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July 07, 2009

Getting To The Airport

They used to say that “getting there is half the fun”. Whoever “they” were, they haven’t endured the challenges and indignities of air travel post-9/11.
Even getting to the airport can sap your strength, if not your wallet. Consider the alternatives.

A car service is certainly convenient. But at $160 one way to LaGuardia’ $170 to JFK and $200+ to Newark, getting to the airport can cost more than your air fare. (Mind you, these are the advertised rates, so I wouldn’t be shy about asking for promotions and discounts when you call to book.)

But car services aren’t just expensive, they’re also wasteful. Couldn’t solo travelers share a car with others in a “limo-pool”? Is one passenger in a Lincoln Town Car an efficient use of limited space on I-95?

How about Connecticut Limousine? Now there’s a misnomer! Since when is a bus or cramped van a limo? And try explaining that name on the receipt on your expenses to your company’s accountant. “Really boss… it was just a bus!”

On a few occasions I’ve actually rented a car at the airport, driven home and then dropped the car the next day in Stamford. A day’s car rental is about half the cost of a car service. OK… so call me cheap.

Some regular fliers hire neighborhood teens to drive their own car to the airport, drop them off and drive home, repeating the process on their return. That’s cheaper than a car service, but puts double the miles on your car.

My preferred airport transfer is in my own car. Airport parking is $33 a day. Not cheap, but certainly convenient. And nobody complains about my cigar smoking enroute to the airport.

Another alternative, believe it or not, is Metro-North. Get off at 125th Street and catch a cab or livery and you’re at LaGuardia in about 15 minutes. Future plans call for some Metro-North trains to travel over the Hell’s Gate bridge, through Queens and into Penn Station. That could be a great chance to add a LaGuardia station with shuttle bus service to the terminals. But it’s a rail link our kids might see in their lifetimes, not ours.

If you’re heading to Newark, definitely consider Amtrak. Most Northeast corridor trains stop at Newark Airport where a convenient connection to the airport monorail has you at the terminals in just minutes. The train sure beats the Cross-Bronx and GWB any day. And fares are as low as $23 one way.

The proponents of ferry service on Long Island sound keep tempting us with talk about direct water-borne service to LaGuardia, but I’ll believe it when I see it. The old Pan Am Water Shuttle (a high speed ferry) couldn’t make a go of it carrying expense-account business fliers from the Marine Air Terminal to midtown, so I’m skeptical that operators could fill ferry boats to Stamford and Norwalk. And do you really want a sea cruise in the winter?

Mind you, New York’s three airports aren’t the only choices. Westchester County airport offers non-stop jet service to many cities and offers a variety of major carriers including JetBlue. Bridgeport’s Sikorsky airport used to get you to such cities as Philadelphia and Newark, but service now is very limited and expansion of both of these airports is challenged by local residents. Hartford’s Bradley Airport offers another alternative, including low fare carriers like Southwest… if you don’t mind a two-hour drive to get to the airport, north of Hartford.

One reader extols the virtues of New Haven’s Tweed Airport where US Air flies to Philly where you can connect to most anywhere.

Clearly, the trip to and from the airport can start and end a trip on a very sour, and expensive, note. But with a little imagination, this summer’s vacation can end on a thriftier note.


Silli said...

Cheap ground transportation from Fairfield County to LaGuardia is available via the M60 bus at 125th street. I figure it takes about 2 hours and costs $2 plus the Metronorth fare.
JFK is a bit more difficult/expensive: either pay $15 for the express bus from Grand Central, or take the subway from Grand Central to the AirTrain to the airport.
Newark turns out to be the easiest, because as you note, many Amtrak trains drop passengers off right at the station.

StamfordNotes said...

We had a good experience with SmartPark at JFK last week ( You leave your car there and a shuttle takes you to your terminal. Cost approximately $12/day. I actually preferred it to parking in the lot because they had our car ready when we arrived - no hunting around in the giant parking lot.