These days international travellers come not by ship but by plane. This means that they will generally land at either New Jersey’s Newark International Airport or New York’s JFK International out on Long Island. Flying with Delta from Manchester we touched down at JFK.
I have to say my memories of JFK are not great ones. The airport is rather run down and dilapidated to be honest – not exactly a great advertisement for the city. Upon arrival we had to walk down endless narrow grubby corridors with ‘70s decor and missing roof-tiles. Upon departure we couldn’t help but notice no less than 11 kite-like devices attached to the ceiling of Terminal 3 with hose running down from them to catch leaks. I also found the staff at Terminal 3 to be conspicuous by their absence. Arriving there to catch our flight home we found a melee of four separate queues but with no one to tell you which particular queue you should be in. We joined one, got to the desk at the front, and only then discovered that this was the desk for baggage drop and that we needed to check in either at another desk or on a computer terminal. The terminals did allow us to check in but curiously only gave Rebecca a seat number, 19B, which was in an emergency exit row (where she did not particularly want to sit !). I was not given a seat number though I was checked in. We managed to find a member of staff who had just come on duty who assured us that we would be seated next to each other at the gate. The desk attendant at the baggage drop counter (once we had got to the front of that queue for the second time) also assured us that we would be seated next to each other at the gate. At the gate I was finally given my seat number – 38F. Rebecca was still in 19B. We were assured that this was the best they could do. Only when I made a scene did they admit that, okay, 20B was actually free and moved me there. The next problem was that Rebecca did not want to sit in the emergency exit aisle where they had put her. The gate attendant then tried to move her to 38F. In the end we accepted the seats allocated to us but illegally swapped over once on board the plane so that I was sat in the exit row and Rebecca was in the row behind me. The really ridiculous thing was that she was then sat next to someone whose partner had been sat somewhere else on the plane. Every person we spoke to seemed to have a partner or family member that had been allocated a seat at the other end of the plane from them. I honestly don’t know who was to blame for this cock-up, JFK International or Delta Airlines, but it left a bad taste in our mouths after a genuinely lovely holiday. I can now understand why our friend Marie paid extra to fly into Newark on a carrier that was not Delta.
However, the one cause for concern I had prior to my arrival – Immigration – turned out to be painless. Frequent visitors to the US had laughed at me saying that with my passport being so full of stamps from North Africa, the Middle East, Russia and China there was no way I would be allowed into the country without a stern interrogation. As it was the fellow at the Immigration desk was friendly and even plonked my entry stamp right opposite my Syrian visa ! (It probably also helps that they have a video in Immigration explaining the process that seems to be narrated by Tom Hanks. If there is an American voice more likely to put you at ease and make you feel welcome than Tom Hanks I honsetly do not know who it could be).
There are a number of ways to get between JFK and Manhattan. One of the easiest – other than a private taxi – must be the New York Airport Service bus. These are regular mini-buses that spirit you straight from the airport to Grand Central Station (an easy walk from our hotel). At $15 per person and a 45-minute rideI can’t really argue with the service.
Coming back we found a cheaper (if slightly more time-consuming) way of getting to the airport from Penn Station. We caught the Long Island Railroad out to the Jamaica stop. There we bought $5 tickets for a shuttle monorail that deposited us at the terminal of our choice. Total travel time was maybe a shade over an hour but cost less than $10 each. Knowing how painless the journey was I would actually be inclined to use this method of travelling to and from the airport on any future visit.