An unforgettable adventure in New York City generally begins and ends at one of the cities three main airports.
Air travel can generally be a stressful experience. When mixed in with delays, security lineups and crowds, the experience can either leave you recharged and ready to hit the road or wishing you’d taken the bus.
The good news is that you have options when flying to the Big Apple. The city is served by three large international airports: John F. Kennedy International Airport, LaGuardia Airport, and Newark Liberty International Airport. These airports are all located in relative proximity to Manhattan and all offer a different experience for every traveler.
John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) is located in the Southern Queens borough of New York, and is arguably the busiest of cities three airports. Opened in 1948, the airport handled 59 million passengers in 2017 alone.
LaGuardia Airport had its beginnings when New York City mayor Fiorello LaGuardia demanded the construction of a new airport after landing at Newark in New Jersey, where he refused to deplane until he was flown to an airfield in Brooklyn. Construction began in 1937 and LaGuardia now handles about 30 million passengers per year.
Newark Liberty International Airport is located just over the Hudson River in New Jersey. In operation since 1928, it was the first major airport to serve the New York metro area.
Depending on what your travel plans are for your trip to New York, here are four pros and cons of each airport to set you off on the right foot.
24 JFK - Transport (PRO)
JFK Airport is the furthest of the three airports from central New York, however it is the most accessible by the New York MTA subway system. The airport is connected to the city subway network, ensuring a quick and reliable route to and from the city without having to deal with the hassle of traffic. The total trip time takes about 90 minutes and costs US$7.75. Additionally, if you’re running a little tight on time and willing to cough up a little extra, the AirTrain service takes about 35 minutes and will put you back about US$15.00.
23 JFK - Airport Lounges (Pro)
If you’re a frequent flyer, you might appreciate this pro. Within JFK there are ten lounges for your pre-flight enjoyment. That’s the most of the three airports in New York. The perfect reason to come to the airport early and relax while you wait for your flight to board. Keep in mind, however, that some lounges are airline specific and access may be limited.
22 JFK - Destinations (Pro)
For the travelers looking to fly far or arriving from an international destination, JFK is probably the airport for you. JFK has more long-haul overseas flights departing to far off destinations than both LaGuardia and Newark and is considered New York’s main international airport. Over 70 airlines from around the world operate in and out of JFK!
21 JFK - Dine And Dazzle (Pro)
If you’re looking to expand your palate, JFK has more food and dining options available compared to Newark or LaGuardia. From Starbucks to steakhouses and everything in between, you’re likely going to be boarding your flight home with a full stomach. A great (but not entirely unreasonable) excuse to skip out on that inflight meal!
20 JFK - Air "Traffic" (Con)
The negative effects of the airport's rapid growth can become quite obvious to the average traveller flying in and out of JFK. The size of JFK makes its operation a complicated and often frustrating process. Though not a guaranteed scenario by any means, ready yourself to wait on your aircraft on the tarmac for up to a couple hours waiting for a gate after arrival or while waiting for a takeoff slot on departure.
19 JFK - Growing Pains (Con)
Tight connection? Bigger isn’t always better. The airport consists of six separate terminals between Terminals 1-8 (Terminals 3 and 6 have been demolished). Despite all terminals being connected through the AirTrain service, transfer times and the distance between the terminals can become an added complication to already stressful travel plans, particularly if you have a tight connection between different airlines.
18 JFK - Border Waits (CON)
Speaking of tight connections, are you arriving at JFK, New York from abroad? If so, mentally prepare yourself to spend a few hours to get through U.S. immigration. Customer reviews from Skytrax commonly mention understaffing, disorganization and crowding at the immigration checkpoint arriving into JFK, with some reviews noting wait times of up to one and a half hours.
17 JFK - To And From (Con)
Not a fan of public transportation after a long flight? Too much luggage to bother with the subway? A taxi between central New York City and JFK will set you back about US$52 with a flat rate, not including tolls, rush-hour rate increases, or gratuity.
That equates to a roughly US$70 one-way trip in the end, making JFK the most expensive New York airport to hail an iconic NYC taxi from if you’re looking to go downtown.
16 LaGuardia - Taking A Taxi? (PRO)
Is easy access to Manhattan important to your travel plans? LaGuardia’s proximity to the central New York can be persuasive for travellers, despite constant negative reviews of the airport itself. Without traffic, you can drive from LaGuardia to Central Park in twenty minutes. There is no flat-rate for a taxi from LaGuardia into town, however with the shorter distance it is notably cheaper than taking one from JFK.
Expect to pay about US$35-40 one-way, depending on traffic. The LGA airport GO Shuttle is an alternative option, and costs about $30 for a round trip.
15 LaGuardia - Short Haul (PRO)
If you’re flying internationally or from the West Coast, the likelihood is that you will not be using LaGuardia Airport. There is a New York law that prohibits flights longer than 1500 miles from landing at LaGuardia every day except Saturday, with the exception being flights to and from Denver. The only international flights arriving at LaGuardia are from airports in Canada within that distance limit and which have pre-clearance facilities to clear U.S. customs.
The benefit of this strange law? Fewer flights generally mean smaller crowds. Expect shorter waiting times for security versus Newark and JFK.
14 LaGuardia - Less Is More (Pro)
Unfortunately none of the three New York airports are operated under a single roof. However, transferring between terminals at LaGuardia is relatively easy in comparison, as the terminals are not far from one another. The airport operates a complimentary transfer bus that runs on a frequency of every 10-15 minutes.
13 LaGuardia - Location, Location (Pro)
Get the camera ready! If you’re hoping to score an epic view of New York City from the air, the close proximity of LaGuardia airport gives you the best chance to capture an aerial shot of the Big Apple both after takeoff or on approach to the airport.
As one of, if not the most iconic skyline in the world, you can't pass up an opportunity to see it from above. Just make sure you request a window seat!
12 LaGuardia - Tight Spacing (CON)
The airports smaller size can be seen as convenient for some. However, the lack of available space has impacted the amount of services and shopping available at the airport. LaGuardia’s offerings mostly consist of small duty free shops, Auntie Anne’s and Hudson News convenience outlets. The options available at LaGuardia couldn’t be considered world-class experiences, but at least that might save you from making those expensive last-minute airport purchases, right?
11 LaGuardia - What Year Are We In? (CON)
LaGuardia is in serious need of some updating. The dated facility was likened to a third world country by Joe Biden, and is backed up by problems plaguing the terminals, including mold, worn out seating, exposed wiring, and leaking rooftops. Definitely not a great first or last impression of New York!
The future is looking bright for LaGuardia however, as renovations on a US$6 billion rebuild of the airport have begun.
10 LaGuardia -Thank God For Google Maps (Con)
If you’re a budget traveller and aiming to take public transport into town, one thing to consider about LaGuardia is that there is currently no direct rail link into the city or a subway station. Public transportation is available, however you will first need to take a bus from the airport, and then transfer to the subway at Roosevelt Av – Jackson Heights station. If you’re up for a little adventure and good with directions, that trip will take you about an hour to get to downtown.
9 LaGuardia - Going Somewhere? (Con)
Consider that arrival or departure time as a maybe. If you're lucky, the plane will only be delayed and at least you'll still be taking off into the sky. In 2017 the Global Gateway Alliance rated LaGuardia dead last in the United States for the percentage of canceled flights.
A total of 3.23 percent of scheduled departing flights from LaGuardia called it quits last year.
8 Newark - Take The Train (Pro)
If you’re not a fan of cabs or are tired of traffic, Newark is well served by public transportation. It will take you just over an hour to get into Manhattan from Newark Airport via the AirTrain connection to NJ Transit and Amtrak services, costing between US$15-30 one way.
There are also bus services available to bring you into the city from US$16 one way, so your options aren’t limited when coming from or heading to Newark on transit.
7 Newark - The World Is Your Oyster (Pro)
Newark Airport offers direct flights into New York from many cities both domestically and internationally that lack a direct service to the regions two other airports.
In total, 34 airlines operate out of Newark that contributes to its 1,200 to 1,400 flights a day. This flexibility makes Newark an attractive gateway to New York for passengers and airlines alike.
6 Newark - Stream on (Pro)
Streaming and surfing the web to pass time at the airport? As of Summer 2018, Newark Liberty is the only New York metro airport that offers free unlimited high-speed wifi. For a generation of travelers who are obsessed with social media and remaining active on the web 24/7, this is a pretty important factor these days.
LaGuardia wifi comes at an extra cost, while free wifi at JFK is limited with a time restriction with the exception of terminal 5.
5 Newark - Fancy Flying (Pro)
4 Newark - Waiting Game (Con)
Newark seems to be plagued by notoriously long security lineups and crowded passenger waiting areas. The non-renovated terminals at Newark are severely dated and their passenger count has far exceeded the older terminal buildings’ capacity. After security, limited seating areas and shopping options in the older terminals add to the aggravation travelers experience at Newark.
3 Newark - What Time Is It? (Con)
Hoping for an on-time departure? Only sixty-seven percent of flights leave Newark Airport according to schedule, compared to seventy-two percent at LaGuardia and seventy-three percent at JFK.
Knowing that you might be in for a longer trip than you first planned, it might be wise to download a few movies or pack an extra book.
2 Newark - Traffic And Then Some (Con)
Public transit not your thing and planning on driving or taking a taxi to Newark Airport from Lower Manhattan? That’ll take forty-five minutes, if you’re lucky. Prepare yourself to spend double that time for the trip, depending on the time of day.
Whether you take the Lincoln Tunnel or the Holland Tunnel, you’re likely to hit a wall of traffic trying to cross the Hudson River into New Jersey. Plan accordingly if you’re a nervous traveller!
1 Newark - Bye Bye Budget (Con)
A 2017 study by RewardExpert found that Newark Airport came in as the most expensive airport in the United States to fly to and from, with an average domestic fare of US$429. Additionally, the study found that Newark Liberty had the highest prices for food purchases of any airport in the country. Maybe that airplane casserole isn’t that bad, hey?
Unfortunately, none of these airports represent the world-class city that is New York very well, however hopefully this list will be useful when booking your next NYC adventure.