JFK -> Penn Station
June 16, 2014 8:02 AM   Subscribe

Trying to work out some travel logistics. If I am on an international flight that gets in to JFK at 7:20pm on a Tuesday, what is the likelihood that I could make it to Penn Station to catch a 9:20pm train?

More details! Travel date is July 15. Flight in to JFK is from Amsterdam (and on Delta if it matters). I will have no checked baggage -- only carry-on. Google Maps is showing me a 50 minute travel time via public transit, which should in theory work but I don't know how long actually getting off the plane/customs/etc in JFK will take. Help!

There is also a 10:05pm train option (which isn't my preference but if it seems more realistic then ugh, I can do that too) or trying to sleep in NYC that night and catching a train the next morning (also not my preference, but doable). Amtrak told me that I can reschedule my ticket if I seem like I am about to miss my train, but the lack of cell reception in the NYC subway + the time it takes to actually talk to a real person at Amtrak on the phone makes me want to just get this right the first time.

Possibly relevant details: I walk fast. I feel comfortable with the subway but will be jetlagged from spending 2 weeks in Europe. I don't want to take a cab from JFK to Penn Station.
posted by aaanastasia to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (33 answers total)
Customs could take 5 minutes or an hour and there is no real way to predict it. I wouldn't feel comfortable with trying to make the 9:20. I'm not sure I would even feel confident about the 10:05.
posted by something something at 8:10 AM on June 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

You might breeze through passport control, but you might not. You might make a stupid mistake and take an express train when you meant to take a local and miss your stop, but you might not.

Not gonna happen. Rebook for the 10:05, and you're still gonna hafta haul it to get there.
posted by Liesl at 8:12 AM on June 16, 2014

Best answer: I'm not sure I'd be comfortable with your ability to get either train. Customs at JFK can vary a lot depending on how many planes are coming in at once, its probably a better bet if you're an american citizen.

Honestly there are too many failure points in this plan. The plane could arrive late, customs could have a huge line, there could be subway or train delays which are more common in the evening.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 8:19 AM on June 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

And there are a couple more gaps... If you're coming into Terminal 4 (which you may be, coming in international), it's a bit of a hike to the Airtrain station. And then a good 15-20 minutes, perhaps, between catching the Airtrain and getting to Howard Station, getting your transit fare at the kiosk, and hopping down to the track. If you just miss the A, you're in for another 10 minute wait.

You'll hustle just to get the 10:05.
posted by mochapickle at 8:20 AM on June 16, 2014

If this is going to work at all, basically your only option is AirTrain to Jamaica, LIRR to Penn Station. There are trains from Jamaica to NYP at 9:06, 9:22, and 9:33pm. If you're going to make the 9:33pm train to NYP, my guess is that you would have to be through customs before 8:30. Yes, it's possible, but as everyone else has said, you can't count on it.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 8:21 AM on June 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

(And that's if you breeze through customs.)
posted by mochapickle at 8:21 AM on June 16, 2014

(And if there's not bad weather, which leaves you circling JFK like a drain for 40 minutes like I did not so long ago.)
posted by mochapickle at 8:23 AM on June 16, 2014

Well, I've done international arrival at JFK -> Penn four or five times, and I think only once did it take more than an hour. However, the problem is, as others have noted, that you can't really count on it.
posted by Nothing at 8:25 AM on June 16, 2014

Response by poster: Oops, sorry -- forgot the relevant other detail that I am an American citizen.
posted by aaanastasia at 8:26 AM on June 16, 2014

I would plan on staying overnight. You're cutting it way close for the 10:05, and the slightest subway delay or customs issue is going to make you miss your train.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:26 AM on June 16, 2014

I'd risk it in a cab.

I wouldn't risk it on public transportation, there's always the risk of missing a connection and blowing your whole timetable.
posted by Oktober at 8:26 AM on June 16, 2014

Assuming you plan to take the subway, that's the E train from Sutphin Blvd (do NOT take the A train from Howard Beach). Under ideal conditions, you're talking about 50 minutes on the train. Figure on another 20 minutes taking the airtrain from the terminal to the E train, plus another 20 minutes inside Penn Station getting to your train. Assuming your flight arrives precisely on time and there are no delays on the subway, this gives you 30 minutes to deplane, retrieve your baggage and pass customs/passport. No way. You'll be lucky to male the 10:05.
posted by slkinsey at 8:28 AM on June 16, 2014

Is this for Amtrak? I know there is a way (although I've never done it) to get tickets that are not specific to a timed train, but are valid on any train to your destination that day. I've got a co-worker who regularly does this, but the tickets are booked through our corporate travel system so I think you've got to do it by calling Amtrak instead of online.

Is the 10:05PM train the last available train of the day? I'm not sure I'd feel comfortable with that.

My suggestions are to either:

A. Find a hotel anywhere between Penn Station and JFK, better closer to Penn Station, sleep the night there, and catch an early morning train at a specific time.


B. Get an un-timed ticket from Amtrak. If you make the 9:20 train, great. If you make the 10:05 train, that's OK too. You may even be able to get a later train, but my understanding is it's day specific so nothing that leaves midnight or later.
posted by tckma at 8:31 AM on June 16, 2014

I'd risk it in a cab. I wouldn't risk it on public transportation, there's always the risk of missing a connection and blowing your whole timetable.

In NYC sometimes it's the other way around, though- cabs can take forever, particularly if you're trying to cut across town like in this case; meanwhile public transit is breezing right along. No way to predict it. I'd be nervous either way.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:56 AM on June 16, 2014

A cab doesn't stand a chance of getting there on time. Too many lights, too much traffic. The *only* shot you have is public transportation.

And, the AirTrain -> LIRR -> Penn path is probably your fastest shot.

There's a chance that you could fail no matter what, but it seems greater than 50% likely that you can make it, at least for the later train. Good luck!
posted by Citrus at 9:01 AM on June 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

The last time I took the AirTrain from JFK it was running on an altered (and incomprehensible) schedule and it took me twice the usual amount of time to get home. Get the later Amtrak train, just in case.

Also, seconding that AirTrain --> LIRR ---> Penn Station is the way to go.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:05 AM on June 16, 2014

Not only would a cab not get you there on time, but that doesn't even account for waiting in the cab line, which can be 30-45 minutes on its own.
posted by ocherdraco at 9:19 AM on June 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If things are running well, AirTrain --> LIRR -- Penn Station will work with plenty of time left over. If the flight is delayed or customs is slammed, then no. But you'll know before you lose cell signal / data services, as those are good all the way through the LIRR platform. There are a ton of hotel rooms in easy walking distance to Penn Station now, but they aren't cheap.
posted by MattD at 9:21 AM on June 16, 2014

Best answer: I agree with the consensus that the crapshoot is whether your flight is on time and how fast customs moves. I also agree that the AirTrain to LIRR to Penn Station is your best bet, even if it is somewhat more expensive than taking the subway.

The benefit of the LIRR is that you will have cell service most of that trip: on the Airtrain, in Jamaica switching from the Airtrain to the LIRR and on the LIRR most, if not all of the way (sometimes service is a little spotty for the few minutes you're in the tunnel going into Penn Station). Based on your question, would it be possible to book the 10:05 Amtrak and then try to switch to the 9:20 train if you're making great time?
posted by Bailey270 at 9:36 AM on June 16, 2014

I'd do the LIRR I think youll make the 920 but wouldn't bet on it with a non changeable ticket.

That late in pm the arrivals lines tend not to be that bad.

Flights that arrive at JFK usually have a ton of time padded into the schedule so barring weather above and beyond a squall line you'll be fine.
posted by JPD at 10:29 AM on June 16, 2014

Realistically, you're weighing the decision between cabbing it to Penn Station or staying overnight in New York.
posted by Sara C. at 11:56 AM on June 16, 2014

Why even book the Amtrak ticket in advance? If you can get to Penn Station in time to board, just buy a ticket from the kiosk once you get there. I don't think the last train is bound to be sold out.
posted by dobi at 12:33 PM on June 16, 2014

Response by poster: I want to buy the ticket in advance because right now Amtrak tickets for that date (NYC -> DC) cost $49, but the price typically doubles (or more) as you get closer to the travel date.

Based on my experience with cabs, I would be more concerned about traffic than subway delays but that's all up to chance.

A friend also just suggested that I buy a 3am ticket for Amtrak to avoid trying to crash on a friend's couch in NYC but also avoiding potential travel delay stress. Hadn't thought of that before, but now strongly considering it.
posted by aaanastasia at 12:40 PM on June 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Circa 8 PM I would not be over-worried about traffic. There won't be zero traffic, but it will probably be faster than Air Train to Howard Beach to the subway to Penn Station. Your main delay is going to be the wait in the taxi line.

I wouldn't want to be in Penn Station at 3AM, but if you're OK with it, sure, why not?
posted by Sara C. at 12:50 PM on June 16, 2014

LIRR is your best bet, unless the trains are running very infrequently by the time you exit the terminal (which seems unlikely to be the case). I'd take a cab over the subway, though.
posted by breakin' the law at 1:01 PM on June 16, 2014

The cab will run... what are they into Manhattan, like $60 now? So if OP is hoping to save money (roughly $49 difference by paying for the Amtrak in advance), then it's a wash, financially, to take a cab.
posted by mochapickle at 1:28 PM on June 16, 2014

Best answer: Don't take the Subway. The E from Jamaica is 42 minutes. The A from Howard Beach is like 50 minutes. The LIRR is 18 minutes. Assuming you know your way around Penn well enough to make a transfer in ten minutes (dead easy - hard part will be finding out what track your train is on) you could leave Jamaica on a 9:02 train and be fine. The only downside is that an off-peak ticket is $7 vs $2.50 for the subway.
posted by JPD at 1:38 PM on June 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've done this frequently and the quickest way, as others have said, is the AirTrain to Jamaica then the LIRR to Penn Station.

And, I agree, there's no knowing how long it'll take to get through Border Security. Sometimes it's taken me 10 minutes to get through, other times 2 hours - although as you're a US citizen, you shouldn't be subjected to too much questioning, plus fingerprinting and photographing that seems to take so much time for non-US citizens.

The thing that seems to cause most delays is several aircraft arriving at the same time, causing a bottleneck of passengers in the Immigration Hall.

Let's say four international planes carrying, say, 200 passengers each (averaging it out to allow for bigger or smaller planes) arrive at the same time in the same terminal. Assume 50% of the passengers are US citizens, with each US citizen taking, say, 2 minutes to clear immigration once they get to the window. If you're unlucky enough to be near the back of the line and there are only three or four windows open (very common in the evenings), you might have a bit of a wait.
posted by essexjan at 3:39 PM on June 16, 2014

one more vote for AirTrain to LIRR for the later train at Penn Station.
posted by the twistinside at 8:19 PM on June 16, 2014

(Since some people are commenting on this: Penn is perfectly safe all night. There are 24/7 guards, bathrooms, food to buy, fairly comfy chairs with electric outlets in the Amtrak waiting area, and cell reception.)
posted by kalapierson at 1:41 AM on June 17, 2014

Response by poster: Ok! Based on all of this I bought a ticket for the 9:20pm train (on the off chance that everything goes right, which seems extremely unlikely) and a ticket for the 3am train (as a more realistic solution to this), and will take the LIRR instead of the subway. I'm planning to return whatever ticket I don't use for Amtrak credit.

(and I will report back on how this worked out!)
posted by aaanastasia at 10:33 AM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

There's an enclosed waiting room for Amtrak passengers at Penn Station, on the upper level. You may need to show your ticket to be allowed in.
posted by essexjan at 1:46 PM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: UPDATE: The AirTrain-->LIRR plan worked. My flight landed at 7, I was able to get off the airplane at 7:25. Caught the 8:03 LIRR train (though it was delayed by 15 minutes, so I guess I actually caught it at 8:17 but I COULD HAVE caught it at 8:03). Arrived at Penn Station at 8:45 in time to catch the 9:20pm train.
posted by aaanastasia at 12:10 PM on July 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

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