Which NYC Airport Should You Choose: LGA, JFK, or EWR?

Published August 10, 2023

Written by:

Shawn Forno

If you want to learn about budget travel, minimalist carry on packing, or how to travel (and even live and...

Edited by:

Fred Perrotta
Fred Perrotta
Fred Perrotta

Fred Perrotta is the co-founder and CEO of Tortuga. His first backpacking trip to Europe inspired him to start the...

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Flying into NYC is always going to be difficult. But if you know how you’re going to get from A to B, where you’re staying, and what your budget is, you’ll be fine. Just stay away from New Jersey.

Flying into New York City for the first time is exciting. Heck, I still get a little thrill when the plane banks and I see that iconic skyline. But New York is the busiest airport system in the US—and it shows. Getting to and from JFK, LGA, and Newark isn’t awesome. The only way to navigate NYC’s airports and the transit system going and coming is with a carry on sized travel backpack. Roller bags are, literally, a drag in NYC.

Expensive cabs, confusing subway lines, construction, massive delays, and constantly changing fares makes it tough to choose the right NYC airport. And while every trip and every budget are different, there’s usually a right answer to the question, “Which NYC airport should I fly into?” And there’s no one answer to, “Which airport is closest to NYC?” because it’s a big place, and it depends on where you’re going—Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens—after you land.

Here’s a look at the logistics of landing at each NYC airport, and the pros and cons of JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark. Hopefully it helps you navigate the chaos.

Which Airports are in NYC?

New York City is serviced by three major airports:

  • John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)
  • LaGuardia Airport (LGA)
  • Newark International Airport (EWR)

John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK): AKA “The Airport”

While LGA is slowly growing on me, JFK is still the “best” airport in New York City. For many New Yorkers, JFK airport is their go-to for a few simple reasons:

  • Connected to the subway (via the A, E lines and AirTrain)
  • Has the most flights and time options, both domestic and international
  • Isn’t in New Jersey

62.6 million passengers passed through JFK in 2019, so if you like crowds (you’re visiting NYC, so you obviously do) get excited to land at one of the busiest airports in America. The good news is that JFK is built to handle the volume. The terminals are modern(ish), the infrastructure is decent, and of all the NYC airport options, JFK is the most accessible via public transportation.

How long does it take to get to JFK from Manhattan?

Everyone says it takes an hour to get to JFK from Manhattan, but that’s only if the stars align. I always allow 90 minutes to get to JFK on the train, and 30-40 minutes if I take a cab or car.

  • Subway to JFK: 60-90 minutes ($7.75 = $2.75 for the subway + $5 for the AirTrain)
  • Car or taxi to JFK: 30+ minutes ($40-70)

If you’re in town for a few days, don’t try to save money by taking the subway to/from the airport. Bite the bullet and pony up $60 for a cab or a Lyft. However, if you’ve got time to spare or want to save $50, by all means, take the subway.

How do you get to JFK by subway?

The A and E trains (that’s the blue line) both service JFK to/from Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, but you have to connect to the AirTrain to go the final mile. Transfer to the AirTrain at Howard Beach Station (A train) or Jamaica Station (E train).

Tip: If you take the A train to JFK make sure you do not take the Lefferts bound A train.

For some inexplicable reason, the A train that goes to JFK has a weird detour. The Howard Beach/Rockaway bound A train goes to JFK. The Lefferts Blvd. A train doesn’t. The Lefferts Blvd stop is a random little culdesac on the A subway line that just dips into Brooklyn. It goes three stops and turns around. And it makes zero sense. Don’t take the Lefferts train to the airport. You’ll waste a lot of time backtracking to the right train.

How much does it cost to get to JFK by subway vs taxi?

The cost of getting to JFK varies, but you can expect to pay:

  • Subway + AirTrain = $7.75: That’s $2.75 for the subway ride and $5 for the AirTrain.
  • Taxi = $60: If you land late at night and luck out with construction and traffic it can be closer to $40 (depending on your destination). But traffic can make it $70 in a heartbeat.
  • Lyft = $45-60: A Lyft pool can save you about $15, but be careful about that arrival time if you take a pool. JFK detours are pretty common.
  • Bus = N/A: I’ve never heard of anyone taking a shuttle bus to JFK. If you do, let me know.

How are JFK’s airport amenities?

Honestly, who cares about airport “amenities?” I mean, really? Either you’re some kind of diamond-ultra-plus-extra airport lounge member or you’re just another jetlagged, bleary-eyed transit hobo searching for an outlet. And you’re probably wearing UGG boots. And no one in New York cares.  

If you’re at JFK super late, Terminal 1 has 2- hour dining options. So that’s cool. And Boingo offers “complimentary wi-fi” which basically means nothing.

Once you’re through the terminal, all NYC airports are basically the same. They have food, coffee, alcohol, overpriced Bluetooth headphones, Dan Brown novels, and Annie’s Pretzels. There are always pretzels. And if you didn’t get your “I Heart NY” t-shirt they’re a bargain at $38 a pop.

Flight Options at JFK

JFK is a major hub that serves basically every destination in the world, including Iceland (you used to have to fly from Boston). If you want to fly to Europe direct, fly from JFK.

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LaGuardia (LGA): The Airport You Forgot About

LaGuardia is the dark horse of NYC airports. It’s closer to Manhattan than JFK or Newark (about 8.5 miles compared to 15 and 16 miles), but it’s somehow doesn’t feel very close. And that’s all thanks to the NYC Taxi Lobby.

How do you get from LaGuardia to Manhattan or Brooklyn?

Without getting into it, the NYC Taxi Union worked really hard to keep LGA from getting a subway connection in the 1970s. That means the subway lines stop about a mile from the airport. Aren’t special interest groups awesome? If you want to get to LGA via public transit you have to take the subway, walk a few blocks, transfer to a bus, then hopefully get out at the right terminal.

If that doesn’t sound like fun, you can take a taxi or rideshare service. Funny how that works out. The only problem with driving to LGA is that it’s undergoing massive upgrades to basically every single terminal. It’s going to look amazing—in about 5 years. Until then, get ready for construction delays and expensive cab fares.

How much does it cost to get to LGA from Manhattan or Brooklyn?

The cost of getting to LGA varies depending on where you are in NYC, but you can expect to pay:

  • Subway + Bus transfer = $2.75: But if you’ve got a big bag or you’re in a hurry, it’s not worth it.
  • Taxi/Lyft = $25-40: To get to LGA from Williamsburg, it could cost as little as $20 for a taxi or Lyft. Expect to pay a little more, up to $40 if you’re coming from Manhattan. If you’re staying in Queens, Midtown, or Williamsburg, by all means fly into/out of LGA.

Flight Options at LGA

LGA serves both international and domestic destinations. LGA is a little smaller than JFK, but that’s like saying LeBron James isn’t as tall as Shaq. Of course, he’s not, but he can still dunk on everyone you’ve ever met. LGA is big and flies everywhere.

Local Tip

Pay super close attention to your terminal—especially if you’re on the bus. LGA is really really spread out. It takes 15 mins to walk from one terminal to another, and there’s no shuttle or tram or anything. If you have to transfer terminals or your terminal changes last minute you’re in for a schlepp.

Newark (EWR) Airport: The Other Other Airport

Yes, Newark is technically a “New York City” airport even though it’s in a different state. And it’s about the same distance from Manhattan as JFK, so it’s easy to assume that flying into Newark is the same as flying into JFK. But you couldn’t be more wrong.

Newark is notoriously difficult to get to using the subway and NJ Transit, and a taxi routinely costs $70-100. It has to do with the fare to get into the city ($15+) and traffic on the bridges and tunnels. I don’t usually fly into Newark because it’s just too danged far with too many variables. A flight has to be at least $200 cheaper for me to even consider flying into EWR.

How do you get to and from Newark Airport by subway or bus?

The one exception to my Newark hate is the Newark Airport Express shuttle bus, which is the best way to get from Newark to Manhattan. This marvel of janky bus travel once got me from Penn Station (in Manhattan, a 10-minute walk from Times Square) to my terminal at Newark in 17 minutes. I know that sounds impossible, and it is—but it happened.

The express bus costs $18 (one-way) and runs from 4:45am – 2am (it starts at 4:15am from EWR). It stops at Port Authority, Grand Central, and Bryant Park and doesn’t stop anywhere else. If you like that bus from Harry Potter, you’ll love the Newark Airport Express.

How much does it cost to get to and from Newark Airport from Manhattan?

Honestly, I’ve tried getting to Newark on the train and it’s just a confusing nightmare. All of the stops are named Penn Station (there’s one in Manhattan and New Jersey), and you have to transfer at least three times from other places in NYC. If you’re rich take a cab, if you’re broke take the bus.

  • Newark Airport Express Shuttle Bus $18 one-way ($30 roundtrip): Fast, cheap, and sketchy is the only way to get to Newark. Pick it up from Penn station in Manhattan (a 12-minute walk or 1 subway stop away from Times Square).
  • Taxi/Rideshare = $70-100: You have to pay bridge tolls, and traffic can be murder.
  • Subway and NJ Transit = $12.50 + $2.75 (MTA): It seems like the NJ AirTrain is getting better, but I just can’t manage to use it. Bus all the way!

Local Tip

Newark typically pops up as a slightly cheaper flight option than JFK or LGA, but there’s a reason you save $40 or $50 on a flight to Newark.

If you’re going to Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, or the Bronx from Newark, you’ll be hit with tolls and crappy flight times. Whenever you drive into the city of New York from the New Jersey side, you have to pay a toll. And it’s a nasty toll—$15 to $17 per car depending on which bridge you use. When you take a taxi, that toll gets slapped onto the price of your fare. Both ways.

If you want to pay steep tolls or leave for the airport at 3am, fly out of Newark airport. Otherwise, it’s not worth it unless you’re saving at least $200 on your airfare.

Can you take the NYC subway to and from the airport?

Yes, you can take the subway to JFK, LaGuardia, or Newark. JFK is the easiest to access by subway. LaGuardia requires a transfer to a bus, and Newark can be confusing and requires several transfers.

Some people understand the NYC subway and some people don’t. Personally, I don’t understand what’s so confusing about it, but, for some people, it is. I’m not here to judge. If the colorful MTA subway map looks like the fever dream of a preschool finger painting don’t use the subway to get to the airport. It’s not for you, and that’s ok.

Taxis, rideshares, and even shuttle buses will get you to any of the three NYC airports. It’ll just cost another $40.

If you still want to risk it, plan your subway trip to Newark, JFK, or LGA on Google Maps (it’s what I use). But remember, NYC is chaotic. Check on the status of your train and don’t be surprised if your line isn’t running after 11pm (it happens) or it’s under construction. (NYC infrastructure is a mess right now).

Looking at a map of New York, it’s easy to assume that everything is pretty close to each other. Manhattan is only 12 miles long, and New Jersey is just over the river. It must all be connected, right? Not even a little bit. 

I’ve lived in NYC on and off for over 10 years and I’ve been to the Bronx twice (once for a Yankees game) and Staten Island once (on the ferry). I can’t tell you the last time I’ve been to Queens, but it wasn’t this year. The thing is, I have nothing against these boroughs. They’re just too danged far away.

I would spend well over an hour to get from my house in Brooklyn to any of these spots. And most are within a few miles. It’s just the way the city is built. So don’t assume that your final destination is close to your airport of choice just by looking at a map. Do the math. Then add 30 minutes.

Which is the Best Airport to Fly into NYC?

For most people traveling in and out of New York, JFK is the best airport to fly into. It’s the easiest to get to/from on the subway and has a good variety of flight departure times and destinations.

LaGuardia (LGA) is a good second choice if you’re staying in Queens, Midtown, or Williamsburg and willing to take a taxi to/from the airport.

Newark (EWR), however, should be your last choice. Even if flights to Newark are $50-$80 cheaper than JFK or LGA, you might end up paying the difference in fare on a taxi, or braving New York’s confusing public transportation to/from the airport.

What’s the Best Luggage for NYC?

NYC airports are massive. Whether you’re taking public transportation or hailing a Lyft after you land, the airports themselves are among the busiest (and most crowded) in the country. You’re better off with a comfortable travel backpack to navigate the crowds than a cumbersome rolling suitcase.

You don’t want to be stuck waiting at the baggage carousel either — go carry on only so you can hit the ground running when you land.

If you’re taking public transportation you do not want to deal with a suitcase on the train, nor do you want to lug it up the subway stairs when you reach your stop. Be agile with a carry on travel backpack.

Carry-On-Sized Travel Backpacks

Bring everything you need without checking a bag.

  • Carry-On-Sized
  • Easy to pack
  • Comfortable to carry
  • Built to last
Shop at Tortuga

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Shawn Forno

If you want to learn about budget travel, minimalist carry on packing, or how to travel (and even live and work) in dozens of countries all over the world, Shawn is your guy. Shawn is not a New York Times bestselling travel author, but he is a full-time freelance blogger, copywriter, and content manager and is also a published photographer. He likes to rock climb, trek, surf, ride his bike, and read a bunch of sci-fi books.

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