Yes, Thanksgiving week is the busiest, most hassle-filled travel time of the year. It’s just part of the holidays, like that cranberry jello salad your aunt always makes, or the tense mood that strikes the table whenever your cousin’s awful boyfriend opens his mouth. For New Yorkers, getting to the airport is either expensive, time consuming, or both, even in the best of traffic conditions. All three of our major airports, JFK, LaGuardia and Newark rank at the very bottom of Bloomberg Businessweek’s Airport Frustration Index, with LaGuardia receiving the lowest marks of any airport in the country in almost every category.
We can’t magically get you to your gate without delays or irritation, but we do have a few suggestions for saving time and money on the way to the airport, including a ridesharing app that could be your Uber replacement, and some public transportation tricks.
The best way to have control over your airport trip is to get off the road altogether and take the train. If that’s not an option, and if you’re flying out of LaGuardia it simply isn’t–even if you take public transit you’ll be showing up on the bus, which is sharing the road with everyone else–give Bandwagon a whirl. The ridesharing app, which is partially funded by a grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, was designed with the idea of reducing the number of cars on the road and lowering transportation costs for users.
When you download and open Bandwagon you have two options–you can book a ride or find someone to meet up with to share a ride. For heading to the airport, David Mahfouda, CEO of Bandwagon, says that the best strategy is to book well in advance. If there’s another ride booked at the same time you’ll be asked if you’d like to join it, lowering the cost for both passengers. “The earlier you book your ride, the more likely it is that another passenger will sign on, saving you both money,” he says. The app currently doesn’t have a way to widen your parameters, say, indicate you’d leave anytime between noon and 12:30pm, so Mahfouda suggests searching in five minute intervals for another rider if you really want to join a ride.
Here’s the great part–there’s no demand pricing. In fact, the busier the day, the more users and the better your chances for finding a shared ride. “It’s actually likely to be cheaper when there’s higher demand,” says Mahfouda. And, the worst that happens if you don’t find a buddy to share the ride with is that that you pay for the ride through the app, tolls and tip included, at regular car services prices. You can use a credit card and you can book in advance for peace of mind. Bandwagon doesn’t make any money if the ride isn’t shared. “It’s a business incentive for us,” says Mahfouda. “We’re working to reduce the number of cars on the road.”
Bandwagon contracts with local car service companies, which get the whole fee if you end up riding alone. The price goes up a bit for shared rides, to accommodate multiple pick-up and drop-off locations, and for the tech company’s cut, but you’ll still end up paying something like 60% of what you would have, depending on the number of passengers in the vehicle.
Mahfouda says that the best way to use Bandwagon to share a ride home from the airport is to use the the “Find Passengers” feature on the app. It will identify potential taxi buddies and then open a chat window so you can connect and grab a cab together. It’s also possible to book a black car through Bandwagon, and pay for it with your credit card, using your flight info, but it’s likely to be much more expensive.
And, through Sunday, when you enter the promo code THANKSGIVING when booking a ride, you’ll get $10 off. If you invite friends using the app, they’ll get a $30 credit, and when they use Bandwagon for the first time, you will also get a $30 credit. That’s a lot of shared rides. Just go to the app menu and then click on “Invite Friends.”
Public Transportation Tips
So Bandwagon sounds like a it’s well worth a shot, especially if you like meeting new people (and Thanksgiving, what you’re doing, what you’ll be eating, is a great conversation starter), and hate taking public transportation to the airport. That said, the closer you get on the train, the less you’ll be contributing to congestion, and the more you’ll avoid that awful feeling of sitting in traffic, not knowing when you’ll be moving. From time to time you’ve probably been forced by your United frequent flyer miles, or a cheap fare to fly out of Newark. You sucked it up and took the train, right? The combination of traffic in the Lincoln Tunnel and the price of a ride to Newark just isnt’t worth the convenience of a car. Take that mindset and apply it to LaGuardia or JFK. Sure, on good day it should take less than half the time to get to either airport in a car service or taxi than on public transportation, but, especially with the wintery mix coming our way, there’s not going to be a good day this week. Load up on podcasts, bring the last three issues of the New Yorker you haven’t had time to open, and consider it your own time before you’re immersed in family drama.
LaGuardia: There is no train to LaGuardia. So get as close as you possibly can and then transfer to a bus. There are two good strategies for this. Take the N or the Q to Astoria Boulevard, then take the M60 bus, which travels directly from there to LaGuardia. The M60 comes every 10 minutes during the day, and it takes about 20 minutes to get from Astoria Blvd. to LaGuardia. Or, take the 7 , E, F, M, or R to Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue/74 St-Broadway (the E runs express in Queens and is very fast, but the 7 is above ground, if you need cell reception), and then take the Q70 LTD bus. You can also take the LIRR to Woodside Avenue and catch the bus there. The Q70 runs every 12-15 minutes during the day, and should take 15 minutes from Woodside and 8-10 minutes from Roosevelt Ave., to get to the airport. Obviously allow more time this week. Both buses stop at all the passenger terminals.
JFK: If you take the LIRR from Atlantic Terminal to Jamaica, then connect to the JFK Airtrain there, it should take about 45 minutes and will cost $12 total. The same thing is true, both travel times and prices, if you’re leaving from Penn Station. Yes, if you buy a monthly MetroCard AirTrain feels like a ripoff–but just think about how much of a headache you’re avoiding by not being stuck on the Van Wyck or North Conduit, watching the taxi fare tick up, up, up.