I Ran The JFK Airport Marathon Last Night

Filed Under: Travel

There are a lot of people who get anxious when they fly, and are worried about missing connections, arriving at the airport too late, etc. I’m exactly the opposite, to a fault. If I arrive at a busy security line 30 minutes before departure I assume I’ll be fine.

However, I had to share our experience at JFK last night, which even had me sweating (both figuratively and literally).

The circumstances

We were booked on a Ukraine Airlines flight from Kiev to New York, which was scheduled to land at JFK at 3:45PM, and then were booked on a separate American ticket from New York to Washington, scheduled to depart at 5PM. That was certainly a tight connection, though we knew American had another flight later in the evening in case we misconnected.

Well, our Ukraine Airlines flight ended up being over five hours late, so while at Kiev Airport we made a same day confirmed change to the 9:42PM American flight from JFK to DCA, which was the last of the night.


Originally we thought we’d have plenty of time, since with our original four hour delay we were scheduled to land at 7:45PM, leaving us about two hours. Unfortunately the delay got even worse, and we were delayed by nearly an additional 90 minutes.

The countdown

As we approached New York on our flight from Kiev, I played through the connection in my head, given that it would be tight. I worked backwards in trying to figure out the best case scenario, given our 9:42PM departure to DC, which was the last flight of the night. So in my head here’s how the numbers worked out:

  • 5 minutes for immigration with Global Entry
  • 10 minutes for taking the AirTrain from Terminal 7 to Terminal 8 (including all the walking, since the stations aren’t immediately in the terminal)
  • 10 minutes for getting through security
  • 5 minutes for getting to our American Eagle gate (which is at the far end of the terminal, and is quite a haul for anyone familiar with Terminal 8
  • 10 minutes before departure at the gate, given that they usually close the door then

So I figured if we didn’t arrive by 9PM we had a slim shot of making our connection. We were supposed to land at 8:40PM. We were delayed by over five minutes landing. Then we had a long taxi. Then we had to be towed into our gate.

The door opened at 9:03PM. Crap!


We were ready to get off the plane, but the police met our flight, and needed to take someone off the plane, and they wouldn’t let us off the plane until they got the guy. Go figure the guy was at the very back of the plane. That ended up being an adventure, as people refused to sit down (I suspect it was more of a communication barrier than anything), the police got pissed off, etc.

It was 9:10PM by the time we were off the plane. I was ready to call it quits, since 22 minutes to clear immigration, take the AirTrain, go through security, and go to the far end of another terminal seemed highly optimistic.

The sprint

Immigration was super fast. We ran to the AirTrain station (which requires walking outside across the road, taking the elevator up, etc.). The AirTrain was there exactly as we arrived. SCORE!

We got to the Terminal 8 security checkpoint, where we found that both TSA Pre-Check and the priority security line were closed. Tiffany wrote about the ridiculous Pre-Check hours at American’s JFK terminal in the past, though I don’t think either of us realized they also close the priority lines. That’s disappointing for a hub airport.

The line was surprisingly long, and moving quite slowly (since most departures at that hour seemed to be to South America, with a lot of foreign passengers who didn’t know protocols, etc.). We must have waited in security for 10 minutes, which was the longest 10 minutes of my life. I’m actually surprised it didn’t take longer.

At this point I looked down at my phone and saw it was 9:25PM. So I sprinted to gate 31B, knowing that they’d probably close the gate way early, as they unfortunately always seem to. I told Tiffany to walk at her own pace, and that I’d try to delay them for a couple of minutes.

I don’t think I’ve ever run so fast in my life. By 9:28PM I was at the gate. This included running through the concourse, down the long escalator, through the underground walkway, back up the escalator, and then to the end of that concourse.

As I got up to the gate the gate agent said “hurry, it’s the last call.”

I explained I was waiting on Tiffany, and that she’d be there within a couple of minutes. “Well we can’t wait for her, we gotta go.”

“It’s 14 minutes till departure, she’ll be here in the next few minutes.”

She started to walk down the jet bridge, and she insisted I follow her. So I followed her very slowly.

“Walk faster, we gotta go.”

They insisted on gate checking my bag, so I stalled them a bit by taking a few things out of my bag.

I stood in the jet bridge, and the flight attendant told me I needed to get on the plane. I said I’m not going without Tiffany, so she told me to just wait there. I knew Tiffany would be there within a couple of minutes, but in the meantime the ramper taking the gate checked bags was yelling at me as well. “I’m hungry and want me some food, we gotta go.” I offered her some chocolate in my bag, but she seemed unamused.

Tiffany ended up getting to the gate by 9:31PM (11 minutes before departure), and then we pushed back seven minutes later, still four minutes before our scheduled departure.


I just want to clarify I wouldn’t hold up the plane if it meant we were actually delaying it, because I don’t want to be that inconsiderate to other passengers. However American’s gate agents are notorious for closing doors way too early, and then you just sit there for 10 minutes. So I’m confident we didn’t delay the flight in any way, and we still arrived 20 minutes early. But the ridiculous pressure of them acting as if the flight is being delayed if they close the door 10 minutes out is sort of ridiculous.

Anyway, I just had to share, because I think this was a new personal best for me. 18 minutes from deplaning in one terminal till arriving at the gate at the far end of another terminal after having cleared immigration and security at JFK is a new personal record for me.

  1. How did you know the FA was not under orders to close the door early to avoid a weather system or to help other pax make their connections?

  2. @ JoeMart — There are no flights out of DCA departing after 11PM. There was no weather across the entire Northeast last night.

  3. @Joemart

    No 9:42 pm JFK-DCA flight would have passengers connecting at DCA.

    As for weather, I suspect they would have indicated that weather required exigencies.

  4. It’s a 4 hour drive with no traffic, as it would be at 9:30PM. Not the end of the world to rent a car one-way.

  5. I had to make a similar sprint once on Delta, did the same thing you did with Tiffany with my wife, and also had an agent tell me she couldn’t wait, they had to go, etc. even though it wasn’t time yet. Glad you made it, man

  6. ACTUALLY now that I think about it, with a 4 hour drive , why bother spending money/miles booking a separate ticket for 2 pax? You have two people splitting a one way rental. , no risk of atc/weather etc etc

  7. Bravo you two! And kudos to your thoughtfulness of not delaying the flight. I, on the other hand, was forced to pull my media credentials to just to hold our regular LAX to JFK flight as my son, Jason (who just so happens to be a child actor) was in the restroom. I must say that I had to make some demands, but they understood, and recognized me as one of their regulars. Well, long story short, Jason finally finished with his hair and walked over to the gate. And yes, we made it to New York in time! I’m Margaret Grey.

  8. Love it! Glad my wife and I haven’t been in that situation, but certainly would’ve done the same, sprint ahead, and let my wife walk (though faster than her own speed).

    18 minutes is impressive. Usually takes longer than 18 minutes for…any of the segments in that amazing race.

  9. Margaret Grey, Who? Only source I got was wiki

    Margaret Grey (died after May 1426 and before Oct. 1427)[1] was a Cambro-Norman noblewoman, the daughter of Reginald Grey, 3rd Baron Grey de Ruthyn, a powerful Welsh Marcher Lord, who was the implacable enemy of Owain Glyndŵr.

  10. Totally understandable, Ben (and Tiffany). Once flying Lufthansa from TXL to GRU – and a very delayed flight and landing at FRA – I ran through terminals (and got lost!) in Frankfurt. Got it there right on time (and totally tired).

  11. debit…he’s a troll who thinks he is being funny by copying a radio personality’s satire. Google Phil Hendrie

  12. Chapo to you Ben…. especially that long tunnel in T8. I don’t think I would have been able to do what you did especially with bags. Just about a month ago, I had to do that sprint from check-in to that part of the terminal (a last min change of flights to an earlier one and the agent had so much typing to do…) and it still took me 20 mins to get from the counter to the gate due to the traffic on both sides of the escalators and security (even with Priority Access).
    Made it close to that 10 min cutoff time at the gate with the agent already shouting in my face (so irritated with her as clearly the jet bridge was still packed with the last of the passengers).


  13. John Fields says:
    November 4, 2016 at 4:25 pm
    This blog reads more like a personal diary every day.

    anon says:
    A blog (a truncation of the expression weblog)[1] is a discussion or informational website published on the World Wide Web consisting of discrete, often informal diary-style text entries (“posts”)

  14. Loved reading this – I’m 75 now and pretty
    Mobile but I travel short flights so that I have flexibility with seats and my back doesn’t start hurting Did A recent trip to Europe with three friends and I did five countries – I counted 18 plane flights by the time I got home and I loved it The airports get trickier and trickier to manage. Keep up the good work on this blog

  15. So, on Sunday evening August 21, 2016 at LAX, the evening Delta Flt 1354 to Atlanta, scheduled to board at 9:45pm …… at 9:45pm the Captain of the flight is at the check-in desk with the microphone, “we have a problem: we have no co-pilot for this flight. We are working on it.”

    Amazingly enough, the flight arrived into Atlanta for several of us to run to, and catch, our 7:55am connecting flight to Charleston, SC.

  16. @Tiffany if Ben didn’t spend the whole flight worrying about the connection, presumably he could have got some shut eye. I’ve twice driven ord-dtw, once after flying JL and once CX

    four hours is NOTHING, especially when you have two adult drivers who can switch

  17. Give it up, @anon. The NY – DC drive is irritating and exhausting under the best of conditions. There is no way I would have ever considered making that drive immediately after getting off a delayed long-haul flight.

  18. @anon — I regularly commute between DC/NYC and have done it in all conditions via plane, train, and automobile. Right now, Waze shows numerous incidents on the Belt Parkway that are affecting traffic. A four hour drive on this route can easily balloon.

    I would’ve done exactly what Ben and Tiffany did. Perhaps renting a car might’ve been a good alternative had they missed their connection, but it would never be my first choice in this situation.

  19. Glad you guys made the flight – and wow, I don’t think I’d ever be able to run that fast. And I agree with the other poster – thoughtful of you to take into account that you didn’t delay the flight.

    That was a fun read! 🙂

  20. Enough with the hate. Bridge trolls don’t belong on this informational text weblog. The last thing anyone wants to do after 26 hours of travel is *not* sleep, let alone drive for four hours down the death trap of I-95. To be fair, some athletes will be arriving in NYC this weekend after traveling just as far if not farther than Lucky and Tiffany did. Then, they will be running an actual marathon on little or no sleep before schlepping on out of New York. Everything is in perspective, and for Ben, I give him credit for pulling off an 18 minute int’l to domestic gate-to-gate ransfer at JFK, because… who wants to drive through the night or ride that thing called Amtrak?

  21. One of my pet peeves is the commuter gate agent who just loves to slam the door at exactly 10 minutes so the plane can push back 5 minutes early. I swear it’s like they relish causing misconnects.

  22. Very entertaining – kept me on the edge of my (toilet) seat.

    “If I arrive at a busy security line 30 minutes before departure I assume I’ll be fine.”

    Me too – until I *missed* my flight.

  23. I did something like this once at LGA. We went to the wrong terminal (twice!), then rushed through security. Naturally, I was with my dad, king of the surprise secondary screening, so I just ran ahead. In fact, I was on the plane when my parents showed up (it wasn’t the last flight of the day–it was the first flight, really–so I knew we’d all get there somehow).

    They had, apparently, run and split off at a certain point. Mom made it to the gate and breathlessly told the GA that my dad was coming, to which the GA said “you beat your husband here? I won’t say anything.” Good, crew has a sense of humor. Dad arrives, SHOES IN HAND, and lands in his seat as the door closes and, within moments, we’re off.

    Crazy experience! I didn’t time it, and I wish the first part of my story had a better beginning than “we switched flights and only left ourselves about 25 minutes.”

    Oh, and if we’d taken the originally scheduled flights, we’d have arrived hours later than scheduled due to weather. Woohoo!

  24. Unpleasant of course but not uncommon as US airports logistics and flows are very poorly designed. I try at any cost not to connect through US. Rather fly in on a different route. And as immigration and friendly TSA officials helpfully let you know when you are about to miss a connection ‘there is always a next’.

  25. Besides flying from NYC to DC is a joke. May as well drive. I grew up in CT and drive to DC all the time. It’s a quick easy painless drive.especially for 2 people. It’s a waste of miles or money to fly that route

  26. @ Tiffany were you the pilot of that flight from Kiev? What could possible make 2 people tired sitting in a seat for all that time? I thought you were seasoned travelers. If Lucky can sprint a marathon after landing than he obviously had plenty of energy. I almost always drive from Boston to my house in Maine 3.5 hours away after marathon travel experiences, it’s nothing at all, just like the trip from NYC to DC. Seems like a waste of miles or cash to me. Maybe drink less wine on the plane?

  27. @ Margaret Grey, you are exactly the type of passenger I never want on my plane. You obviously think you are special and I don’t subscribe to the belief that certain people are more important than others. People like you make the world shittier than it needs to be. And who cares if your son is a child actor. Are actors special? I think not, it’s a job and you’re obviously milking your son for money whether it’s for his future or your future. Child labor is a joke. Oh yeah, acting iisn’t labor it more about who you know and who you blow…

  28. Similar experience. I was flying from CDG to LAX via LHR. I flew AF to Heathrow but It was delayed for about 2 hours and my connection was already fairly tight as I had to go through US customs. I SPRINTED with a suitcase and bag through the hell of T4 and crowds. I tripped on a suitcase and ended up running with a limp to the gate. Gate was empty but still open. I was limping to the hotel in LAX…

  29. Ah, gate 31 at JFK- have been there many times. Amazing you got through that whole terminal in a few minutes.

    Re the departure- I once had the GA at LGA make a last boarding call 30 minutes before the flight was supposed to depart, then he was annoyed when 10 came to the gate to board. He told us “why are you waiting till the last minute, we are about to leave”? Can’t make this stuff up….. Of course after we closed the doors we sat at the gate for 40 minutes.

  30. Congratulations on the personal record, Ben! Sometimes it just works out. Same thing happened to me. PHL-BOS AA flight was late due to weather. Wasn’t looking good for my BOS-BUFJetBlue flight. Well not only was the JetBlue flight 2 hours late enabling my connection, I scored a $50 travel credit/apology from JetBlue for the delay that saved me a last minute $250 ticket on AA BOS-BUF! 🙂

  31. You do know by delaying them the air crew was unable to get paid for that time correct? They don’t start getting paid until the doors are closed. It would be one thing if they closed the gate prior to the boarding time, but the departure time is not the boarding time. While the plane may sit there after people board the air crew is using all that time to secure the aircraft for takeoff. Also, its widely known that airplanes can close their doors 15 minutes before the departure time and you were already past that time and were telling them someone else was coming and they have no way of knowing how long they will have to wait for that person.

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