U.S. Airports with the Best Public Transportation Options

While most major US Airports offer some method of public transportation, a few airports just seem to do it better than others. Some charge extra to spin you around in circles on an AirTrain to regional trains that run on spotty schedules (ahem, EWR).

Others zip you from arrivals to downtown in 20 minutes for just a couple of dollars, and in one instance – free. Factoring in time, cost, and convenience, I’ve compiled a list of nine U.S. airports with the best public transportation options to help you reach the city center smooth as possible.

Nine U.S. Airports with the Best Transit Links to Downtown

For this list, I focused on airports with dedicated stations or public transportation options right outside baggage claim or inside the terminal that provide direct links to their respective city’s downtown. No extra shuttle buses, transfers, or lengthy wait times involved. While I didn’t list every airport in America with direct rail links or service to downtown, the following are airports that, in my opinion, provide the best options for travelers regarding value and accessibility.

Atlanta (ATL)

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL) has a dedicated metro station served by MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority) Atlanta's rapid transit system. Located inside the Domestic Terminal, between the North and South baggage claims, travelers arriving at ATL can take either the Red or Gold lines to the city center. Wait time for the train is usually less than 10 minutes and while there are multiple stops along the way, transfer time from the airport to downtown is around 20 minutes and 25 to midtown. If you’re arriving from abroad, there is a free shuttle service from the International terminal to just outside the MARTA station that runs 24/7.

Cost: $2.50 - Inside the station, riders can buy or reload a Breeze Card ($2.00) or a paper Breeze ticket ($1.00) at a vending kiosk. If you wish to buy a single ride ticket, there is a MARTA RideStore where you can purchase one from an agent during business hours.

Features: MARTA trains offer limited ground storage for luggage. Since the airport station is the last stop, finding space for luggage heading inbound to the city is a breeze.

Boston (BOS)

Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) has several public transportation options, with the Silver Line being the best choice for visitors. This free, yes, free, service links the airport via an underground tunnel beneath Boston Habaaah to South Station. Since it is a bus service, times will vary, but with dedicated lanes, the trip should take around 15-20 minutes to reach regional transport hub South Station. Silver Line S1 buses run from 5:30 am to 12:30 am daily. 

The MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority) also serves BOS with a connection along the Blue Line subway. From the airport, you’ll need to take a free Massport shuttle to the Blue Line - Airport Station. From there you can purchase subway fare ($2.25 to 2.75) to continue into the city center. The third and most unique option is traveling by ferry from the Airport dock taking in 10 minutes of scenic harbor views before arriving at Boston-Long Wharf. You can view ferry times here.

Cost: $0.00–Trips on the Silver Line departing the airport are free with connections to the MBTA subway system included. Fares on the MBTA or locally called "The T" cost $2.75 for an individual ticket and can be purchased at vending machines at Airport Station. You can also purchase a reloadable Charlie Card ($4.00), subsequent rides swiping that will cost a reduced $2.25 per trip. Ferry fares are $9.25 and may be purchased on the dock.

Features: Silver Line and Massport buses have dedicated racks for storing luggage. MBTA subway cars will have limited floor storage. Ferries are more spacious and provide a better view than the previous two options, but do not have specially allocated space for luggage.

San Francisco (SFO) & Oakland (OAK)

After touching down at San Francisco (SFO) or Oakland (OAK) International airports, the best method to get downtown by public transport is BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit). At SFO, you'll find the BART station located inside the international terminal. If arriving at a domestic terminal, no worries, there is a free AirTrain that will loop you around until you reach the BART station. Signage is easy to follow and posted all over. Trains arrive every 15 minutes, and once aboard, it’s a half-hour ride until you’re in downtown.

If you’re arriving at OAK, the BART station is located just across from Terminal 1 baggage claim. There is a people mover, much like a monorail, that will take you to the Coliseum station in about 8 minutes time. At the Coliseum, board a Richmond-bound train, and you’ll arrive in downtown Oakland in 12 minutes. Due to the switch at the Coliseum station, travel times will vary, but shouldn’t take longer than 30-35 minutes to reach the city center.

Cost: $9.65 – From SFO to downtown San Francisco (Powell St.)

   $8.65 - From OAK to downtown Oakland (12th St/Oakland City Center)

Tickets may be purchased at vending machines inside the stations. Fares are distance based; using the BART fare calculator here, you can easily see how much your ticket will be from one end of the Bay to another. Children 4 and under are free. 

Features: BART operates standard subway cars with no dedicated storage for baggage. Some cars have open areas by the doors to accommodate, strollers, bikes, and wheelchairs, and if it’s unused, you can use that space to keep your luggage. The airport stops are at the end of the line, heading inbound to the city the trains are usually empty, making it easy to wheel on luggage.

Denver (DEN)

In 2016, Denver International Airport (DEN) got a shiny new commuter rail service, linking the airport to several destinations downtown. The (RTD) Regional Transportation District’s 23-mile rail line is dubbed the “A line” and takes about 37 minutes to reach Union Station in downtown, making six stops along the route. During peak hours from 4:15 am to 6:30 pm the train departs every 15 minutes from Union Square. Outside peak times, it runs every 30 minutes, with the last A Line train leaving around 1:30 am on weekdays, 2:00 am on Fridays and Saturdays. The rail service is an excellent addition to DEN, with previous options to downtown consisting of crowded bus service or dropping $75 on a taxi to the city.

Cost: $9.00 – Tickets can be purchased at vending machines on the platform or at an RT sales outlet.  

Features: A Line trains have overhead storage, luggage towers, and bicycle racks. With level boarding at all doors of the train, they are wheelchair accessible and easy to roll-on luggage. 

Portland (PDX)

Just outside baggage claim at Portland International Airport (PDX), you'll find the MAX (Metropolitan Area Express) light rail Red Line operated by TriMet. The trip between the airport and Pioneer Square in downtown takes around 38 minutes. On its daily service, the first train arrives at PDX at 4:43, and the last departure from the airport is at 12:18 am. During peak hours, trains depart about every 15 minutes, while off-peak trains run about every half hour. Here’s a look at the official Red Line schedule.

Cost: $2.50 (Youth/Senior ticket $1.25) – Tickets can be purchased near baggage claim on the lower level. Unlimited-ride TriMet passes are also available for only $5.00 per day. 

Features: MAX trains have limited ground storage for luggage but do offer bicycle racks. Since the airport is the last stop, finding space for baggage heading inbound to the city isn't as tricky as outbound travel. With level boarding at all doors of the train, they are wheelchair accessible and make it easy to roll on your luggage. 

Philadelphia (PHL)

Flyers to Philadelphia can take SEPTA’s (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) Airport Line from all terminals to Center City. With only one stop along the way, you’ll reach downtown Philly in approximately 25 minutes. The Airport Line runs daily, starting at 5:00 am through midnight with trains departing about every 30 minutes. Which can be a shorter wait than the taxi queue during rush hour. Three SEPTA bus routes (37, 108, 115) also serve PHL with stops outside the baggage claim area on Zone 1 on the Arrivals Road.

Cost: $6.75 - Quick Trip fares are available for purchase at the fare kiosks located on each terminal platform and may only be used on the Airport Line. Cash tickets may be bought on board for 8 dollars. Single-ride tickets for the bus cost $2.50.

Features: SEPTA stations at the airport are equipped with elevators and escalators. All stops along the Airport Line are wheelchair accessible and feature high-level platforms for easy boarding with bulky baggage. On board, there are luggage compartments and overhead racks for storage. SEPTA buses are standard city buses and do not offer added storage for bulky baggage.

Minneapolis-Saint Paul (MSP)

For travelers looking for a link from Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP) to the city center, look no further than the Light Rail Transit LRT. Minneapolis’s Metro Blue Line LRT trains make stops at both terminals and connect passengers to the Mall of America in just 12 minutes. Trips from the airport to downtown Minneapolis clock in at around 28 minutes. Trains depart every 10 minutes during peak hours and run from 4:20 am to about 2:15 am heading northbound to the Minneapolis city center. For those heading to St. Paul, bus service on the Route 54 flyer runs daily and departs every 15 minutes. Due to a detour through 2019 travel times will vary, but generally takes 20 minutes or so.

Cost: $2.00 off peak/$2.50 peak - Tickets can be purchased at vending machines at the rail stations. Children 5 and under ride for free. LRT tickets are also valid for free bus transfers on Metro Transit within a 2.5-hour period. Fares on the Route 54 bus cost the same as LRT tickets.

Features: The LRT Blue Line features level boarding at all doors of the train. They are wheelchair accessible and make it easy to roll on your luggage. Onboard, however, there is no dedicated area for baggage other than limited ground storage.

Cleveland (CLE)

Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE) is connected to the Cleveland Rapid Transit Authority’s (RTA) Red Line. The RTA station is conveniently located downstairs from the main terminal where trains depart to downtown every 15 minutes. Trips to Cleveland’s Tower City Station in the city center take just under a half hour with eight stops along the way. The Red Line operates daily from approximately 4 am with the last train departing CLE at around 12:30 am. More information on the Red Line can be found here

Cost: $2.50 – Before boarding, passengers must purchase and activate a farecard or ticket at a vending machine inside the station. The RTA Red Line is a proof-of-payment system. All-day passes can be purchased for $5.50.

Features: The Airport Rapid Station is equipped with elevators and escalators. All stops along the Red Line are wheelchair accessible and feature high-level platforms for easy boarding with heavy baggage. Red Line train cars have open areas to accommodate, bikes, strollers, and wheelchairs. If unused, you can store your luggage in that space.

Is your home airport listed? Which airports deserve a spot on the list? Don’t agree with some of the selections? Leave your comments and suggestions below. 

Related Article: America's Most Convenient Airports

Header photo by EQRoy via Shutterstock.com

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