JFK International Airport

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JFK AIRPORT NYC Getting Around is Easier Than You May Believe

Mar 18, 2004 (Updated Jun 21, 2005)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:It is easy to get around

Cons:Still a lot of construction

The Bottom Line: JFK International Airport is the home to many carriers and it has excellent transportation in and out of it. If you know where to look.

JFK has made many changes in the last few years. The AIR-TRAIN is one of the most notable. This has helped getting around and to and from the airport easier and faster in many ways.

The AIR-TRAIN opened just a few months ago on December 17, 2003. The wonderful concept of it is that you don't have to use it to gain some of its benefits. More on this later.

I live just twenty minutes from JFK International Airport and it is our airport of choice when flying. Whether going on a vacation with my wife of going out on business I generally have someone drop me off and pick me up. We have used family, friends, and limo services.


JFK Airport is in a basic circular shape. If you look at it more closely it seems to be shaped somewhat like a human liver. It is designed as a circle with 9 terminals at different points on its circumference. Some of the terminals are attached. 1-2-3 Green are together. 4 Blue is alone. 5-6 Yellow are joined. 7 Orange is by itself and 8-9 Red are combined. I'll explain the colours in a bit. Inside the circle area are parking lots and roads to different terminals and to airport exits. This inner ring also has transportation options like taxis, limos, buses, shared shuttles to hotels, the new Air-Train, and rides to rental car stations. Most of these are available at the arrivals area of each terminal.

There are over eighty Airlines that do business in JFK. This is a very busy place. The terminals have different shapes and sizes. Some are a bit easier to get around and have shorter walks to the gates. You don't have options of which terminals you'll use other than through choosing particular airlines. Most of the terminals are designed pretty much the same in that they have departures in the higher floors and arrivals at ground level. They do have places to eat and restrooms that, for the most part, are clean and well stocked. Many food courts and restaurants close overnight.

We have been to terminals early for morning flights many times and had to wait for the restaurants to open. I'm talking about 6AM.

Stores with magazines, snacks, small gift items are generally available. Remember that once you go through security to the gate area, you would have to go through the full process again if you go back out to a store or restaurant. There are limited stores and eateries inside the gate areas.

Look for Duty Free stores if they are applicable to you. Money exchanges can be found in some of the terminals, though this is not where you would get your best rates.

The terminals make use of elevators, escalators and stairs. Wheelchair assistance is available at all terminals.

Each Airline has its own counter. The major airlines are easily found and may cover a considerable area of a terminal, while small carriers have just a few counters for service. More and more have automated machines that make the process very fast for everyone. I have used these. Afterward we had to take our luggage directly to the screening area for baggage.

I have been in the terminals when they are packed with people and have long lines for check in. I've found that, at these times, most airlines have representatives working the lines to be sure late arrivals get through the process faster for earlier leaving flights.

Though it's hard to really know what is going on, I feel the security checks at JFK are good. Whenever I go through the magnometer I set off bells and whistles because of a new knee I have. Every time this happens they give me a "twice and three times over". I don't mind the extra attention and I feel it's good for the safety of all.

Throughout the airport's terminals are screens marked "Arrivals and Departures" showing the status of flights defined by carrier, flight numbers and destinations. These are constantly updated and are a good source of current information.

At all terminals, in the arrivals area near the baggage claim, you can find a Transportation Information Counter. This is where anyone can ask about info about taxis, limos, buses, Air-Train, shuttles to hotels, inter-terminal transportation, transport to LaGuardia and Newark airports, and even get phone numbers for non-scheduled helicopter transportation.

You'll also find car rental services or a courtesy phone just outside the baggage area. The rentals are actually off airport grounds but the businesses provide courtesy rides to the offices from the terminal. You can also use the Air-Train for getting to the rental car area.


Getting around really isn't difficult, just take your time driving and follow the signs. As you enter the airport there are huge signs posted delegating numbers and colours to different airlines. This is where you must get your terminal information. Look for the name of the airline you need to get to. It will be assigned a terminal number and colour. Just remember these two facts and the rest is easy.

Once again I'll state the co-ordinated colours and numbers. 1-2-3 Green, 4 Blue, 5-6 Yellow, 7 Orange and 8-9 Red.

There has been a considerable amount of construction going on within this airport for years so things may look confusing, but they are not. I have to say that the authorities have made entry and navigation very easy.

If you are being dropped off for a departure simply follow the colour and number to the terminal. Drive slowly so as to not pass the entrance of your colour coded and number coded destination. The numbers and signs are very large and are hard to miss. At some point you'll turn into the number, colour and terminal of choice. It's here that you have three options. One will take you to the same colour coded parking area for your terminal. This is short term parking. The other two choices are "departures and arrivals". For a departure follow the sign. You generally will be going up a ramp and then look for the sign for your airline or ask one of the security people where it is. Some of the terminals are large and you don't want to walk further than is necessary. Once location is known you can go right to the counter or use the baggage collection areas outside. The rules of this option are changing these days due to heightened security. Call your airline for specific details or simply take your baggage to the counter.

VERY IMPORTANT ! If you are dropping someone off or being dropped off DO NOT leave the vehicle unattended, even for a moment. If help is needed with baggage have one of the captains help out. Security is VERY wary of unattended vehicles at airports. The least of penalties is a ticket and they are very quick to give them out for this infraction. They will also tow your car without hesitation.

If you are in the airport for a pick-up follow a few simple rules. First call and find out if the flight is on time. Once the flight is confirmed drive into the airport following the number and colour coded signs.

This is now the tricky part. If you know your party has arrived and has their luggage via a cell phone contact, then you can go directly to the passenger pick-up area. Read signs carefully when driving up to the area. There are some restrictions at different terminals. Some separate taxis and limos from regular pick-up areas. Read the sign and s-l-o-w-l-y inch up and look for your party. Have them waiting outside if weather is suitable. Arrivals are on street levels outside the baggage claim areas. This area is also protected from snow and rain.

When you see your party, pull up to the nearest opening so as to not block other vehicles. Say your hello's quickly and pack the baggage and move on out.

If you are early to pick up your party before they have arrived, you WILL be "moved on" by security. Don't try hanging around if you are specifically told to move. YOU WILL GET TICKETED.

Now this isn't all that terrible. If you must move on, just follow your colour again. It will circle you around and eventually get you right back to the terminal again. They really are very well marked.

The other option is to go directly to the short term parking area. This again, as explained earlier, is colour and number coded in like manner of the terminal. Simply follow the colour and number of your terminal to its corresponding parking lot, take a ticket as you enter, park your car, and walk to the terminal. It can be a five minute walk. There is a parking charge.

After you meet your party in the terminal you can lug everything to the car or pick up the car first, pay the parking fee and follow the coded signs back to the proper arrivals terminal.


Taxis are lined up outside all the terminals. NYC taxis are yellow and have a medallion shield attached to the front hood and the same number on top of the taxi. These are the only cabs you should get into.

During peak hours there is a uniformed taxi dispatcher outside the arrivals area. You can ask them about fares and they will get you into the proper cabs.

There is a flat fee to your first stop in Manhattan. The charge is $35.00 plus tolls. That is a $4.00 fee at the moment. I don't believe this is a very high price. You can do better if there are more of you, up to a total of four. The price is for the ride and not per passenger. There is no extra charge for luggage or use of the taxi's trunk area. If four of you and baggage can fit in the cab, the total charge comes out to about $10.00 per person. Please remember to tip for good service. $6-8 would be fine.


I've never used this transportation. There are pick up points just outside each terminal's arrival area. They are close by. Fares to Manhattan are $13.00 per person. They have different points of destination. Two examples are Grand Central Station and the Port Authority Building. Taxi and bus service depart from these points if you need further transport help once you arrive in Manhattan.

Both taxis and buses are susceptible to traffic problems. At the same time, especially for you first time NYC visitors, they give you the opportunity to see the city as you arrive. If you are impatient then you can always take the train system. Taxis are a bit faster than buses getting around.

There are bus routes that can take you to the other airports of LaGuardia and Newark too. This is an $11.00 charge as of now.

Remember, you can get a lot of information and schedules at the transportation desk at the terminal.


Once again you can get information at the transportation desk, however arrangement are usually made for a limo before hand. When the airport speaks of limo service, it doesn't necessarily mean stretch cars. Most are vans that can carry a large number of people and their luggage. You can arrange for luxury limos too.

If you do use a limo service, shop the price if you have time. You usually can ask for the number of the service and get a discounted price on your return trip. They negotiate prices based on destination and amount of passengers in the party. We get a limo for about $55.00 for our family of eight traveling the twenty minute distance to JFK from our home.

Be sure to get phone numbers before pick up time. You don't want to miss a flight or be late to a meeting. These guys are not always on time due to traffic or still dealing with other customers whose plane may have come in late etc.


This is brand new and I believe it's already easing the traffic on the Van Wyck Expressway. The Van Wyck happens to be a heavily traveled road that's used for JFK to Manhattan traffic. It also goes to Laguardia Airport.

Up till a few months ago there was no rail lines from JFK to anywhere. This new light train system is a real help to everyone.

The AIR-TRAIN has three different lines. All are accessible from all the terminals. Some terminals share a stop. The elevated system looks much like the monorails at Disney World. They seem to be bigger and brighter than those monorails. They are still VERY clean. Each station is very well lighted and the large glass panels let in a lot of day light. The stations have a modern look to them. These trains run 24 hours per day.

The inner circle line is an inter-terminal line. There is no charge to get from one to the next. This can be used for connecting flights. The trains depart every 2-4 minutes at peak time of 6AM-11PM. Overnight departures are about 8 minutes apart. I have used this line and I found the cars very comfortable, quiet, smooth running and efficient.

One of the other lines goes to the Jamaica train station. It's not a pretty place but it's a major connection area it gets you direct train transportation into Manhattan and other city points. You have to carry luggage for a five to seven minute walk to these trains from the Air-Train station where you pay the five dollar fee of the Air-Train. Charges for trains to other destinations vary.

You can also hop on the Long Island Railroad from Jamaica if coming out east to check out the wonders of our island.

Another line goes to Howard Beach. This is also the line that will take you to long term parking. Both the Jamaica line and Howard Beach line make stops that take you to the car rental services if you preferred that over the courtesy service that can, at off hours, take some time to make their rounds.

Like the inter-terminal line, these two lines have peak hours of 6AM-11PM. The trains depart every 4-8 minutes. Off peak is 12 minutes.

Though I will not be using the Air-Train much I still applaud its construction and use. Fewer cabs and buses will be making the run. This means less traffic, less pollution, and less stress for everyone.

JFK International Airport is very large and extremely busy transportation hub. Getting to and from it and around in it is not difficult at all.

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Recommend this product? Yes

Best Time to Travel Here: Anytime

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