Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

No One Knows How to Get to JFK from Williamsburg (OR DO THEY?)

New York City's airport problem is legendary. JFK is extremely far, LaGuardia is extremely small, and Newark is in New Jersey. (One secret is that in many ways Newark is the best airport for New York—depending! It all always depends.)

Sloppy thinking in New York City might tell you that the best way to go long distances is via cab. You don't have to think, you can see the speed you're making and, you know, you feel like a rich lady. But the transit systems of New York have been improving radically over the last ten years (though the improvements can destroy your weekends!) and now? No one agrees on how to get to JFK from North Brooklyn. I asked, people answered, and no one agrees. Taxi! Livery service! LIE! LIRR! The… J train???

Obviously, if price is an issue, the pub transpo is your best option. You can get to JFK, if you play your cards right, for like one subway and one bus fare. Also you might die of boredom. Also you can spend $45 easy (or $450—see helicopter suggestion). And then the problem with cabs is: who knows! Time to airport can be +/- a full hour.

In the middle is the car/train combo (smart!) and the LIRR, which is mildly more expensive than the subway BUT has departure and arrival times, which are ALWAYS exact. It's a great reason to take the LIRR. You never know about the subways. But and then…

Depends on time of day but: L (or J?) to A to Airtrain is always speedier than I think it will be. LIRR is a red herring.less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

L train to Bway junction, switch to the A to rockaway, total time about 1.5 hours. Not that fast, but cheap!less than a minute ago via Twitter for BlackBerry® Favorite Retweet Reply

the LIRR is way more reliable than the subway. #LI4life less than a minute ago via TweetDeck Favorite Retweet Reply

actually it doesn't matter. car service -> LIE -> van wyck.less than a minute ago via Twitter for Mac Favorite Retweet Reply

CAR. Northside will do it for $30 I think? I've taken the L to the A & the L to the LIRR, but it takes FOREVER. Car is MUCH faster.less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

If afternoon/early evening, take United car service ($10?) to Hunterspoint LIRR. Take LIRR to Airtrain. The fastest. #strongfeelingless than a minute ago via Twitter for Mac Favorite Retweet Reply

This is an opinion I especially value, as it truly smells like a person who knows what she's doing.

Your first mistake was deciding to fly out of JFK. Everyone knows LGA is THE Williamsburg airport (15 minutes door to door!).less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

Technically true—LGA is extremely close (and incredibly loud, hi-o!)—but it also has like 1.5 runways and if a raindrop falls everything gets shut down and it becomes a horrific refugee camp in MINUTES. All of my air travel professionals won't fly into LGA if they can help it.

Helicopter from the roof of Diner. Get the mussels/kir royale combo to go!less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

I mean, obvs. Also? SEAPLANE.

the JMZ is incredibly quick for Billyburg –> JFK.less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

The other advantage to the J, it has been pointed out, is that it is above-ground! For all your texting and talking needs.

But here is from Hamilton Nolan: G to Court Square, E to Sutphin Blvd., then Airtrain.

What? This sounds CRAZY. But let us look!

The secret here is the E's total number of stops on that route. VERY FEW. It's almost all straight-up express. He suggests you set aside an hour.

(Also, let us never forget? The Airtrain, God bless it, ain't all that great! You can wait for 15 minutes for one of those! Which seems inexcusable?)

Google Maps also suggests the L to the A to the Airtrain, and the L to the Q03 bus (WHAT).

But then Google Maps also says a cab from Williamsburg to JFK takes 23 minutes. Um, GO BACK TO MOUNTAIN VIEW.

Can you do better? I don't think I can. But I'm doing one of these right now.

44 Comments / Post A Comment

allyzay (#321)

I repeat my advice to you: I personally enjoy the G greatly, but you HAVE to double check that it is in fact terminating at Court Square before you get on it. Like, it very regularly decides to do something else these days. Sometimes you have to transfer 3 times even though you are still on the G? I dunno, it is just a very persnickity little train.

I always take car service but I live in South Brooklyn like a civilized person so it's a short ride, LOL!

@allyzay Yeah and I would do almost NONE of these on nights or weekends.


3 pm, 11th and Driggs: Closed computer. SWEATY.

3:12 pm, G train arrived.

3:16 pm, 21st/Ely, LIC.

3:18 pm, Court Sq

3:20 pm, E arrives (NB: These were not ordinary train connections!)

3:44 pm, Sutphin Blvd

Train time: 33 min
Smoke break!

3:51 on Airtrain

3:59 JFK Terminal 1

4:08 JFK Terminal 8.

Multiphasic (#411)

As regards 3:20, did you also get literally lost in the tunnels trying to make this new connection? I have been late to Mets games because of the remodel, which is actually a mercy but nevermind that, YOUR PROGRESS IS A LIE.

Lockheed Ventura (#5,536)

@Choire Sicha Yes, E train to Airtrain is the way to go, and should take an hour with well timed connections.

Remember public transit to JFK in the days before the Air Train! Now THAT was crazy.

ejcsanfran (#489)

@Lockheed Ventura: I remember "The Train to the Plane"!

I also remember I had a friend who worked for an airline – and was thus able to fly the helicopter from Midtown to JFK for $11 – which, as I recall, was less than the price of the airport bus from Grand Central.

@Choire Sicha That is a miracle of public transportation!

sigerson (#179)

@Choire Sicha SHAZAM! Nicely done.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

@Choire Sicha
Wait, how can my A train from INWOOD (to Howard Beach then Airtrain) be just 24 minutes longer than this?

LloydBraun (#13,503)

Since I've done this so many times, my most recent trip I decided to change it up:

(JFK -> Burg) Airtran to Jamaica, BUS (Q54 i believe?) let me off right at my doorstep! Corner of Grand and Bedford. It took 40 mins, and was a pleasant ride.

@LloydBraun Time of day? I used to live at Metro & Flushing and take the Q54 all the time to Forest Hills (do not ask!) and found the 54 to be AWESOME except when it SUCKED. Weekend days suck on Metro. Ave as soon as you get into the Queens part.

Your first mistake was starting in Williamsburg.

Multiphasic (#411)

Team L to A to Airtrain. It's the no-fucking-about route, and if you can't sit quietly reading a book for an hour, you have no business on an airplane. And if you can't get covertly drunk off gin and Squirt, you have no business taking the A past Franklin.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

This attitude is so totally right and life-saving. A ride to the Howard Beach with no line changes equals a decent start on your main airplane book. But I hope "gin and Squirt" is a figure of speech that means "gin from a Squirt bottle."

alli525 (#16,797)

@Multiphasic Nope Squirt is a grapefruit-flavored soda (sold primarily in the midwest, where of course they – correctly – call it POP) and is similar to, like, Fresca, but better.
Excellent with gin.

SeanP (#4,058)

@alli525 Holy crap, I want a Squirt RIGHT NOW

Multiphasic (#411)

@alli525 There was some thought to experimenting with gin and Mountain Dew Code Red, but the jury's still out on that one.

No, correction, the jury is dead.

jolie (#16)

DADDY NO DON'T LEAVE US. Mommy smokes too much and says things like "I've got a blood sausage for ya right here!"

Paul B@twitter (#13,135)

Avoid the G when you can. Regardless of schedule the LIRR is FAR from reliable. I've taken trains that ran 20 minutes late with the apology that the train was unable to go fast. The LIRR does not care about timeliness or making up trains that have been cancelled or are running late. That being said, most of the time it's fine.

What about Eastern Parkway/Atlantic to Conduit to the Parkway? Surface streets give you more options and are less prone to sphincter-clenching gridlock.

Also: LGA might be preferable for its proximity, but for cross-country flights, JFK is pretty much your only option. I mean, they call it "flyover country" for a reason.

brent_cox (#40)

I'm still trying to figure out the sneaky way to drive there, when dropping off/picking up. I used to always take the Jackie b/c of scenic-ness and then end up lost in Flushing looking for a way to turn around.

Multiphasic (#411)

@brent_cox See immediately above. Conduit. It is the exact opposite of scenic, but it often saves 20+ minutes compared to the Van Wyck.

coleslaw (#593)

@brent_cox Bonus: on the Conduit route lives the city's saddest horse, in a paddock just off an on-ramp. Wave hi to him!

Atencio (#399)

@coleslaw I'm pretty sure Alex McCord is the saddest horse in the city.

jfruh (#713)

I do Carroll Garden to JFK a couple times a year and all the times I've ever tried to take a non-train vehicle I've regretted it terribly! It's always because someone helpful happens to have a car and is all like "Oh, no, don't ride the rain like a poor person, enjoy my air-conditioned ride," and then we spent like 45 minutes going six inches on the BQE. F -> A -> AirTrain always takes about 1:15, and the A part is tedious, but it's never more than a few minutes more or less than 1:15, so it's easy to plan around.

(Also every time I do this from Smith & 9th I think "if the G comes before the F I'll take that and switch to the A at Hoyt-Schlemerhorn," but the G NEVER comes before the F, obviously. In my mind, this will be an easier transfer because I won't have to schlep luggage up and over to the other platform like I have to at Jay Street, but maybe this isn't the case? I've never actually done it.)

uh, yeah, I have a better idea–Laguardia or Newark. Seriously, I haven't flown outta JFK for years.

apb (#9,461)

Really people? LGA is basically held together with duct tape.

brianvan (#149)

This is where we note that Greyhound or Peter Pan (or Bolt or Fung Wah or whatever your flavor) will probably get you to a Northeastern city faster than a flight + airport commute, when all is accounted for, and the cost difference is eye-popping. Train rates to extra-regional cities are competitive with flights if you have the time (also: no soul-destroying body screening), but I wouldn't try to go farther than Chicago or Miami that way. Also, I've NEVER had that much free time, so.

For all other trips, I swear by LIRR/AirTrain. That 12 minute wait is par-for-the-course, and seems like the sort of inefficient thing that would be a legacy of Gov. Pataki. Still, it does not detract from the overall trip's relative efficiency. From Penn Station to terminal, it's consistently 50-60 minutes.

To that extent, here are some places to hop on the LIRR to D'yer-make-r (about 10-15 minutes for that segment, from departure time) that do not involve dragging one's self up to Penn Station:

* Atlantic Terminal
* Nostrand Avenue (one block from Bedford)
* Hunterspoint Avenue
* Kew Gardens (a short distance from the Jackie Robinson)
* Woodside

Of all of these (and very much uniquely – most of these stations have wimpy off-hours service), Woodside seems to be the place where you end up stopping at all times of night almost anytime you're attempting the shortest trip from Penn to Jamaica, annoyingly. So it stands to reason that it would be the best place to hang out if you needed an off-hours train on that route without dealing with Penn. The 7 train stops there, and it's very close to the BQE. The schedule is here:

I've never had to transfer at Woodside so I do not know how much it mitigates the misery of a JFK commute, but I would say that [SOMETHING]-LIRR-AirTrain beats any option you have for [SOMETHING]-Subway-AirTrain as long as your timing lines up well with scheduled LIRR service.

But if I were you, I'd just do what all the comedians do and move to Astoria so that you're right next to LGA so you can quickly fly out to do all those stand-up shows you're booking in the heartland. (MISS U ALLEN SALKIN)

DennyCrane (#1,803)

@brianvan I'd say that at least one in every 3 trains coming to/from Penn Station stop at Woodside. (It's about the same for East New York for trains coming to/from Atlantic Terminal, though navigating the Broadway Junction area to get to the LIRR stop may be a bit of a bitch.)

LIRR trains stop so rarely at Kew Gardens and Forest Hills that the chances of you actually catching the train at a time that makes sense with an imminent flight departure is remote, especially during off-peak hours, plus if you got there on the train you might as well continue to Jamaica Center at that point.

brianvan (#149)

@DennyCrane Sure. But in the rare case someone lives or happens to be right nearby one of those lesser-used stations, they get a hit at least twice an hour. Woodside is far superior though. Especially from Williamsburg.

sigerson (#179)


iantenna (#5,160)

this whole debate reminds me of antoine batiste and his never ending battle with the cab drivers of new orleans.

Aatom (#74)

You'd think living in NJ would make getting to NWK easier and/or cheaper. It doesn't! $50 cab ride is pretty much your only option! Jersey4Life!

Tulletilsynet (#333)

That's why I moved into Penn Station.

Normally in these situations I would say "try taking ur butt." I'm not sure if that advice would be taken in the spirit it was intended in this case, however.

kevinizon (#16,670)



How can we get that in motion? I'd bet people would take the train from NYC to get that bus too.


The post totally pwned Gothamist.

El Knid (#10,432)

If you're close to the L train, than, perversely, your best bet ends up being taking the L to the A INTO MANHATTAN to Penn Station, setting you up for an amazingly fast and uncomplicated LIRR-to-Airtain connection to JFK — ~40 minutes from when you leave Penn Station, including transfer time.

SeanP (#4,058)

The DC area has a similar dilemma without the benefit of good public transport options. National (no one calls it "Reagan" in these parts) is freaking impossible to get in and out of by car, and you can't count on finding a parking place if you do manage to find the airport. There's a Metro stop, but unless you live within walking distance (with luggage) of some other Metro stop, that doesn't help much (parking at Metro stops varies from poor to non-existent). Dulles is in the middle of freaking nowhere, and BWI is, well, in another state. I've flown from all of them, and they all suck. A lot of people in this area like to fly out of Richmond, but the airfares from there are outrageous and you can't get a direct flight anywhere.

“I love your blog. I really like the New York City's airport problem is legendary. JFK is extremely far, LaGuardia is extremely small, and Newark is in New Jersey. (One secret is that in many ways Newark is the best airport for New York—depending! It all always depends., reports on your blog. I also have Is It Wise to Use Airport Car Service?. support website at

As a longterm Williamsburg resident and California native (very few flights to the west coast originate from LGA) I can definitively state that 1) L-A-AirTrain is the most reliable method, except in case of late nigth or early morning departures, in which case the car service is SO MUCH FASTER.

can't believe no one mentioned that you can take the J/Z straight to Jamaica Blvd and get the Airtrain from there. The Z is the money train since it goes express for long stretches, but the J can take a little while. The main advantage is that depending on how much luggage you have, there's no ridiculous transfer at Bway Junction, plus there are more J/Z stations with elevators compared to the L train. And it will never be as crowded as the L train, especially on late afternoons.

A G@twitter (#232,911)

Airtrain is for the 1%. Take the free transfer to/from the Q10 bus from the 119th St. J stop or Lefferts Blvd. A stop, and save $10 a trip.

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