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John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) is one of the major airports serving the New York City area. The airport consists of five passenger terminals: Terminal 1, Terminal 4, Terminal 5, Terminal 7, and Terminal 8.
Given this, I recommend arriving at JFK Airport between 2 and 3 hours before a domestic flight and 3 to 4 hours before an international flight.
However, you’ll also want to consider personal circumstances that may influence you to arrive at the airport even earlier. These include; travelling with young children, how you are going to travel to the airport, what time you’re flying etc.
What Time Should You Arrive at JFK Airport?
We typically recommend arriving at JFK International Airport two to three hours before departure for domestic flights (flights within the US) and three to four hours before departure for international flights (flights outside of the US).
This should provide you with enough time to:
- Arrive at the airport
- Check-in for your flight
- Drop your bags
- Go through security
- Make it to your gate – prior to / in time for boarding
In our opinion, it’s always better to arrive at the airport a little early and have some extra time browsing the stores or grabbing a bite to eat rather than arriving late, feeling rushed, and running the risk of missing your flight.
Why Do You Need Longer For International Flights?
It’s often recommended that when travelling to international destinations (outside the US) you arrive at JFK between three and four hours before the flight departs.
This is to allow for extra time to check visas, entry requirements, immigration control and clear customs.
Long-haul international flights also often have a longer boarding period (starting earlier) to allow for all passengers to board the aircraft in ample time before the scheduled departure.
How Are You Getting to JFK Airport?
While deciding when to arrive at JFK Airport it’s also important to consider how you’re going to travel to the airport. Given New York City’s congested traffic, it’s essential to anticipate potential delays.
Use Google Maps to evaluate the distance and projected travel time to the airport according to your mode of transport.
Keep in mind that if you check Google Maps on a Sunday at 1:00pm, then the travel time may be very different to the reality you face if you’re actually trying to complete the journey at 7:00am on a Monday.
If you’re travelling long distances, for example from Boston to New York for a flight out of JFK then I recommend allowing even more buffer time to account for any delays you may experience.
Parking at JFK Airport
If you’re choosing to drive and park at JFK Airport, it’s sensible to factor in an extra 30 minutes for parking and commuting to the terminal.
Various parking options are available at JFK, with varying convenience and cost implications.
Returning a Rental Car
Meanwhile, if you’re returning a rental car at JFK airport then I recommend allowing an additional 30 minutes to one hour. This gives you plenty of time to complete any required paperwork and commute to the terminal building.
New York has a well-connected public transport network. Subsequently, I find the best way of travelling to JFK (both in speed and value) is using the AirTrain.
However, if you’re connecting flight is from different airports and you need to commute, for example between LaGuardia and JFK, then alternative public transport such as a bus or bus and train combination is likely going to be the better option.
The Time of Year
How busy JFK Airport is can depend significantly on the season and major holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Spring Break.
This increase in passengers can impact waiting times across all aspects of the airport experience. As such if your travel coincides with these periods, then it might be wise to arrive at the airport an hour earlier than usual.
Check-In For Your Flight
The majority of airlines now allow you to check in for your flight using either a mobile application or a website. Checking in for your flight using this service should provide you with a digital boarding pass. As a result, you’ll then only need to head to the airline’s counter if you have bags to drop off.
However, if you’re unable to check in for your flight before arriving at the airport then you’ll want to make sure you arrive at the airport with enough time to do so.
The majority of airlines provide both self-service check-in kiosks and check-in counters at JFK Airport which allow you to complete the check-in process quickly and easily.
However, keep in mind that airlines will close the check-in gates before the flight departs (exact times vary, however, it’s usually around 45 minutes – check with your airline). If you have not checked in before the designated time then you will be denied boarding – even if you’re at the departure gate on time for the flight itself.
Dropping Checked Bags
Much like checking in for your flight, another factor you’ll want to consider when determining what time you should arrive at JFK Airport is whether or not you’ll need to check your luggage.
The bag drop will often close one hour prior to the flight’s departure, however, exact times vary depending on the airline. As such, you’ll want to make sure you arrive at JFK Airport early enough to accommodate this where applicable.
If you do not have any checked bags then once you have your boarding pass (either digital from checking in online or physical from checking in at the airport) you’ll be able to head straight through to security.
TSA Precheck / CLEAR
If you have TSA Precheck or CLEAR then moving through security should be a quicker and easier process. As such you should not need to allow for additional time at the airport.
Which JFK Airport Terminal Do You Need
JFK International Airport has five terminals: Terminal 1, Terminal 4, Terminal 5, Terminal 7, and Terminal 8.
- Air China
- Air France
- Air New Zealand
- Air Serbia
- Air Senegal
- Asiana Airlines
- Austrian Airlines
- Azores Airlines
- Brussels Airlines
- Cayman Airways
- China Eastern
- Eastern Airlines
- EVA Air
- Flair Airlines
- Korean Air
- Philippine Airlines
- Royal Air Maroc
- Saudi Arabian Airlines
- TAP Portugal
- Turkish Airlines
- Viva Aerobus
- Air Europa
- Air India
- Avianca Brasil
- Caribbean Airlines
- China Airlines
- Copa Airlines
- EI AI
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Kenya Airways
- KLM Royal Dutch Airlines
- Singapore Airlines
- Uzbekistan Airlines
- Virgin Atlantic
- Cape Air
- JetBlue (All Departures and Int’l Arrivals between 5:00 am to 10:30 pm; Int’l Arrivals between 10:30 pm to 5:00 am at Terminal 4)
- Aer Lingus
- Aerolineas Argentinas
- Air Canada
- Alaska Airlines
- ANA(All Nippon)
- Ethiopian Airlines
- Kuwait Airways
- Norse Atlantic Airways
- Scandinavian Airlines
- Sun Country Airlines
- Ukraine International Airlines
- American Airlines
- British Airways
- Cathay Pacific
- China Southern
- ITA Airways
- Japan Airlines
- Qatar Airways
- Royal Jordanian
Airlines may adjust their designated terminals, so always check your ticket or the airport’s website for the most up-to-date information.
Travelling Between Terminals At JFK
The quickest and easiest way to travel between terminals at JFK is by using the free AirTrain which operates at all of JFK terminals.
Signs for the AirTrain are found across all terminals at JFK. However, you will need to reclear TSA security once you arrive at your departure terminal.