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BWI to Islip: Cheap, but at What Cost?

By Carol Sottili
The Washington Post
Sunday, April 4, 1999; Page E04

Hypothesis: You can use Southwest Airlines' new BWI-to-Islip, Long Island, service to get to Manhattan really cheap.

Materials: A desire to go to New York City and spend very little money in transit. Familiarity with Southwest's as-low-as-$39-one-way fares. A major credit card.

First Assay: I leave my house in suburban Virginia at 7:10 a.m. to make an 8:55 a.m. flight from BWI. Arrive in plenty of time to park in satellite lot and get a cup of coffee. The 42-minute flight is uneventful. A prearranged car from Winston's Airport Shuttle shows up 10 minutes late, but we miraculously hit little traffic in our 52-mile journey to Lower Manhattan, arriving at 11:15 a.m. Door-to-door travel time: 4 hours 15 minutes--about what it takes to drive from Northern Virginia to NYC on a Saturday morning.

Second Assay: For the return journey I try a cheaper route. I leave the downtown hotel around noon and catch a 1:15 p.m. Long Island Rail Road train from Penn Station to Ronkonkama, arriving at 2:30 p.m. I expected to be the only person hailing a cab to the airport, but no: Six cabs fill up for the 4 1/2-mile trip. The driver for Village Taxi reports the taxis are carrying nearly 100 people a day between the airport and the train since Southwest came to town March 14. The 3:35 p.m. flight gets off the ground 40 minutes late, arriving at BWI at 5:15 to an insane airport rush hour, people shoving onto overcrowded buses headed for satellite parking. Forty-five minutes later I make it to my car. At 7:05 p.m. I pull into my driveway. Door-to-door travel time: Seven hours.

Computations: $88 for the round-trip plane ticket, including taxes; $14 to park at BWI; $90 for the one-way car ride into Manhattan (more than the airfare!); $7 for the cab from the hotel to Penn Station (I could have taken the subway for $1.50, but I had luggage); $6.50 for the one-way LIRR train to Ronkonkama; $10 for the cab to Islip Airport. Total price: $215.50. Taking the LIRR both ways and taking the subway to Penn Station, the cost would have been $142.50. That's the deal budget hounds want.

Considerations: Amtrak takes you directly from Union Station in Washington to Manhattan's Penn Station. The Metroliner gets you there in three hours and costs $184 round trip. Regular service takes 3 1/2 hours and costs about $130 round trip. Flying from Dulles or Washington National into either LaGuardia, Newark or JFK airports takes about the same time and can cost as little as $108 round trip (if you plan in advance). Add $25 for the round-trip shuttle into Manhattan.

Conclusions: This route is best left to those headed to Long Island, not Manhattan. Taking all the cheapest options along the transportation chain will leave you spending about what you'd spend to take Amtrak, and flying will likely take you longer. You can even fly almost as cheaply to NYC--$108 round trip from Dulles, BWI or National to any of New York's big three airports, but you'll need to plan three weeks in advance, stay over a Saturday night, etc. The best use of the Manhattan-via-Islip route might be for budget-conscious, last-minute fliers. Southwest's round-trip walk-up fare between BWI and Islip is $140, while the cheapest spur-of-the-moment round-trip fare to New York's three big airports from any airport in Washington is usually around $300.

For Further Study: After Southwest began its BWI-to-Islip service, US Airways, the only carrier that had flown the D.C.-to-Islip route, discontinued its service.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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