Best NYC Airport to Fly Into
If you have a choice, which of New York City’s three major airports should you fly into?
There are lots of things to consider when flying out of an airport—restaurants, airport lounges, delays, security—but when flying into an airport, there’s really only one. How quickly can I get out? And how quickly can I get to a shower, food, and/or a bed?
Suitcases on conveyer belt at airport
Fortunately, there’s a lot of data that can help answer this question. We see how Newark, JFK, and LaGuardia airports stack up on what really matters: how fast they can get you out of there.
Landing on time: Newark Airport
The destination airport may not always be to blame for a flight arriving late. But some airports are better at on-time arrivals than others.
According to Bureau of Transportation Statistics data, here is each major NYC airport’s 2015 on-time performance so far:
LGA: 70% on time arrival, average delay 64.73 min
JFK: 75% on time arrival, average delay 63.75 min
Newark: 74% on time arrival, average delay 59.31 min
As you can see, LaGuardia is not even in the running—you’re more likely to be delayed there, and if you are, the average delay is longer.
Between Newark and JFK, it’s a closer contest. Although you’re a shade more likely to be delayed coming into Newark, average delays are over four minutes shorter, giving Newark a very slight edge.
Clearing immigration: Newark Airport
When you’re trapped on a long-haul flight for hours, it’s an incredible feeling when the seatbelt sign turns off and you can stand on your own legs again.
It doesn’t last. When you walk off the plane, the immigration line is waiting for you.
The government keeps data on immigration wait times, and it turns out some airports are better than others, although it takes a bit of number-crunching to compare over a long period. But here is the average wait time per passenger at each Newark and JFK terminal over the past year:
Newark Terminal B: 21.2 min
Newark Terminal C (United): 15.1 min
JFK Terminal 1: 29.6 min
JFK Terminal 4: 19.7 min
JFK Terminal 5 (JetBlue): 10.9 min
JFK Terminal 7 (British): 26.0 min
JFK Terminal 8 (American): 27.0 min
While everyone else looks on with envy at the short wait times at JFK Terminal 5, overall it seems that immigration lines are shorter at Newark. (And to be fair, Terminal 5 doesn’t move that many international passengers.)
Obviously, there are many other factors to take into account. If your plane arrives at the same time as four full Airbus A380s, you’re going to be in for some delays no matter where you land. And numbers vary a lot within terminals. But in general, Newark has a slight edge.
Baggage Claim: None
It’s hard to get good information on how long it takes to get your bags at various airports. But passengers seem to agree that wait times are not good anywhere.
Getting to your home or hotel: LaGuardia Airport
As we’ve pointed out before, while it’s easy to complain about LaGuardia, you can’t beat the convenience of being close to the city. It’s just 8.6 miles from LaGuardia to Midtown Manhattan, compared to 14.7 miles to JFK and 16.6 miles to Newark.
According to Google Maps, without traffic it’s 17 minutes by car from LaGuardia to Grand Central, 27 minutes from JFK and 32 minutes from Newark without traffic.
While you're more likely to see a unicorn than enjoy a drive without traffic in New York City, LaGuardia does have a clear advantage for travel times.
Unless, that is, you are taking…
Public Transport: JFK Airport
JFK isn’t the closest airport to the city, but on public transport it’s a clear winner.
JFK is connected to Manhattan by the AirTrain, which costs $5 to ride and connects to the A, E, J, and Z subway trains and the Long Island Rail Road. Newark has its own AirTrain, but that connects to NJ Transit, which means yet another change when you arrive in the city.
And despite some proposals over the years, LaGuardia doesn’t connect to a train at all. And buses from LaGuardia can be tricky to navigate even when you know the city, let alone when you’re wandering around in a haze of jet lag.
So if you have a choice, which airport do you take? Unfortunately, there’s no clear winner.
The best reasons to come through JFK are if you’re using public transport—which is relatively easy—or if you’re flying internationally through Terminal 5 and you want a better shot at clearing customs fast.
If you live in Queens, on the East Side or in North Brooklyn, the sheer proximity of LaGuardia may outweigh its poor performance on every other measure.
Otherwise, if you’re heading to Manhattan, you might well consider going through Newark, given its (relatively) decent performance on a number of key measures.
We hope this helps! If you need a ride from the airport when you land, be sure to reserve a limo with us before you go.