In the latest edition of our famous airport races, TPG members from both sides of the Atlantic teamed up to find out which mode of transportation is the cheapest — and the speediest — way to get from Times Square in New York City to John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK).
To help our readers choose the best option for their own trip, we compared the New York City subway, an iconic yellow cab, the Long Island Rail Road and a Blade helicopter.
Here’s how it went down.
Melanie Lieberman on the subway
We paid: $11 (a $2.75 single-ride subway fare and an $8.25 AirTrain JFK ticket).
If you’re on a budget, the subway is the cheapest way to get to the airport. Period. No matter where you are in the city, you’re never far from a subway station and connecting on the AirTrain JFK is very straightforward. It’s the most efficient option for most people. Sure, the train gets crowded during rush hour, but it’s almost always faster than sitting in gridlocked traffic aboveground.
On the downside, navigating the subway — finding the right platform, choosing the best car, hurrying up and down stairs, and squeezing through throngs of people — can be tricky, especially if you’re hauling around luggage.
Depending on the station (and your level of attention), it’s easy to get confused and end up on the wrong platform. You also need to make sure you have your MetroCard pre-loaded (you can’t use a monthly unlimited pass or tap-and-go) to pay for the AirTrain. Otherwise, you’ll need to build in extra time to buy a ticket.
Madison Blancaflor and Liam Spencer in a taxi
We paid: $98.16 (through the Curb taxi app).
Taking a taxi to JFK is incredibly convenient, especially if you have luggage. There are no transfers or additional walking required, and you’ll be dropped off right in front of your terminal. As an added bonus, compared to the subway, it’s much more comfortable, with plenty of room to spread out and relax.
Remember, if you’re hailing a cab in the city, look for a cab with the rooftop medallion light illuminated and give the driver a wave.
Sign up for our daily newsletter
Madison and Liam arrived second, surpassed only by Nicky in the helicopter. When the roads are clear, a cab is certainly a speedy option to reach the airport. Be warned, though. Traffic in New York City can be unpredictable — construction, an accident or just a busy traffic day on the roads can cause serious delays. We also paid nearly $100, which is a lot more expensive than using public transportation.
Tanner Saunders on the Long Island Rail Road
We paid: $13.25 (a $5 one-way Long Island Rail Road city ticket and an $8.25 AirTrain ticket).
Being able to catch a direct train from the new Grand Central Madison station (beneath Grand Central Terminal) to JFK is incredibly convenient for travelers leaving from the west side of midtown Manhattan — and the just-opened station is sparkling clean and modern.
Though the new JFK route will surely get busy, Tanner was able to snag a seat on a nearly empty train that was clean, comfortable and spacious, especially compared to the subway. Traveling with luggage and taking the Long Island Rail Road is a superior experience.
The new Grand Central Madison terminal is gorgeous. However, it can be difficult to find and requires taking multiple escalators. Transferring from the LIRR at Jamaica Station is never a fun experience due to crowding.
It’s also not ideal that you either need to have a MetroCard pre-loaded with money to enter or must wait in line to purchase an AirTrain-specific ticket. You also need to allow yourself enough time to walk from the AirTrain to the airport terminal.
Trains on this route are scheduled to operate at least every 30 minutes between Grand Central Madison and Jamaica Station, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said it will likely increase frequencies. Tanner’s fare also reflects an off-peak price — it can cost more to take the LIRR during peak days and times. If you’re buying an LIRR ticket from Grand Central to JFK, look for trains on the route to Jamaica, Queens.
Nicky Kelvin in a Blade helicopter
We paid: $295 (a $100 ground transfer and a $195 Blade ticket).
Speed is the name of the game here. With the Blade helicopter ride taking just five minutes, it was going to be very difficult for the rest of the team to win first place. The Blade lounge is comfortable and stocked with complimentary refreshments.
Flying over Manhattan in a helicopter is an incredible experience in itself, providing unparalleled views of the city and of JFK (great if you also adore planes).
Is it the most efficient way to get to the airport? If you are not near the heliports in Manhattan, the time taken to get to the departure point will quickly eat away at your time-saving. This was not an issue from Times Square.
However, it could be if you’re traveling from much farther away and navigating heavy traffic. The Blade experience is admittedly far more expensive than other methods, too, but at peak times, a cab could be almost the same cost, if not more.