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Guide to John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)

Situated in the borough of Queens, and approximately 16 miles (26 km) to the south east of Manhattan, John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) has been in operation since 1948. Following the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 the airport was renamed in honour of the slain 35th President of the United States.

Airport Geography

The airport is built on a tract of former marshland on Jamaica Bay, which at one time encompassed the Idlewild Golf Course, with construction commencing in 1943. It was officially named New York International Airport, Anderson Field in 1948 but the new airport was generally referred to as Idlewild which remained in common usage until late 1963.

JFK Airport History

The official opening ceremony was attended by President Harry S. Truman with the first flight taking place on the 1st of July, 1948. In order to encourage the new airport's growth and development the Port Authority forced foreign airlines to use Idlewild by cancelling their permits to land at nearby LaGuardia Airport which was struggling to cope with the demands upon it at the time. At the time of opening, Idlewild had one small terminal building but this was expanded to almost three times its size within a couple of years with a control tower being added in 1952 as well as numerous new buildings and runways.

Rapid Expansion and Growth

In 1951 JFK International was averaging just 73 flights in and out of the airport but this number increased dramatically the following year when Newark Airport was temporarily closed and traffic transferred to Idlewild. Additional business came the airport's way with the appearance of the new DC-7s and L-1049 Constellations which used Idlewild in preference to LaGuardia. By mid-1957 traffic volume had increased to an average of over 1,280 flight departures in a single week.

In just a few short years Idlewild became one of the world's busiest airports and, in 1954, recorded the highest global volume of international air traffic. Originally envisioned as a single terminal with 55 gates this was soon deemed impractical and insufficient for demands and major airlines protested that the available space would not be able to accommodate future growth.

In 1955 plans were unveiled for the construction of seven new terminals with five of these allocated to the biggest individual airline companies, one to be shared by three other airlines and one designated specifically for international arrivals. In addition, a new eleven-storey control tower was to be built along with the necessary road, taxiways and parking lots that would be required for the smooth running of the newly expanded airport.

One month after the assassination of President Kennedy in December 1963 the airport was officially named John F. Kennedy International Airport and given the new airline codes JFK and KJFK.

From 1963 until 2016 JFK has undergone further expansion and upgrades but in January 2017 it was decided that the airport was in need of major renovation due to ever increasing demands for access and a lack of capacity. At that time JFK was serving around 60 million passengers per year which rose to 75 million in 2020 and is expected to top 100 million by the year 2050. The planned renovations included:

  • Enlargement of the newest terminal buildings
  • Relocation of older terminals
  • Reconfiguration of existing highway ramps
  • Increase in the number of traffic lanes on the Van Wyck Expressway which links JFK, Queens and the Bronx

When renovations are finally completed JFK will have 149 gates for accessing aircraft and four runways.

Airlines and Designated Terminals

There are currently six operational terminals at JFK numbered 1 through 8, the exceptions being Terminals 3 and 6 which were demolished in 2011 and 2013 respectively with Terminal 5 greatly expanded to replace the missing two.

Terminal 1

Terminal 1 serves: Aeroflot, Air China, Air France, Air Serbia, Air Senegal, Asiana Airlines, Austrian Airlines, Azerbaijan Airlines, Azores Airlines, Brussels Airlines, Cayman Airways, China Eastern, Condor, Eastern Airlines, EgyptAir, EVA Air, Flair Airlines, Interjet, ITA Airways, Japan Airlines, Korean Air, Lufthansa, NEOS, Norse Atlantic Airways, Philippine Airlines, Royal Air Maroc, Saudi Arabian Airlines, SWISS International, Swoop, TAP Portugal, Turkish Airlines, Viva Aerobus and Volaris.

Terminal 2 (also called Delta JFK Terminal)

Terminal 2 is exclusively reserved for Delta Air Lines flights.

Terminal 4

Terminal 4 is for international arrivals and is also a hub for Delta Airlines long-haul flights. Airlines served include: Aero Mexico, Air Europa, Air India, Avianca Brazil, Caribbean Airlines, China Airlines, China Southern, Copa Airlines, Delta Airlines, El Al, Emirates, Etihad, Hawaiian Airlines, Kenya Airways, KLM, Kuwait Airways, LATAM, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, Uzbekistan Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Westjet and XiamenAir.

Terminal 5

Terminal 5 is principally the domain of low-cost JetBlue Airways but also handles flights from Irish airline Aer Lingus as incoming passengers have been pre-screened before boarding flights from Ireland.

Terminal 7

Terminal 7 is currently operated by British Airways and leased by the company until 2022 with the option of a three-year extension. British Airways flights are not the only ones serviced by Terminal 7 as it is also used by: Aerolineas Argentinas, Alaska Airlines, ANA (All Nippon), Eurowings, Iberia, Icelandair, LOT, Ukraine International Airlines and United Airlines.

Terminal 8

Managed by American Airlines, the third-biggest airline carrier at JFK, Terminal 8 is also the departures and arrivals centre for: Cathay Pacific, Ethiopian Airlines, Finnair, Qatar Airways and Royal Jordanian.

All terminals at JFK are connected by the AirTrain network. There are AirTrain stations situated beside the short-term parking facilities at each terminal with trains running 24/7 every two to five minutes. The AirTrain service also connects to parking lots, car rental facilities, hotel shuffles and is free of charge.

Immigration Processing

The vast majority of incoming foreign visitors will enter the United States through Terminal 4 where they are processed through immigration. Regardless of which terminal handles the arriving aircraft the immigration process will be the same. With the exception of U.S or Canadian citizens (or travelers from countries that signed up to the Global Entry Program) who can use an APC (automated passport control) kiosk or a Mobile Passport Control app, all arriving passengers must report to Passport Control for non-U.S. Citizens for processing.

Foreign nationals entering America will require a valid passport that has been ESTA approved. ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) is an automated Visa Waiver Program which is mandatory for all visiting foreign citizens. It should be noted that possessing an ESTA approved passport does not automatically guarantee the holder admission to the United States as this decision ultimately rests with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer on duty.

At passport control visitors may be asked the purpose of their visit to the U.S.A. as well as details relating to where they intend to stay or visit. In some cases a visitor may also be photographed or asked to provide fingerprints as part of the security protocol. Visitors are also expected to declare any food or plant items as these may contain insects, germs or diseases.

Transfers and Ground Transportation

Traveling between JFK and New York city is probably best done via the AirTrain which runs from the airport to the city where connections can be made with the New York subway system. There are numerous options available for passengers heading to JFK or arrivals wishing to access the greater New York area.


AirTrain not only links all terminals at JFK but also runs into the city where it terminates at either Jamaica or Howard Beach stations. From Jamaica station it is possible to connect with the subway system and travel into Queens, Brooklyn, Midtown and Lower Manhattan or Jamaica Center. The Long Island Rail Road is also located at Jamaica station and runs from Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan to Long Island. Howard Beach station connects with the subway system and runs from Brooklyn and Manhattan in the east to the Rockaways south of JFK.

New York Subway

The New York subway does not run out to JFK so travelers must first reach Jamaica or Howard Beach stations and transfer to the AirTrain which serves all terminals at the airport.

Bus Service

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) operates regular bus services from Brooklyn, Queens and other New York boroughs to John F. Kennedy International airport.


Depending on the point of departure (or the destination), taxis from JFK can be expensive. It is possible to avail of a flat fare rate of $52 (currently) which covers one to four passengers in a taxi (five in a minivan) from Manhattan to JFK. The flat fare may be subject to a surcharge during peak hours and a state tax of fifty cents. It is also customary to tip the driver.

Arriving visitors can easily rent a car at JFK as each arrival terminal has a car rental counter or a courtesy telephone which can be used to contact a rental company.