JFK minimum connection times (what you can realistically expect)

JFK minimum connection times (what you can realistically expect)

Despite its reputation for being one of the busiest and most congested airports in the world, JFK minimum connection times might be surprising to novice travelers. It’s not the motherf*****r that you think it is. Not entirely anyway.

  • Minimum connection times at the John F Kennedy Airport in New York can be as low as 30 minutes for domestic flights (if you’re flying the same airline).
  • However, it can take as long as 3 hours if you’re coming off an international flight and you need to do a terminal change in order to make your connection.

I know that seems like a really wide range of time, but stay with me. The following is a detailed breakdown of exactly how long it’ll take you to make connections at JFK for nearly any situation (based on my own personal experience)…

What is the minimum connection time for domestic flights at JFK?

As I just mentioned, 30 minutes is the bare minimum of time you’ll need for a domestic to domestic connection. That’s assuming you’re flying the same airline and don’t need to make a terminal change. It’s worth noting that terminal changes aren’t usually required at JFK as long as you’re flying the same airline (or airline alliance).

SANspotter selfie JFK airport terminal 4
Bored out of my mind here in Terminal 4 in the minutes leading up to flying Delta 767-400 economy class all the way home to San Diego. I was kind of hoping for some drama (it makes for better airline reviews), but…this was too easy.

If for whatever reason a terminal change is required, the minimum connection time increases to 1 hour. However, for the sake of preserving your sanity, you’re probably going to want a little more time than that.

What is the minimum connection time for international flights at JFK?

Call this airport what you will, but it’s not fair to call it inefficient. There is no designated international terminal at the John F. Kennedy Airport. International flights arrive and depart from nearly every terminal, so chances are you won’t have to go far to reach your connection.

Connecting FROM an international flight

You’ll need a minimum of 2 hours to connect from an international flight to a domestic flight at JFK. The customs and immigration facilities at this airport are extremely large and state of the art, but that doesn’t always mean that it’s fast and efficient.

There’s insane amount of international traffic coming into the JFK Airport at all hours of the day It’s going to get backed up at times, so have a little patience.

JFK airport terminal 8
I know that I just said that 2 hours is the minimum time needed for an international to domestic connection at JFK. However, if your personality is more “Rodney Dangerfield” than “Snoop Dog”, I’d recommend 3. At least.

Connecting TO an international flight

Connecting from a domestic flight to an international flight at JFK will require at least an hour. Personally, that’s cutting it a little bit too close, but it’s entirely possible if you hustle. It’ll be especially easy if you don’t have to change terminals.

If you do, keep reading, because I’m going to explain the process of making terminal to terminal transfers at the JFK airport below:

A brief overview of the terminal layout at the John F Kennedy International Airport (JFK)

The JFK Airport consists of six terminals. They are all separate buildings, connected by an inter-terminal train (the AirTrain).

jfk terminal map
Stripped of all the roadways (and train lines), the JFK terminal map looks a lot less intimidating. It looks weird, yes, but it’s nowhere near as intimidating as everyone makes it out to be.

Also, don’t get hung up on the fact that Terminals 3 and 6 are nonexistent. The John F Kennedy Airport is in a constant state of evolution, and a lot has changed over the years (including the elimination and combination of some terminal buildings).

The reason why short connection times are (usually) ok at JFK

The main reason why short layovers are usually ok at JFK is due to the fact that there is no designated international terminal. This means that all partner airlines are grouped together in a way that makes sense.

For example, you won’t have to schlep across the entire airport to transfer from one Star Alliance or Oneworld airline to another. They’re all located together in the same terminal buildings.

JFK airport terminal
The only bad thing about all the international airlines being mixed with domestic airlines at JFK is the feeling of “plane envy” you’ll feel. Sucks to be you (with your lowly American Eagle boarding pass to South Bend) when the guy next to you at the urinal is headed to Tokyo in ANA business class.

Transfer time between all terminals at the JFK Airport

Despite how much I love the JFK Airport for being one of the most efficient international gateways in the world, it has its flaws. One of those flaws is the time it takes to move between terminals.

The fastest and most efficient way to move between most terminals at the JFK Airport is to use the AirTrain (there are stations located at each terminal). Walking isn’t always possible – unless you’re feeling especially courageous and willing to walk through dark parking lots and sketchy garages.

  • Note that there are 3 separate AirTrain lines: the Airline Terminals Train, the Jamaica Station Train, and the Howard Beach Train.
  • All 3 lines stop at all terminals, but the Airline Terminals Train is the fastest way around.
  • The Airline Terminals Train runs counterclockwise. That means the very first stop after Terminal 1 is Terminal 8.

Based on my own experience, here’s how long it usually takes me to move from one terminal to the next at JFK using the AirTrain (the Airline Terminals Train):

Terminal 1 to:

  • Terminal 2: 23 minutes (it’ll probably be faster to walk)
  • Terminal 4: 20 minutes
  • Terminal 5: 18 minutes
  • Terminal 7: 16 minutes
  • Terminal 8: 13 minutes

Terminal 2 to:

  • Terminal 1: 13 minutes (it’ll probably be faster to walk)
  • Terminal 4: 23 minutes
  • Terminal 5: 20 minutes
  • Terminal 7: 18 minutes
  • Terminal 8: 16 minutes

Terminal 4 to:

  • Terminal 1: 15 minutes
  • Terminal 2: 13 minutes
  • Terminal 5: 23 minutes
  • Terminal 7: 18 minutes
  • Terminal 8: 16 minutes

Terminal 5 to:

  • Terminal 1: 18 minutes
  • Terminal 2: 16 minutes
  • Terminal 4: 13 minutes
  • Terminal 7: 23 minutes
  • Terminal 8: 20 minutes

Terminal 7 to:

  • Terminal 1: 20 minutes
  • Terminal 2: 18 minutes
  • Terminal 4: 15 minutes
  • Terminal 5: 13 minutes
  • Terminal 8: 23 minutes

Terminal 8 to:

  • Terminal 1: 23 minutes
  • Terminal 2: 20 minutes
  • Terminal 4: 17 minutes
  • Terminal 5: 15 minutes
  • Terminal 7: 13 minutes
JFK airport AirTrain
For what it’s worth, some of the AirTrain stations can take up to 15 minutes to reach from some terminals (Terminal 5 for example). Complain all you want, but it’s still faster than walking.

What is the ideal connection time at JFK?

Before I started flying on a somewhat regular basis, I always overestimated how much time I would need for a connection at JFK. however, now that I know how easy it is, my minimum connection times have been reduced quite significantly. Here’s what I would personally want for a comfortable (no stress) layover at JFK:

Domestic to domestic connections (no terminal change)

Making a connection from one domestic flight to another at JFK (same airline, no terminal change) is super easy. However, my minimum would be 1 hour  – just so I would have enough time to relax and grab a bite to eat.

Domestic to domestic connections (with a terminal change)

Switching terminals when making a connection from one domestic flight to another at the John F. Kennedy Airport is easy, but it’ll take a little bit longer. Because of how long it takes to walk to the AirTrain station in some terminals, I would want at least an hour and a half for a no-stress connection.

SANspotter eating breakfast JFK airport terminal 4
Just in case you were having a hard time picturing what I consider to be a “stress free” layover at JFK.

Domestic to international connections (no terminal change)

As long as I didn’t have to switch terminals, my personal minimum connection time for a domestic to international flight at JFK would be 1 hour and 10 minutes. This is almost exactly the same as a domestic to domestic connection, with the only difference being that you’ll need to be onboard your international flight sooner.

Domestic to international connections (with a terminal change)

I would want a minimum of 2 and a half hours for a no stress connection from a domestic flight to an international flight departing from a different terminal at JFK. Not only will I have to take the AirTrain to get to the other terminal, I’m also going to have to stand in line to get through the security checkpoint once I get there.

International to domestic connections (no terminal change)

Even not having to switch terminals when going from an international flight to a domestic flight at JFK is going to take a bit of time. Customs and immigration lines can get long, so I would want a minimum of 2 and half hours.

International to domestic connections (with terminal change)

I wouldn’t want to do an International to domestic transfer at JFK (one that required a terminal change) in less than 3 hours. That’s very likely to be too much time for most people, but I’d rather be safe than sorry. 

American Airlines A319 Terminal 8 JFK
Just a pretty picture of an American Airlines A319 parked here at Terminal 8 to help calm your nerves. Don’t worry about your tight connection – everything is going to be fine!

Tips for making really short connections at JFK

W’ve all undoubtedly seen our favorite actors and movie stars make mad dashes through the JFK airport in a way that makes it look like hell on earth. If you’ve ever seen the original Home Alone movie, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

The good news is that movies and TV shows are often exaggerated. Making connections at the John F. Kennedy Airport in New York can be extremely calm and easy if you follow these steps:

  • Fly the same airline (or at least airlines that belong to the same alliance). This will almost guarantee that you won’t have to make a terminal change.
  • Do everything within your power to have your boarding passes for your connecting flight in hand before you arrive. The JFK Airport is an extremely busy place, and the last place you’ll want to end up is in a long queue to get a printed boarding pass. In my experience, those lines can get gnarly.
  • Do not walk between terminals! There are no designated sidewalks connecting most terminals, so the fastest and most efficient way to get between them is to use the AirTrain.

Comments (2)

  1. Trey

    November 4, 2022
    • Scott (SANspotter)

      November 4, 2022

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