Having been a New Yorker practically all my life, what better airport to fly out of than John Fitzgerald Kennedy International Airport (formerly called Idlewild), New York City’s gateway to the world, the main airport of the two that call New York home, the international gateway to the United States?
Ever since the days BEFORE I started flying, I have always taken a more keen interest in JFK Airport, even though it was farther from my house than LaGuardia. Though LaGuardia has its shuttle system within the airport, JFK Airport’s shuttle bus system (remember, pre-Airtrain) was a system in and of itself, in an airport which functioned almost like a city within a city. With ten main terminals and 1 satellite terminal, JFK was a hub of activity. I recall the shuttle buses having different colors and different routes. The red/blue buses were intra-airport buses which served all terminals, much like the current Airtrain inner loop. The yellow/blue buses were shuttles to the subway at Howard Beach. There were two yellow bus routes, one that went from the subway to Terminals 1, 2, 3, 8, and 9, and one from the subway to Terminals 4, 5, 6, and 7. A separate gray bus served the Tower Air terminal, which I believe no longer exists.
Nowadays, we have the Airtrain that serves all Terminals and goes to the subway as well as the LIRR Jamaica Station. At $2 Billion, it was a very expensive but very necessary undertaking, especially with the $10 Billion overall renovation of the airport, which is still taking place. Terminals 8 and 9 were consolidated into American Airlines-centered Terminal 8, Terminal 6 was torn down and replaced by a new JetBlue-only Terminal 5. The old TWA Terminal was preserved to serve as a gateway to the new T5 build right behind it. Terminal 4 was completely rebuilt to not only improve the appearance of the terminal but also to include an Airtrain station. Terminals 2 and 3 are being rebuilt at a new Terminal 2. For service to any terminal, there is a nearby or adjacent Airtrain station to take passengers to and from the subways at Howard Beach and Sutphin/Archer and to the Long Island Rail Road at Jamaica Station over the Van Wyck Expressway. Also included was a $5 fee from Howard Beach and Jamaica to help recoup the costs of building the rail link. Airtrain is free from Lefferts Blvd (Long Term Parking), Federal Circle (Rental Car facilities), and within the airport.
One of my favorite things about JFK is the transportation within the airport, whether its the large shuttle bus network of yesteryear or the Airtrain of today. There are still shuttle buses around, dressed in Port Authority blue and grey, but they serve the Long-Term Parking lots and rental car areas from their nearest Airtrain stations as well as some employee-only areas. For regular passengers and employees entering the airport property, the local buses and the Airtrain is more than enough to handle passengers’ needs…when Airtrain is running smoothly. Nevertheless, these driverless trains are state-of-the-art, smooth, comfortable, fast, and spacious enough to handle at least 70-80 passengers per car plus luggage. During most times of the day, the inner loop is a single car while trains to the subway and LIRR are two-car trains. During peak travel periods, a third car on the outer loop and a second car on the inner loop are used. There are no underground sections of the system except for a short stretch underneath one of the runways. Over the Van Wyck Expressway, the two-mile-long journey to Jamaica allows the trains to stretch out and reach their 60MPH designed speed.
One of my dislikes about JFK is the fact that due to the construction, which has been piecemeal and poorly coordinated, many of the elements of the rehabilitation of the airport aren’t in place at the right times, causing the Airtrain to serve some terminals with unnecessarily long walkways and station placements to appear more awkward. Such is the case with Terminal 5, served by the Terminals 5/6 station. It just appears that they wanted the Airtrain to be built as soon as possible to get rid of the shuttle buses and keep excess traffic off the roadways for work to be done. After the Airtrain was all said and done, the Airtrain would eventually be the means to get around the Airport and traffic would flow much better. The sacrifice becomes trying to find a way to construct terminals nearby that will still keep the old terminals open until completion, all while still connecting to the Airtrain system.
Nevertheless, I do approve of the progress the airport is making, and I continue to fly out of JFK whenever I can. Travel times from where I live are usually 1 hour and 20 minutes via the #6 train, the E train, and the Airtrain. I surely don’t miss schlepping through Brooklyn and all of Manhattan via the A train (and yes, I have flown out of JFK before Airtrain was built)… Even though I list JFK as one of my favorite airports, there are many more that I enjoy flying into and out of, and that list could potentially grow the more I get to see the world.