Oct. 4, 2023 By Ben Brachfeld
The AirTrain to John F. Kennedy Airport will finally be outfitted with the OMNY tap-to-pay system this month, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced on Wednesday.
OMNY readers will be installed on select turnstiles at the Jamaica and Howard Beach AirTrain terminals and activated on Tuesday, Oct. 10, the governor announced with the Port Authority and MTA. Not all fare gates will be outfitted with OMNY, however; some will remain MetroCard-only for now, with all turnstiles set to be OMNY-equipped by the end of 2024.
“We are making it easier than ever for travelers to take the train to JFK, and for visitors to our great city to use one of its most essential services – the MTA,” Hochul said. “As we continue to rollout OMNY throughout the system, I encourage everyone to take advantage of this service and travel safely.”
OMNY’s arrival means travelers heading to JFK Airport will no longer have to linger in line to buy a MetroCard in order to board the people mover, even if they used contactless payment on the subway to get there. OMNY readers accept payment from debit cards, digital wallets, and dedicated OMNY cards.
The AirTrain costs $8.25 for travelers boarding or exiting at Jamaica and Howard Beach, but the true cost is often actually $9.25 since buying a MetroCard at a vending machine comes with a $1 fee. Transfers from the subway are not free, so a single traveler can expect to pay $12.15 to get to JFK using transit. For a family of four, AirTrain fares could add up to $48.60, potentially more expensive than an Uber.
Not everyone taking the AirTrain has to pay so much, though: those who drive to the airport and board the people mover from a parking lot ride for free.
The AirTrain is run not by the MTA, but by the Port Authority, which also runs the three metropolitan area airports, the Port Authority Bus Terminal, and the PATH train. The MTA has long since installed OMNY on all subway turnstiles and buses, but doesn’t consider the contactless payment project complete until it can be integrated into other regional transit networks it doesn’t run.
The AirTrain’s adoption of OMNY follows the Roosevelt Island Tram back in August. The Port Authority is working to install contactless payment on the PATH train as well, but using a different system than OMNY despite hiring the same vendor, Cubic, as the MTA contracted to build it.
Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo pressed to build an AirTrain to LaGuardia Airport, but the project became politically toxic due to its far-flung route and gargantuan price tag. Environmental groups also sued to protect parkland the train would have used. After Cuomo’s resignation, Hochul cancelled the project. Travelers heading to LaGuardia on transit can take the free Q70 LaGuardia Link bus from the subway in Jackson Heights or the M60 Select Bus from Harlem.