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Why Getting to JFK Airport in NYC Could Be a Nightmare for Years to Come

Getting to and from New York City‘s John F. Kennedy International Airport by car, public transit, taxi, and ride-hailing services will soon get a lot more difficult—and the situation will remain that way for several years. 

Sorry, should we have given you the good news before the bad? 

JFK is getting a big, $19 billion makeover—or “transformation,” as the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the region’s three airports, prefers to call the project. 

By the time the overhaul is finished—at some point (fingers crossed) in the latter half of this decade—the airport will have a brand-new Terminal 1 (rendering above) and a brand-new Terminal 6, as well as expanded and spiffed-up terminals 4 and 8. 

The facilities will be, the Port Authority promises, modern, spacious, high-tech, outfitted with sustainable features, adorned with eye-catching artwork, and stocked with tasty local food-and-drink venues. The windows will be floor-to-ceiling. The electrical outlets will be abundant. Spring will be everlasting. 

Before we reach that glorious day, however, travelers will need to endure a protracted spell of traffic hell. 

Construction will result in torn-up and closed roadways, resulting in turn in major traffic disruptions expected to last for the “next few years,” the Port Authority announced this week. 

Every conceivable method of getting to and from the airport short of astral projection will be affected at some point. But the worst impact will likely be on those driving to Terminal 1 or 5 starting in May and lasting into the 2028 U.S. presidential campaign, assuming the republic lasts that long. 

Take a look at the below diagrams from the Port Authority to see the roadway changes going into effect this summer. Then do us a favor and explain them to us. 

(Roadway changes going into effect at JFK Airport’s Terminal 1 in New York City; click here for larger version | Credit: Port Authority of New York and New Jersey)

One thing that’s crystal clear is that the disruptions have the potential to cause serious traffic congestion. That’s one reason the Port Authority is setting up a 24/7 operations center to monitor the gridlock. Maybe you can take comfort in that as you sit in your car, snarled in unimaginable traffic, while your flight leaves without you.

In its media kit announcing the changes, the Port Authority recommends forgoing driving to JFK and taking the public transit rail link known as the AirTrain instead. 

But AirTrain service will be disrupted too, albeit for a shorter, 7-month duration, starting May 1. 

That’s when Terminal 1’s AirTrain station will temporarily close. Travelers headed to that terminal, which primarily handles international flights, will need to take the train instead to Terminal 4 or 8 and hop on a bus to get the rest of the way to Terminal 1. 

In addition to the traffic woes awaiting those trying to reach Terminal 5, where the main airline is JetBlue, taxi riders and Uber/Lyft passengers will face new hurdles as well. 

Effective April 26, Terminal 5’s taxi stand is moving farther away from the terminal, to the ground level of Yellow Garage. 

(Roadway and taxi changes at JFK Airport’s Terminal 5 in New York City | Credit: Port Authority of New York and New Jersey)

In early summer, Terminal 5’s pickup location for Uber and Lyft, meanwhile, will move far from its current location to the roof of Orange Garage. To reach the spot, passengers will need to take the AirTrain one stop to Terminal 7. 

(Changes to ride-hailing pickup location at JFK Airport’s Terminal 5 in New York City | Credit: Port Authority of New York and New Jersey)

Acknowledging the looming inconveniences facing passengers, the Port Authority argues in its press materials that LaGuardia Airport underwent a similar period of disruption during renovations and came out on the other side considerably improved

But it’s safe to say nobody wants a repeat of the sorts of nightmarish traffic jams that sometimes surrounded LaGuardia during its construction project. Things got so bad in 2016 that passengers were known to get out of cars and taxis to walk to their terminals, dragging suitcases and pushing strollers along the shoulder of the highway. 

To help avoid such outcomes, the Port Authority recommends taking precautions such as monitoring construction updates and road closures at and signing up for electronic travel updates.

If you’re picking up a passenger, wait in one of the free cell phone lots so that you don’t impede traffic flow.

And if you plan to drive to the airport, use the airport’s website to prebook your parking spot to guarantee a space (and save money).  

It might also be wise to download a meditation app for when you’re stuck in bumper-to-bumper gridlock projected to last years at a stretch. 

Related: Airlines to Cut New York City Flights This Summer to Combat Labor Shortage

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