not for a couple of hours, or even worse, not until tomorrow.

Tip #2: Download an app with transit directions and real-time arrivals. I have used this in a few cities, and they are rather good, as long as you have a data plan. Google Maps works in many cities; another App I highly recommend is aptly named “Transit” for both IOS and Android.

Tip #3: Carry a map with you, an old fashion paper map. It does not fail due to a dead battery and does not cost you valuable data on your phone.

Tip #4: If you’re lost, ask fellow passengers or the driver (if accessible) for help. Many people want to help tourists. I have been approached many times on station platforms, even in cities I am visiting myself, and I am always willing to try to help.

Fear # 2: I don’t know how to pay the fares

This is a big one, even for me. Not all systems are very straight forward. What makes it worse in some metropolitan regions you will have different transit systems which don’t have the same fare structure or fare media. Luckily, in today’s world with contactless farecards (RFID), or even using your own NFC enable phone or chip-embedded credit cards, this is slowly (okay snail’s pace) becoming a thing of the past. As Tourist by Transit develops, I will explain the fare structure as best as possible for the cities featured. But here are some tips

Tip #1: Visit the transit agency’s website for fare information. This is not always that easy, and I have found some sites to be downright confusing.

Tip # 2: Purchase day or weekly passes, when available, if you intend to travel a lot during your visit. Even if you wind up spending a little more, the convenience of just flashing or swiping your pass is worth it.

Tip # 3: If the system uses a contactless farecard that is refillable, even if there is a charge to buy the card (usually between $2-$5), it is much easier then buying tickets all the time. Some of them you can refill via the internet for added convenience.

Fear # 3: Fear of being crowded, or I have luggage

This fear is real and understandable. Baggage is also a pain to drag on a bus or pull through a turnstile. Too many older systems may not have elevators, or escalators, or step-free entry into their vehicles. Although I do bring luggage nearly all the time, if I am visiting a city via transit, there are times I will do something different.

Tip #1: Avoid rush hours. I don’t like driving during rush hours, riding trains is faster during the rush, but they are often much more crowded, with some cities needing pushers to pack them in, like Tokyo. In Tokyo, I do bring my luggage on trains but try hard to avoid the rush hour peaks.

Tip #2: Luggage needs to roll nicely or be on your back. The “spinner” type luggage I find works the best when using turnstiles since you can roll them sideways. But if they are too tall, slide them on their side.

Tip #3: Use a Taxi or Uber: I will succumb to using these when the luggage is too heavy, or I have too many pieces, or using transit involves too many stairs. I am more likely to do this if I have one or more other folks with me. But this is the last resort for me. I have been known to take the train as close to my destination, then use a taxi for the last mile or two to reduce costs. But do remember in big cities taxis can get caught in traffic.

Fear # 3: Crime

This can be a real fear. Although crime is part of anywhere you go, you should not let it rule your life. You have to get out of your car sometime, And there are car-jackings. My tips are for being in any city

Tip #1: Do not wear any loose or flashy jewelry

Tip #2: Ladies keep your purses crossed over your chest, or at least close to your body under your arm. I highly discourage the use of clutch purses.

Tip #3: Men, do NOT keep your wallet in your back pants pocket. I grew up in NYC, so I was trained at an early age to put my wallet in my front pockets. 

Tip # 4: Phones, I am guilty of keeping my phone in my back pocket, as do most people. But this it is easily pickpocketed that way. A front pocket or a shirt pocket might be better.

Tip #5: Be aware of your surroundings. Look up at skyscrapers, or staring intently on your cell phone is a way to past the time, but do it too long and you may become a target, or you may walk into a wall, or miss your stop, or worse of all get hit by a car.

So what are your fears about using public transport? Maybe I can do a follow-up post on this later on!