The glamorous days of flying have departed. Today an airport layover is a test of patience and wit, especially at NYC’s busy airports: John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in southern Queens, LaGuardia Airport (LGA) in northern Queens and Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) in Newark, NJ. But you don’t need to channel Tom Hanks in The Terminal -- here are some ideas to make the best of your limbo time.
If you’ve got a whole day to kill, lucky you, you can explore NYC. But keep in mind that during rush hour and bad weather, what is normally an hour trip into Manhattan can easily become a much longer journey.
Assuming that leg room, decent food and fresh air will be sorely lacking during your flight, a perfect layover activity might involve window shopping along Fifth Avenue or a walk through Central Park (assuming you have little carry-on luggage), followed by a great meal at any number of restaurants. You may also want to visit The Empire State Building (buy an Express Pass, which gets you to the front of the line.)
If you’re jetting into JFK or LaGuardia and have just a few hours, Queens is no slouch when it comes to culture and cuisine. Visit the Louis Armstrong Museum in Corona or the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria. And dig into a seafood meal at venerable London Lennie’s in Rego Park, or go for Chinese at Joe’s Shanghai in Flushing.
Coming and Going
A taxi is the easiest way to get to Manhattan, especially if you are unfamiliar with NYC. In a perfect world (translation: no traffic) JFK and Newark airports are about an hour’s ride into Midtown Manhattan. LaGuardia is a quicker 35-minute jaunt. And, yes, you can rent a car at all 3 airports, but you do not want to drive into Manhattan. Period.
By taxi, the metered fare averages $25, plus tolls and tips, and covers all passengers. You can also travel by shared bus/van supershuttle.com for less, but the ride can be longer.
By taxi, the flat fare is $45 and covers all passengers. A cheaper (and not much longer) way to go is AirTrain JFK. The light rail service terminates at the Howard Beach, Queens, subway where you can catch the A train (subway) to Manhattan. Or take the AirTrain another 3 miles into the Jamaica station , and transfer to the Long Island Railroad or the subway to Manhattan.
Wish we could report that free Wi-Fi is a new amenity at all 3 airports, but sadly it still is not. The Jet Blue Terminal T5 at JFK is the 1 exception where Wi-Fi is free. In fact, T5 is unique all across the board -- the restaurants are top-notch and there are even live concerts. Newark and LaGuardia have added some nice eateries and shops, but if you have enough time to sneak away to NYC, proceed with haste.
The chain hotels are well represented near all 3 airports and offer free shuttle service. Newark boasts the only on-site airport hotel, the Newark Liberty Marriott.
Best Terminal to Hang Out
If you’re flying out of JFK and your layover is too short to leave, you’ll want to hang out at Jet Blue’s Terminal 5 (T5) where there are celebrity chef restaurants, massages at XpresSpa, free Wi-Fi and even live concerts. Caveat: You must have a Jet Blue ticket. JFK’s Terminal 8 has a :10 Minute Manicure shop and Bobby Van’s Steakhouse. Newark’s Terminal C has New York favorites -- Gallagher’s Steak House and Crumbs Bake Shop. And Terminals A and B are home to 21 new shops and restaurants. LaGuardia’s Central Terminal is lucky to have Todd English’s renowned Figs Restaurant.
Laurie Bain Wilson writes often about NYC, and is the author of several travel guidebooks, including New York City Made Easy and New York City with Kids.