What’s the fastest way to reach JFK Airport from Manhattan? Travel experts film a fascinating 4-way race between a helicopter, the subway, a taxi and the rail road to find out

  • The epic race, from Times Square, was conducted by The Points Guy travel site
  • The finish line? The new Terminal 8 at JFK, used by American Airlines and BA 
  • READ MORE: How YOU can land an airliner in an emergency

How to get from Manhattan to the airport in time for a flight is a perennial conundrum for Big Apple visitors. 

Gridlock can wreak havoc with taxi journeys, the subway can be too confusing, helicopters are fast (obviously) but getting to the helipad on time can be tricky, and then there’s the Long Island Rail Road. Which for many is a complete mystery. 

Recognising the angst a Manhattan airport transfer journey can cause, travel experts at The Points Guy decided to find out which mode of transport is best for a rapid extraction from the city for departing flyers.

The upshot is a fascinating four-way race from Times Square to the new Terminal 8 at JFK Airport – used by American Airlines and British Airways – between a yellow taxi, the subway, the Long Island Rail Road and a helicopter. 

Here we present a sneak preview of the footage of the contest and the thoughts from the four racers about the ups and downs of their journey.

In a fascinating video, The Points Guy conduct a four-way race from Times Square to the new Terminal 8 at JFK between a yellow taxi, the subway, the Long Island Rail Road and a helicopter. The racers are pictured above (left to right): Melanie Lieberman, Tanner Saunders, Liam Spencer, Nicky Kelvin and Madison Blancaflor

How to get from Manhattan to the airport in time for a flight is a perennial conundrum for Big Apple visitors


Riding the subway to JFK was Melanie Lieberman, Senior Hotels Editor. She paid $2.75 (£2.23) for a single-ride fare to Sutphin Boulevard–Archer Avenue, where she switched to the AirTrain, which cost $8.25 (£6.68). The total, therefore, was $11 (£8.91).

She told MailOnline Travel there were multiple ‘ups’: ‘You can’t beat the price. Period. If you’re on a budget, the subway is the cheapest way to get to the airport. You’re also never far from a subway station, meaning it’s pretty convenient for most people in the city to hop on a train and connect to the AirTrain.

‘What’s more, even though the train gets crowded during rush hour, you won’t have to deal with traffic – even when the trains are delayed, they’re almost always faster than sitting in gridlock traffic.’

Riding the subway to JFK was Melanie Lieberman (above) – Senior Hotels Editor

And the downs? Melanie said: ‘Well, if you’re not paying attention, you might end up standing on the wrong subway platform for a while. Whoops!’

Plus, she said navigating the subway with its various platforms, stairs and crowds with luggage ‘can be extremely difficult’ unless you’re using accessible stations.

Melanie also noted that to pay for the AirTrain you’ll need to have your Metrocard preloaded – you can’t use a monthly unlimited pass or tap-and-go. ‘Otherwise, you need to build in extra time to buy a ticket,’ she said.


In the famous NYC yellow taxi was Madison Blancaflor, Global Features Editor, and Liam Spencer

Liam and Madison paid $98.16 (£79.48) via ride-hailing firm Curb

In the taxi was Madison Blancaflor, Global Features Editor, and Liam Spencer. They paid $98.16 (£79.48). 

Just like airport-bound Steve Martin’s character Neal Page in classic 1980s movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles, they had a few issues securing one of NYC’s famous yellow cabs, but it was smooth running once they got underway.

The positives, they said, included the taxi being ‘incredibly convenient, especially if you have luggage’, with ‘no additional walking required’. They stressed: ‘Once you hail a taxi, you’ll be dropped off right in front of your terminal.’ Plus, they said, ‘you are on your own timeline because you don’t have to get to a train or subway station at a specific time, nor do you have to wait for trains or make multiple stops along the way’.

Comfort is a factor, too. They added: ‘You’re alone in a taxi rather than being crowded into a train, giving you room to spread out and be comfortable on your ride.’

And the downsides?

The price, for one thing. They said: ‘We did pay nearly $100 when all was said and done. It’s definitely a more expensive way to get to the airport compared to taking public transportation or a train.’ And New York traffic is prone to put a spanner in the works. The pair added: ‘Sometimes, you can make excellent time because the roads are clear. But construction, an accident or just a busy traffic day on the roads can cause serious delays.’


Senior Editor Tanner Saunders described his Long Island Rail Road journey as ‘quick and easy’

Racing on the Long Island Rail Road was Senior Editor Tanner Saunders, who paid just $5 (£4) for a train to Jamaica and then $8.25 (£6.68) for the AirTrain. The total, therefore, was $13.25 (£10.73).

Here, convenience and comfort were two major positives.

Tanner told MailOnline Travel: ‘Being able to get a direct train from Grand Central was super convenient, quick and easy.

‘The brand-new Grand Central Madison terminal is sparkling clean and beautiful.

‘Though the route was new and sure to get busy, I was able to snag a seat in a near-empty train that was clean, comfortable and spacious, especially compared to taking the subway. Traveling with luggage, taking the LIRR is a superior experience.’

The downsides? He said: ‘Though the new Grand Central Madison terminal is gorgeous, it can be difficult to find and requires taking multiple escalators.

‘Having to transfer from the Long Island Rail Road at Jamaica is never a fun experience due to crowding and then there’s the fact that for the AirTrain you either have to have a Metrocard preloaded with money to enter or you have to wait in line to purchase one.

‘And after getting off the AirTrain, travelers have to walk quite a distance to get to the airport terminal.’


Nicky Kelvin, Head of The Points Guy UK, was the lucky staff member who got to ride in a helicopter 

Above: Nicky’s spectacular view of Manhattan as he raced towards JFK Airport

The helicopter was operated by a company called Blade and cost $295 (£238)

Nicky Kelvin, Head of The Points Guy UK, was the lucky staff member who got to ride in a helicopter. It was operated by a company called Blade and cost $295 (£238), including a $100 (£80) ground transfer.

Nicky said: ‘Speed was the name of the game here. With the helicopter ride taking just five minutes, this was going to be hard to beat.

‘Plus, the Blade lounge was very comfortable with complimentary refreshments and flying over Manhattan in a helicopter was an incredible experience in itself, providing views of the city and of JFK Airport. Great if, like me, you adore planes.’

And downsides to this exotic transfer?

Nicky said: ‘If you are far from the heliports in Manhattan, the time taken to get to the departure point will eat away at your time-saving. This was not an issue from Times Square, but may have been if you were coming from much further away and traffic was bad.

‘Plus, the experience is far more expensive than the other methods, although at busy times, a cab could be almost this much, if not more.’

And clearly, Nicky notes, this isn’t necessarily a top option for nervous flyers.

And who won? Watch the full video right here. For more from The Points Guy visit thepointsguy.com.

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