Many passengers are familiar with the instant dread that fills their souls upon seeing a massive Immigration and Customs line at the airport. It’s a common occurrence that is usually paired with tired legs after a 10-hour flight.
The airport process can be messy, which is why it’s good to budget an additional few hours to account for this time loss. However, what if you didn’t have to? As many of us start packing our bags and heading to the airport this holiday season, we wanted to discover the U.S. airports with the longest and shortest wait times so that you can make it to your destination as quickly as possible.
We took a deep dive into average wait times across major airport hubs so you could know which ones to budget more time for and which ones have their airport Immigration and Customs systems down to a science.
Mapping Out the Quickest Airports To Get Through Immigration and Customs
Loud gum chewing, talking on speakerphone, and waiting in long lines are just a few of the biggest pet peeves people have at the airport. While you can’t control someone smacking their lips, you can avoid the busiest times at the airport so that you can make your holiday arrival to the in-laws without any hiccups.
We took a comprehensive look at 34 U.S. airport Immigration and Customs times from coast to coast to help you get through the airport process with ease. Simply scroll over the airplane icons to see the average wait times, along with the best and worst times to travel through each airport.
Airports With the Longest Wait Times at Immigration and Customs
As you plan for your return trip after holiday travel, there are certain airports you’ll want to steer clear of if you don’t love waiting to clear Immigration and Customs. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) tops our list with an average wait time of 31.95 minutes, which is 79% higher than the average wait time of 17.88 minutes. Interestingly, traffic doesn’t seem to play much of a role in this high figure, as FLL welcomes 30.11 passengers per booth at Immigration and Customs every hour, which is actually 20% less than the average (37.17).
Oddly enough, the second worst airport in terms of Immigration and Customs wait times is also in Florida. Miami International Airport (MIA) has an average wait time of 23.61 minutes, or 32% higher than the average. Airport traffic could be partly responsible for this, as it sees 44.43 passengers per booth, which is 18% more than the average. John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) comes in a very close third, with an average wait time of 23.58 minutes, even though it sees about 10 fewer passengers per booth every hour than MIA.
Travelers entering the country through San Francisco International Airport (SFO) wait for an average of 20.34 minutes (14% higher than the average), while those entering through Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) wait for an average of 20.26 minutes (13% higher). Tourists will have to wait just a bit longer to see the Golden Gate Bridge or take a stroll through Millennium Park.
While you might expect traffic to be a driving force behind wait times at Immigration and Customs, it doesn’t seem to be much of a factor. Of the 10 airports where you wait the longest, only 3 of them see more passengers per booth every hour than the average: Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS), Miami International Airport (MIA), and Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC).
Airports Where You’ll Get Through Customs the Quickest and Slowest
We’ve all seen those passengers who’ve sprinted past terminals in hopes of making their connecting flight after getting through airport Immigration and Customs. Certain airports like Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) allow for some dilly-dallying while others like Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) are sure to slow passengers down at the Immigration and Customs checkpoint.
On average, 52.86% of passengers can get through airport Immigration and Customs in 15 minutes or less.
Dulles International Airport (IAD) sits just above the average with 60.3% of its passengers making it through airport Immigration and Customs in 15 minutes or less, while San Francisco International Airport (SFO) checks in just below the average at 45.1%.
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) has the lowest percentage of passengers who get through Immigration and Customs quickly, with just 16% clearing in under 15 minutes. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) is on the opposite end of the spectrum, as a whopping 88.6% of its passengers are through Immigration and Customs in under a quarter-hour.
The Seasonality of Quick Customs Clearance
Ever wonder which months, dates, and times are best for heading to the airport? It’s no secret that efficiency is not human beings’ strong point, as they tend to clog up the airport steps you need to take to be on your way. Whether you’re visiting the Grand Canyon or arriving in Florida to disembark on a luxury cruise, we wanted to give you an overview of when exactly to book your next flight. Get your vacation or work time off to the right start by booking a trip during the periods outlined below:
- From October to March, average wait times are below average. From April to September, the average wait times are above average.
- On a week-to-week basis, the best days to go through airport Immigration and Customs are Monday, Tuesday, and Sunday. The worst days are Wednesday through Saturday.
- Early morning flights typically mean a longer wait through Immigration and Customs — 4 out of the 5 longest average wait times happen before 8 a.m. Clearing customs later at night typically means a shorter wait time — 3 out of the 5 shortest average wait times happen after 9 p.m.
To determine the airport hubs with the longest and shortest average wait times at Immigration and Customs, we analyzed wait time data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for 34 large U.S. airports from October 2021 to October 2022.
CBP publishes the average wait time for each hour of the day and day of the week for international flights into each airport. Once we collected the data, we were able to calculate the average wait times at each airport overall, ideal times to go through Immigration and Customs, and seasonal trends regarding wait times in the U.S.
Airports are the halfway mark between where we are and where we want to be, not where we’d like to spend extra time. Don’t be surprised by some of the busiest wait times at airports like John F. Kennedy International (JFK) and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL), and count on a more efficient process in airports like Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) and Denver International Airport (DEN).
Next time you’re heading back home from an international trip, be sure to do your homework so that you’re not spending your precious time waiting in those never-ending airport lines.
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