JFK AirTrain and JetBlue

Some notes on the JFK AirTrain and JetBlue from the past week:

The JFK AirTrain project came online earlier this year after many, many delays, including a fatal accident during testing. The AirTrain is basically the airport’s inter-terminal shuttle, extended to reach the Jamaica LIRR/subway station on the E line, and the A line JFK stop. Trains are currently three cars long, and are automated. We took it to get to JFK last week through Jamaica, and returned on the A back to Manhattan earlier this week.

Coming from the Upper West Side, it’s a mistake to try to switch to the E. Yes, the MTA schedule says that the E will take 50 minutes from east Midtown, and the A from Fulton Street will actually take 15 minutes longer, but taking the 1 downtown and then trudging around the 42nd Street IND station with luggage to get to the E is not the best idea: it may take you 15 minutes to walk from platform the platform, and the E around rush hour is, of course, very crowded. The A we saw at 59th Street wasn’t anywhere that packed. From Riverside Drive, it’s also feasible to take the M5 bus to Columbus Circle to catch the downtown A, which will save some effort with the luggage. This is probably the best way to get to the AirTrain from that part of Manhattan.

At the Jamaica station, the subway platform is actually a bit of a walk to the AirTrain terminal. The LIRR will apparently be much closer, once station renovations are completed in 2005. You can see the LIRR platforms from the AirTrain platform.

There are plenty of MetroCard kiosks at the AirTrain platform. No need to wait in line at the subway platform’s MetroCard kiosks or token booth. AirTrain rides cost $5, and will take you directly to your terminal. The Terminal 6 stop for JetBlue actually puts you outside the terminal building: you have to take a short walk to get inside. Bear left instead of right. Note also that the JFK maps of AirTrain routes are a bit confusing. There are actually three AirTrain lines: an inner loop that just goes to the terminals (this train goes in the opposite direction, and arrives on the other side of the platform), and two outer lines with terminals at the two subway/train stations. JFK currently posts someone to stand on the platform to direct people to the right train.

On the return trip, we went to the AirTrain terminal for the A line. The terminal in this case is much better integrated with the subway, with the AirTrain platform directly above the subway one, and connected by escalator. Note that the JFK stop for the A is an outdoors platform and can be windy. At around 8:30AM, the ride to Columbus Circle took about an hour, and you can get a seat. Most people who get on the train in Queens and Brooklyn exit at Fulton Street.

There’s been a bit of hubbub about Pataki’s plan for a train connecting the Financial District with JFK, but this is all hubbub. The plan sounds like a waste of time: the A train already connects Downtown to JFK on a one-seat ride to the AirTrain. One can perhaps create a special line running on the Howard Beach tracks to run express to JFK — this would be a revival of the 1970s-era “Train to the Plane” — which would be cheaper and just as effective as a new tunnel. If they mean to create a one-seat ride form Downtown to the JFK terminals, then they have to extend the AirTrain to Manhattan, which sounds costly and stupid to me. The AirTrain track guage is the same as the subway one, but the AirTrain is basically an automated tram. Are they proposing an automated train running on the subway lines? Or a crew-operated train running the loop at JFK? And you would still need to schlepp luggage down to the AirTrain station. Better to revive the Train To the Plane than this.

The reason we went to JFK was to take JetBlue to Sacramento. Oh, the wonder of direct flights to Sacramento from New York that doesn’t cost $850 for a last minute ticket! JetBlue basically doesn’t change its fares because of a late purchase: some $20 specials may go away with the late purchase, but what’s $20 compared to a $500 price increase for, say, Continental? Especially when the latter didn’t have a direct flight at the time, necessitating a trip to SFO?

The JetBlue terminal was fairly nice, with free WiFi, though we couldn’t get that working from where we were sitting. Possibly, it’s because of a weak signal, or there were no IP addresses left for the DHCP server to hand out. Note that JetBlue doesn’t server much food on their flights. For this route, they served drinks, plus small snack packs: bring your own food. (Lack of food helps in a couple of ways: you’re not disappointed by the food served by the airline (Cheese Pockets?!); there’s no wasted space devoted to heating and storing food trays, giving more rows of seating/more legroom; there’s also the added benefit of not being blocked by the food service cart if you need to use the restrom — JetBlue has the flight attendants going up the aisle with relatively maneuverable trays). DirectTV has nice on the flight, but getting a bit monotonous since we’re used to Tivo, and there wasn’t anything good on those channels. Beyond that (though ticket cost is a big thing in itself), it’s basically an airline.

Here’s a Fool.com article on JetBlue’s cost structure. There’s a different piece I can’t find right now on how JetBlue strives to be less annoying than other airlines. The food and the DirectTV are two things that they do as part of this effort.

Note that the Sacramento airport doesn’t have JetBlue self-service kiosks: you have to stand in line to check in. It may be possible to print boarding passes for yourself off the JetBlue website if you don’t have baggage to check in, though, so this may not be a problem. We just didn’t check the JetBlue site beforehand for this option, under the assumption that there would be kiosks. On the other hand, the security screening at midnight at Sacramento didn’t take very long, so waiting in line for check in wasn’t a big deal.

Comments are closed.