Airport to Downtown Transportation Trials

Around the United States, trains and subways are pulling into stations at the airport. And it may be better option for the airport-to-city leg of your journey.

Most business travelers forget that the time spent seeking and using ground transportation is a non-trivial factor. Just consider the amount of time and money you spend in relation to your flight time and costs.


A seven-day advance-purchase roundtrip ticket from San Francisco to Newark costs about $300. The flight to Newark takes five hours and 16 minutes. Roundtrip cab fare from Newark to midtown Manhattan will cost about $100 and, assuming the inevitable heavy traffic, will take about one hour in each direction. That’s a third of your airfare and 15% of your travel time.

Now, consider the Newark AirTrain. This option runs $11.55 for a one-way ticket and 35-45 minutes in travel time to Penn Station. From there you can grab a cab or walk to your hotel. That’s just 3% of your airfare and less than 15% of your travel time.

Taking the train to the plane is an increasingly appealing option in many of the nation’s largest urban areas — and most trafficked airports. Today, nine of the 30 busiest U.S. airports offer a rail service option to and from major downtown centers. Three — Newark, JFK and SFO — just launched their service in the past two years. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport expects to feature light rail service to downtown in October 2004. Dallas-Fort Worth Airport has scheduled light rail service for completion in 2008. And Miami International Airport hopes to add rail service around 2012.

The bottom line is that if you are amenable to public transportation and interested in saving money — and in most cases, time and hassle — take the train. The following table compares cab fare and travel time with train fare and travel time for nine major airports. Please note that the train travel time does not include wait time for scheduled trains, which in some case can add 15-30 minutes.

Airport/City Cab Fare (does not include tips) Travel Time via Cab Train Fare Travel Time via Train Rail Service
Hartsfield to Atlanta $25 20 minutes (30 minutes rush hour) $1.75 16 minutes MARTA
Logan to Boston $15-$20 20-25 minutes (45+ minutes rush hour) $1 15 minutes MBTA Subway
O’Hare to Chicago $33-$37 30 minutes (40+ minutes rush hour) $1.50 45 minutes CTA or Metra
National to DC $8-$17 10 minutes (15 -20 minutes rush hour) $1.20 15 minutes Metrorail
Dulles to DC $44-$50 45-60 minutes (up to 2 hours rush hour) $10.50 55 minutes Metrorail via Washington Flyer Shuttle
Newark to Manhattan $38-$58 35 minutes (1 hour rush hour) $11.55 35 minutes AirTrain via New Jersey Transit or Amtrak
JFK to Manhattan $39 45-60 minutes (1.5 hours rush hour) $7.00 to $11.75 35-65 minutes AirTrain via LIRR or subway
Philadelphia Airport to Philadelphia $20 20 minutes (25-35 minutes rush hour) $5.50 15-20 minutes SEPTA
SFO to San Francisco $39 20 minutes (40-60 minutes rush hour) $4.70 30 minutes BART

Remember: Not all train-to-plane experiences are created equal. Riding New Jersey Transit with luggage during rush hour can be, at best, trying. In a future edition of Transit Authority, I will explore how to best navigate rail service options at each of these airports.

About the Business Travel Almanac: Praised and recommended by the New York Times, the Business Travel Almanac is a must-have tool for any serious business traveler.


Talking Points

Do you have advice, experiences, or ideas about using rail service to and from the airports you frequent? Share your stories, and we’ll highlight some of the best ideas online.