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Safeguard Your Sanity This Holiday Season, Skip These US Airports With Long Wait Times

December 6, 2022

On average, 52.86% of passengers can get through airport Immigration and Customs in 15 minutes or less. But imagine waiting for nearly an hour, on a normal day – then add in the congestion of increased holiday travel.

Beat the holiday hold-ups by planning travel around these airports with the fastest and slowest Customs wait times. Getting the inside scoop on where to touch down in the U.S. and on which day of the week will save you valuable time and one heck of a headache.

A recent study released by Upgraded Points has examined the average 2022 wait times of 34 major U.S. airports at Immigration and Customs. It reveals the airports where you can dawdle without worries and those that will leave you running to your connecting gate faster than a family of McCallisters in Home Alone.

Airports With the Shortest Wait Times

There are a few airports that stand out from the rest with truly impressive turnaround times. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) gets people through Customs in a mere 5.09 minutes – and on Saturdays between 1:00 and 2:00 p.m., that number drops to just 1.20 minutes!

Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) ranks second for speed, sending folks through Customs in just 9.75 minutes (and in 2 minutes flat on Mondays between 6:00 and 7:00 p.m.).

St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL), Denver International Airport (DEN), and Baltimore/Washington International Airport (BWI) all ranked closely behind for quick Customs clearance. Their averages ranged from 10.93 to 11.66 minutes.

Baltimore/Washington International Airport (BWI), Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL), Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT), Portland International Airport (PDX), and Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) all tied for 1st for “best time to go through,” with a Customs clearance average of 1 minute, at various times throughout the week.

Airports With The Longest Wait Times

On the other side of the coin, and far ‘out-wait-ing’ the pack, is Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL), with an average wait of 31.95 minutes at Customs and Immigration. Runner up, also from sunny Florida, was Miami International Airport (MIA) with 23.61 minutes.

Other nearly chart-topping honorable mentions are John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) at 23.58 minutes, San Francisco International Airport (SFO) with an average wait of 20.34, and O’Hare International Airport (ORD) clocking in at 20.26.

Although ranking 8th highest on wait times, Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) was number 1 on the “worst time to go through” list, registering at an average of 58 minutes to pass through Customs on Mondays between 7:00 and 8:00 a.m.

Where You’ll Be Able To Make up Some Time

Even the airports with the slowest moving lines at Customs have peaks and valleys throughout the week. If you need to touch down in one of the airports with a longer turnaround time, consider planning for a landing on these days of the week:

Mondays have an average wait time of 17.39 minutes.
Tuesdays, you can expect to spend 17.55 minutes at Customs.
Sundays will be your best bet, with an average of 16.13 minutes spent waiting.
These three days sharply contrast with their over-the-hump-day alternatives, like Thursdays, with the highest wait time of 18.71 minutes, and Fridays not far behind at 18.67 minutes.

The time of day that you fly will have an impact as well. Aim for:

Between 12:00 and 2:00 p.m. or from 8:00 to 11:00 p.m. where wait times are the lowest, at 15.53 – 17.04 minutes.
You’ll want to steer clear of 4:00 to 8:00 a.m. if you can. While you’re in there, it may be best to avoid 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. as well.

What To Expect

It may not be as simple to predict volume this December, given the expectation that travel could increase with the easing of COVID-19 restrictions. There may be an influx of folks traveling internationally for the first winter in a few years to spend time with family overseas.

If one were to make a travel decision based solely on the data from the last year, one might be surprised to find that December ranks mid-pack for wait times, with an average of 17.09 minutes.

Based on this data, the ideal month to travel back to the U.S., and thus through Customs, would be February, with an average wait of 14.88 minutes.

Conversely, you’ll be subject to the longest waits in July, where your average time through Customs is 20.92 minutes.

Now, equipped with this knowledge, you can go forth and enjoy your holidays wherever you go and whatever you do instead of being subject to the grim alternative of weeping into a Tupperware of takeaway apple pie while sitting on your carry-on bag in an endless Customs line. Happy holidays!

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