New York City can be trying even without the added stresses of travel, so here I present a quick guide to each of these airports, their strengths and weaknesses, so you can plan your travel acordingly. You can thank me by buying me a beer in the airport lounge later.
La Guardia Airport
La Guardia ranked as the worst airport in the US for customer satisfaction and equal last for on-time arrivals in a 2009 survey. This has certainly been my experience.
I have used La Guardia a number of times and have never once left or arrived on time, with inclement weather, technical malfunctions and general apathy all playing their part in making the experience of using the airport pretty grim.
La Guardia feels very much like an airport that long surpassed its maximum capacity. Because it’s the smallest, it also means it’s a crappy place to spend a long delay: the food court is limited and (of course) overpriced and you can forget about finding a few empty seats on which to stretch out and cool your heels.
It is, however, the easiest and cheapest airport to get to from Manhattan, and offers the greatest array of regional flights (flights longer than 1500 miles are prohibited). I can imagine that when it’s working as it should it’s a very convenient little hop over from Manhattan and into the air.
While there is no subway stop at La Guardia, the M60 bus runs straight from upper Manhattan to the terminal, and there are other buses to the airport running from Queens. Make sure you have your MTA card.
Carmel Limousines also offers town cars from Manhattan to La Guardia from $33 (without gratuity), making it one of the best options for early morning or late travel. You’re looking at a similar price for a taxi.
Newark Liberty International Airport
Newark is a hub for Continental/United, meaning that there are plenty of domestic and international connections, and a number of European carriers operate out of the airport.
Oh, and you can 30 minutes of free WiFi in the terminal.
The AirTrain provides direct service to Manhattan’s Penn Station, but the $12.50 price-tag (plus whatever you’ll have to pay from Penn Station) usually means that it is cheaper (if not quicker) to get a shuttle bus directly to your destination. I once took a Go Airlink NYC bus to Manhattan for $17. It took about 45 minutes to leave the airport, but the price was right.
JFK International Airport
The busiest of the three and probably the least easily-accessible with public transport. As you can see from the instructions on the MTA website, it’s a trip in itself just getting there. The city mandates a flat rate $45 fare between JFK and Manhattan, excluding tips and tolls.
At over 90 airlines and eight terminals, JFK can be a bit of a logistical nightmare. But being the busiest international gateway in the country, it’s what you’re most likely to use if you’re flying to/from another country.
As a result, the security also feels like the strictest of the three. However, it is the biggest airport in New York City (with the greatest diversity of foreigners filing through its gates), so it’s understandable that security is taken seriously at JFK.