All over the world, there are some cities where you can get off your flight and hop on a train or metro to get from the airport to the city. In many others you’re stuck paying for an overpriced taxi, Lyft, or Uber, or trying to figure out the public bus system.
While you can’t avoid airport car services or inconvenient buses in much of America, there are some cities where you can take convenient public transportation to where you want to go. In some cases—like New York City and Miami—you can go 100 miles or across the country by eventually connecting with a long-haul system on another platform.
The USA is a collection of 50 states and some of those states are far more progressive than others when it comes to public transportation. Then within those states, some city leaders have been more forward-looking than others as well. So while the U.S. has a well-deserved reputation for being obsessed with cars and highways, there are some airports where you have a cleaner, more environmentally friendly way to avoid the traffic.
Here’s where you can take a local train to the city center or metro from the airport to downtown. Note: This post on public transportation from U.S. airports was updated in May, 2020.
JFK – New York City
The JFK airport you take the AirTrain to connect to the subway to get elsewhere in the city, including Manhattan. It takes travelers to several connecting public transit services at Jamaica Station and Howard Beach Station. From the Jamaica station, you have access to the Long Island Rail Road, the NYC subway’s E, J and Z trains. From the Howard Beach station, catch the subway A train to southern Queens, Brooklyn, and lower Manhattan.
Cost: $5 + $2.75 to Manhattan
NEWARK LIBERTY INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT – Newark, NJ
Newark International Airport Station is a railroad station on the Northeast Corridor (NEC). The station provides access to Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) via the AirTrain monorail which connects the station to the airport’s terminals and parking areas.
It is served by New Jersey Transit’s (NJT) Northeast Corridor Line and North Jersey Coast Line and Amtrak’s Northeast Regional and Keystone Service trains from the Dayton neighborhood of the city. From the Newark airport to the city center is a 25- or 30-minute ride, then figure another 30 minutes or so to Penn Station in Manhattan, though the official website says you can get from Newark Airport to New York City in as little as 25 minutes the whole way.
Cost: $13 to Manhattan
BOSTON LOGAN AIRPORT – Boston, Massachusetts
You technically can’t take a train from Boston’s international airport, but I’m putting it on here since a free bus or ferry connects you with the subway system. You can get the Silver Line Rapid Transit Bus Service to the red line, or the Massport Shuttle to the blue line.
South Station is the center of transportation is Boston where you can get any means of transportation of your choice to get to any location you want in the city. The airport has its own ferry dock, where you can board a free ferry to Boston or Hingham, or Hull on weekends.
Cost: $2.50 for the T subway fare after the free shuttle or ferry.
PHILADELPHIA INTERNATIONAL – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Travelers from the Philadelphia international airport can easily get on board the SEPTA Airport Line at any terminal in the airport to get to the city center. This rail line will take you to places like the Philadelphia Art Museum (Suburban station), 30th Street Station, UPenn (University City), or Reading Terminal Market (Jefferson). From the Philadelphia international airport to the city center is about a 25-minute ride.
BALTIMORE WASHINGTON INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (BWI) – Baltimore, MD
One of three airports serving Washington, DC and its suburbs, BWI offers the best rail bargain on this list if you want to get to downtown Baltimore from the terminal. See the details here, but in short, you can take the light rail system to downtown Baltimore, Timonium, and Hunt Valley–30 stops in all. To go to Penn Station, you would exit the train at Mt. Royal Avenue and take the Penn Station Light Rail. The light rail station is outside the lower level of the terminal building, next to Concourse E.
You can also take Amtrak from many locations north and south of Baltimore and get almost to the airport. You just need to take a short shuttle bus ride, which is available 24/7 and is free, dropping you off at your needed turntable. Vice-versa, you can fly into Baltimore than take the Amtrak train to go elsewhere, including Washington, DC.
HARTSFIELD-JACKSON INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT – Atlanta, Georgia
Combine the world’s busiest airport with some of the USA’s worst air traffic congestion and it’s a recipe for disaster. Thankfully, from Atlanta’s international airport, travelers can hop on the Atlanta subway system MARTA. The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority has a train stop at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport right past baggage claim. This metro line will take you to the center of downtown Atlanta. From the airport to the city center is just a 20-minute ride, compared to a crawling 60 minutes sometimes in a taxi during commuting hours.
MIAMI INTERNATIONAL – Florida
From the Miami international airport, travelers can get onto the Metrorail Orange line and switch to others at transit points. This metro system train to the city center takes passengers to Downtown Miami (Government Center), Brickell, University of Miami, and other locations in the city. From the Miami international airport to the city center is a ride of just 20 minutes.
You can also connect to the Tri-Rail system here, which will take you all the way up to Palm Beach or connect you with Amtrak to ride to Tampa, Orlando, or north out of Florida.
Cost: $2.25 (or $2.50 – $5.65 for Tri-rail)
MINNEAPOLIS-ST. PAUL INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT – Minneapolis, Minnesota
From the Lindbergh terminal at the Minneapolis airport, travelers can take the metro blue line. That takes them to key locations in the city like the Warehouse District, downtown Minneapolis, and even the Mall of America in Bloomington. From the Minneapolis St. Paul airport to the city center is a ride of about 30 minutes.
O’HARE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT – Chicago, Illinois
From the Chicago O’Hare International Airport, travelers from the airport can go to the lower level of terminal 2 to catch the CTA Blue Line of the metro to Forest Park. This subway and elevated train transport system takes you to places like The Loop (Clark/Lake, Jackson), Rosemont Convention Center (Rosemont), United Center (Illinois Medical Center), and Gateway theater (Clark/Lake). From the O’Hare international airport to the city center is a ride of about 40-45 minutes.
Midway Airport in Chicago only has a few international flights (on Southwest, Volaris, and Porter), but this one too has a subway connection on the orange line.
CLEVELAND HOPKINS INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT – Cleveland, Ohio
This is definitely a second-tier airport these days, with the only scheduled international flights being to/from Canada, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Jamaica. Being #45 in the USA by traffic makes it much easier to navigate though as you make your way to the lower level of the main terminal to catch the RTA Red Line to the city center. Trains run every 15 minutes.
ST. LOUIS LAMBERT INTERNATIONAL – St. Lous, Missouri
One of the country’s oldest airports, the Lambert one in St. Louis offers rail transportation to various points in the city from Terminal 1 or 2 via the MetroLink. The airport is at the north end of the red line, stretching all the way to the Shiloh-Scott station at the other end of St. Louis. By getting off at Forest Park station you can connect to the blue line, which goes to nine other suburban stations to the south.
Otherwise, just hop on and take a train to the city center because there’s no chance you can go the wrong way. See maps and info here.
DALLAS/FORT WORTH INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT – Dallas, Texas
Sprawling Texas has a good rail connection at its airport via the Dallas Skyline DART Area Rapid Transit Train. The DART Rail Orange Line is located at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport’s Terminal A. Travelers also have access to the TEXRail, which provides train service between Dallas and Fort Worth. Now you can connect to TEXRail from the North Station of the DFW airport or from Terminal B. See a map with stops here.
SALT LAKE CITY INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT – Salt Lake City, Utah
One of the newest entries on this list for getting from the airport to the city center gave us hope that even red-state climate change deniers can find a reason to get more cars off the roads. From the south end of Terminal 1, travelers from this SLC airport can take the UTA TRAX Green Line through the city to West Valley Central.
This rail line (pictured at the top) takes passengers to places like Utah State Fairgrounds, Energy Solutions Arena, Temple Square, City Center, and Smith’s Ballpark. From the Salt Lake International Airport to the city center is a ride of 15-20 minutes.
DENVER INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT – Denver, Colorado
It’s a loooong way out to Denver’s airport where there’s not much else around, so you previously had to spend a fortune to get there. So lots of cheers went up when the rail line opened in 2016 to cover the 23 miles to the city center. This is no pokey trip either: at 79 miles per hour this airport train will get you to Union Station in 37 minutes and trains run every 15-30 minutes.
You will need an all-day pass, but you can keep using it to move around the city the same day. See more details here.
SEA-TAC INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT – Seattle & Tacoma, Washington
You can hop onto Seattle/Tacoma’s Link Light Rail between 5 a.m. and 1 a.m., which covers almost any flight. You’ll need to follow a walkway from your terminal to the fourth floor of the airport parking garage. From there the line goes all the way to the University of Washington, stopping at South Seattle neighborhoods, the stadium district, the International District/Chinatown and downtown locations.
Cost: $2.50 – $3.75
PORTLAND INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT – Portland, Oregon
The airport that often shows up as the best in the USA according to passengers has an easy rail connection too. The MAX Light Rail System of this eco-friendly city has a red line station from the airport. It makes multiple stops through Portland on the way to Beaverton, or you can switch train lines to get to different parts of the city.
Cost: $2.50 or get an all-day pass for $5
SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL – San Francisco, California
Travelers from the San Francisco International Airport can easily catch the Airtrain at any terminal, for no cost, and get off at the Garage G/BART station stop. From there you can access the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system. From the Airport, the Bay Area Rapid Transit takes you to different part of the city ranging from Downtown San Francisco, Mission, Embarcadero, Oakland, Orinda, and Walnut Creek. Getting to the San Francisco city center by BART is a ride of about 30 minutes.
OAKLAND INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT – Oakland, California
Oakland International (OAK) may not be as busy as SFO, but it has some surprisingly long-haul flights coming in and out: like Barcelona and Copenhagen. It also serves the Pacific Coast of Mexico. Oakland’s airport is connected to the same BART system across from baggage claim at Terminal 1 and this airport train line can get you to downtown Oakland, Berkley, or the center of San Francisco.
Cost: $7.95 to $10.20
PHOENIX SKY HARBOR INTERNATIONAL – Phoenix, Arizona
Serving Phoenix itself as well as the burbs like Scottsdale and Mesa, the airport here in the desert connects to the Valley Metro via the free PHX Sky Train at the 44th St./Washington Valley Metro Rail station. A ticket on Valley Metro is just the same price no matter where you’re going so you can ride from the airport to nearly 40 stops along the route in either direction.
Cost: $2 one-way
This post is only about U.S. airports with a train to the city center, but if you are going to or from Toronto, buy a pass before boarding and you can ride from Pearson Airport to Union Station, which connects to other subway lines. (Or vice-versa to get to Toronto’s airport from where you’re staying.)