There are few environments as acceptably strange as airports. While they may feel familiar – particularly for seasoned travelers – they have a unique set of social rules and codes. We do things in airports we don’t do anywhere else. We fret, exhilarate, frustrate, exhaust, anticipate and communicate in a microcosm of constant comings and goings. You can tell a great deal about a city from its airport. In the Big Apple, for example, life is bigger. And John F. Kennedy International is no exception. In fact, NYC’s airport is so big it doesn’t have a unique street address. It has its own zip code. With no fewer than eight terminals, it’s a marvel of contemporary engineering dating back to the 1940s. The question is, what is JFK airport really like for visitors? Is it an airport from heaven or a hellish start to your holiday? Let’s take a closer look and find out.
Everything You Need to Know about Travelling Through JFK Airport Terminals
There are eight terminals spread across a staggering 4,930 acres at JFK International. So, whether you’re coming or going, it’s important to know which parts of the building you’ll be travelling through.
- Terminal 1 serves a large number of international airlines. They include Royal Air Maroc, Air Italy, Japan Airlines, TAME, Fly Jamaica Airways, Aeroflot, Norwegian Air, Turkish Airlines, Austrian Airlines, EVA Air, Saudia, Lufthansa, Cayman Airways, Air France, Korean Air, Azerbaijan Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, Alitalia and Phillipine Airlines.
- Terminal 2 serves domestic travelers arriving or departing on Delta Air Lines, exclusively. If you’re not flying with Delta, you cannot access this part of the airport.
- Terminal 3 is not in operation. It will eventually accommodate part of the newly built Terminal 1 due to be completed in 2025.
- Terminal 4 serves the largest number of international and domestic airlines. Many consider it to be the ‘heart’ of JFK Airport and the most pleasant terminal to spend time. Occupying airlines includes Delta, Sun Country, XL Airways, JetBlue, Asiana, WestJet, China Airlines, Kuwait Airways, Uzbekistan Airlines, KLM, Volaris, Aeoromexico, Kenya Airways, Avianca Brasil, Virgin Atlantic, Caribbean Airlines, Copa Airlines, Air Europa, EgyptAir, Air Serbia, South African Airways, Emirates, XiamenAir, Etihad and Singapore Airlines.
- Terminal 5 serves all travelers departing on JetBlue. It also handles some flights on Hawaiian Airlines, Aer Lingus, TAP Portugal and Cape Air.
- Terminal 6 no longer exists. It was demolished in 2011.
- Terminal 7 serves all flights departing and arriving on British Airways. It also welcomes a number of flights operated by LOT Polish Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Iberia, Aerolineas Argentinas, Ukraine International Airlines, IcelandAir, Eurowings, Qatar Airways and Interjet.
- Terminal 8 serves just a handful of international airlines. They include Qatar Airways, Royal Jordanian, Quantas, Cathay Pacific, Finnair and Qantas. The terminal is used for just one domestic airline (American Airlines). Despite this, it is the largest terminal at JFK, by some margin. It is twice the size of Madison Square Garden and an expansion is ongoing. Once complete, British Airways plans to make Terminal 8 its primary hub.
The Fastest Ways to Travel between JFK Airport Terminals
Now, it may seem crazy – particularly after hearing about the mammoth size of JFK Airport – but it is true that none of the terminals are directly connected (sorry). Therefore, if you need to travel between terminals, you must factor in enough time to do so. You’ll need to hop on the AirTrain, a free transfer system for those jumping between airport terminals. The AirTrains are spaced around ten minutes apart and take roughly the same amount of time to travel between Terminal 1 and Terminal 8. Here are the easiest ways to hop between major terminals:
Same Terminal Connections (within the USA)
This is the simplest type of connection as you don’t need to leave the terminal. There is no need to take the AirTrain in this case. Make sure you leave a minimum of sixty minutes between flights, as advised.
Different Terminal Connections (One Ticket)
If you’re travelling on two legs of a single journey – on one ticket with two planes – you don’t need to check out or clear immigration. Instead, take a free AirTrain journey to the terminal designated for your second departure. However, you will be expected to move through security again before you can enter any other terminal. It’s not uncommon for a second security screening to take up to sixty minutes. Plan your connection accordingly.
International Stop Offs (Two Tickets)
Unfortunately, there’s no specific process for travelers using JFK as a stop off point before another (separate) flight. The only way to do this is to completely check out – as you would if you were visiting NYC – pass through immigration and start the check in process again with your second departure airline. It is a time consuming process. It’s best to allocate a minimum of three hours to a connection of this type.