The JFK AirTrain has been operational since 2003, but until today, the only acceptable payment method has been a MetroCard. On its opening day, the fare was $5, which could only be paid for using a single-use card. Later, the AirTrain stations at Howard Beach and Jamaica stations began accepting reloadable multi-use MetroCards. Though the fare has now increased to $8.25, one thing has remained unchanged – you still need to pay your fare with a MetroCard, even though the rest of the train system had “graduated” to contactless.
Upon arriving in New York, travelers were required to purchase a MetroCard from either a vending machine or a shop before they could leave the station and board the subway or LIRR. The MetroCard could be used to conveniently pay for the rest of their trip on subways and buses throughout New York. This method of payment was commonplace in 2005 and stayed in place until 2019.
However, contactless systems have now become the norm around the world. These systems enable passengers to pay by tapping their credit/debit cards, smartphones, or watches. The MTA is phasing out the MetroCard and has installed OMNY contactless readers on subways and buses. Though there are some issues integrating the legacy fare programs, which have delayed the end of the MetroCard, one of the major obstacles was that JFK AirTrain still operated with the MetroCard system.
While the AirTrain accepts MetroCard, it’s not part of the MTA’s network. Instead, it is run by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Both parties are blaming each other as to why there was such a long delay in getting OMNY readers at the AirTrain stations but the wait is finally over.
As of October 10th, there are OMNY payment readers at both JFK AirTrain stations that connect to mass transit. You’ll have to look for the OMNY readers as only select gates have them installed. As of the opening date, there were three gates with OMNY for people leaving Jamaica Station and 1 reader for those traveling to the airport. Howard Beach Station has only one reader for each direction of travel.
There was some difficulty during the changeover, resulting in the staff opening the gates to let people get through without paying, but the problems seem to have been resolved.
AirTrain MetroCard system down at Jamaica station and tap-to-pay doesn't start until tomorrow. So, with lots of travelers piling up, the authorities decided to throw all of the gates open! pic.twitter.com/0baELNXR4k
— JT Genter (@JTGenter) October 9, 2023
According to the MTA website, they are suggesting passengers use the OMNY system to board the AirTrain.
You can’t use unlimited passes on the AirTrain. Use OMNY or have a MetroCard with money on it before you head to the airport, to avoid lines that can get long.
I’d imagine the lines would be long since the MTA has removed the MetroCard vending machines from the station. 🙂
I haven’t seen any updates since the change to OMNY took place. Is it any easier to get through the turnstiles at JFK when exiting the AirTrain at Jamaica or Howard Beach? Have passengers gotten used to using the OMNY contactless system or are people lining up to buy a MetroCard at the station?
Just a few reminders about the OMNY system. While there will eventually be OMNY cards sold at the stations by vending machines, like the MetroCards, the main place to purchase them is at retail locations around the area. Cards can be reloaded online or where the cards are sold. Instead, the OMNY system is designed to be used with contactless payments.
Since the JFK AirTrain is not operated by the MTA, I don’t think the $8.25 fare will count towards the weekly cap of only having to pay for 12 rides.
I will be able to try the system myself during our next trip to JFK as we plan to take the subway from our hotel to the airport. I will provide more details about the system’s functionality at that time.
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