Save precious minutes when riding the AirTrain JFK

I can never justify the cost of a taxi from Manhattan to JFK Airport when I travel alone, and instead go with the NYC Subway or Long Island Railroad that connects to the JFK AirTrain at either Jamaica station or Howard Beach station. It costs only $7.50 to take the subway + AirTrain or $15.50 for the faster LIRR + AirTrain combo.

When you take the AirTrain from Manhattan to JFK, you either begin at Jamaica station (off the E train or LIRR) or at Howard Beach station (off the A train). From there you head toward toward JFK Airport via Federal Circle station. The train you initially ride into the airport stops at Terminal 1 first, then visits Terminal 2, Terminal 4, Terminal 5, Terminal 7, and Terminal 8 in that order. It can be a long ride if you need to fly out of Terminal 8, but it doesn’t have to be.

The AirTrains from Howard Beach and Jamaica run counterclockwise on the “outer loop” of the 2 tracks. There is a separate “inner loop” for a train that only visits airport terminals. This train runs clockwise, in the opposite direction as the outer loop.

Outer loop goes counterclockwise; inner loop goes clockwise

Outer loop goes counterclockwise; inner loop goes clockwise

That means if you are flying out of Terminal 8 at JFK, it’s best to get off the “outer loop” train at Terminal 1 and switch to an “inner loop” train, where Terminal 8 is the next stop, instead of 5 stops away. Terminal 8 includes American Airlines, Air Berlin, FinnAir, LAN, Qatar Airways, Royal Jordanian, TAM, and US Airways.

It might even be best to do this switch if you are flying out of Terminal 7, but the time savings may not be as phenomenal unless you’re able to catch an inner loop train quickly. Terminal 7 includes Air Canada, ANA, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Iberia, Icelandair, OpenSkies, Qantas, and United.

It takes about 2 minutes to go from station to station, and trains run every 10 minutes on the inner loop.

The same idea exists if you are trying to depart the airport from Terminal 1 or Terminal 2. Get on the inner loop train and get off at Terminal 8. Switch to the outer loop track to catch a Howard Beach train or Jamaica train (or either if you’re going to Federal Circle).

Knowing your way around the AirTrain JFK can mean the difference between running to your gate vs. being able to make a quick lounge visit. Just read what this American Airlines flyer has to tweet 😉

I know I’ll be doing this “trick” a lot in the coming future for American Airlines in Terminal 8, seeing as how a certain EXcePtional stAAtus appeared this morning for me 😀

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  • dave

    slow news day? :)

    • Amol

      I hear there’s a Lufthansa credit card …. 😉

      • Heather L. Cannady


  • The #hustle Blog

    I like this! Will be using it a lot as well since we’re exclusively AA for the next year or so.

  • Heather L. Cannady

    Airtrain is the bane of my existence. Before it came to NYC Metro there was a FREE bus that got you to your destination, seemingly quicker. That and there was person(al) service letting you know where to go if you were confused. This slow Disney ride replaced it and I have been multiples of $7 poorer every since.

    • bk3day

      If you live in NYC & use JFK more than 5x per year why are you paying $5 per ride for the Airtrain?

      Rather, it would save both money & time to use the Airtrain 10 ride ticket. ($25 for 10 one way Airtrain rides)

      • Heather L. Cannady

        My goodness. How have I never heard of this! But I prob don’t JFK it 5x a year. Oh well.

  • Jake from MSP

    Great tip! I’ll be honest, I’ve always been intimidated by the airtrain + subway route so I’ve always just ponied up the taxi cash.

    • Heather L. Cannady

      Just let me know when you want to head out to JFK and we will split. As you can see, I HATE AirTrain! You know what I need to try one day? Taking the M60 to LGA from Manhattan and then catching a cab from there.

    • Scottrick

      I took the taxi to JFK just last weekend. Running out of time and the E was running local only. But the taxi is incredibly expensive, and not a whole lot faster.

      • Heather L. Cannady

        Why not LIRR?

        • Scottrick

          It took me 30 minutes to get from Herald Square to Lexington and 59th. I wasn’t about to get back in a taxi to go to Penn Station.

          • Joey

            @Scott, by taxi? Or by subway? You could have taken the yellow line (N,R) from Herald Sq to 59/lex stop which should take less than 30 mins.

          • Scottrick

            By Taxi. I was somewhere near there (not sure exactly where), waiting for the F for 20 minutes, and when it finally arrived I found out that it was only making one more stop before Queens. So I figured it would be faster to get out and take a taxi (I needed to get to Roosevelt Island). Not once have I been in New York and found the subway system operating normally, and for whatever reason these notices are only obvious once you get down to the station platform or inside the train.

          • Changger

            There’s always service changes on the weekends due to maintenance. Next time you’re in NYC on a weekend, check out for service changes.

          • Heather L. Cannady

            The Weekender. Sounds nice. Is the worst thing ever.

  • Richard

    This is indeed a smart strategy, but it’s important to quickly check the overhead monitor to make sure that the inner track is operating in the right direction. I was running late recently and got burned by this strategy when it turned out that the train was operating in reverse for some reason.

    (It’s easy to check quickly — the overhead monitor says what the next stop will be.)

    • Jason Zevin

      Yes, when AirTrain first started, I assumed that they would run in opposite directions, because otherwise, what is the point of having two tracks, really? But it did not. Much muttering ensued. Check the monitors.

  • Jamison @ Points Summary

    often times only 1 track is working while the other side is closed

  • Joey

    I live in NYC and prefer LGA or EWR since JFK is just too far and such a pain to get to! 😉 Normally if I do have to go to JFK, I take one of the shuttles that leave from Grand Central. Costs $15 one-way. Can’t beat that. If I’m arriving at JFK and have heavy luggage, I take the airlink ($18 one-way) or super shuttle ($23 one-way) from the airport to my apt in Manhattan since my apt bldg is a 10 minute walk from the closest subway stop.
    *If I am pressed for time, I’ll take the taxi and <> pay that hefty fee. Good thing all NYC taxis take credit cards!!!

    • Amol

      I always forget about the shuttles that leave PABT and GCT. I’ll have to keep those in mind for future trips.

      • SuperWittySmitty

        There’s nothing worse than sitting in a shuttle bus in bumper-to-bumper traffic, late for your fli8ght, while the air train zips along above you in frequent intervals. I ride back and forth to JFK from mid-town and it’s usually a breeze. While I have encountered delays, there’s been nothing significant. Some people expect it to be perfect, requiring no thought, but I pay attention, learn, and think in advance, and then plan my trip efficiently.

  • homer

    Thanks for posting this info! Very helpful & makes travel tad bit easier.

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  • Annu

    I’ve to travel from terminal 7 to 8 at JFK as my flight will’be arrived at terminal 7 and depart from terminal 8 and lay over is of only 2 hours and 54 minutes. Which route of air train i’ll prefer. i m travelling from London to Orlando via JFK.