Whether you’re going on your first big post-covid trip or a frequent country-hopper taking advantage of the evolving world of digital nomad visas, airport lines are one of the most dreaded parts of the travel process.
While everyone has to deal with check-in and baggage lines, international travelers have the additional step of waiting at airport customs.
As the industry struggles to navigate record numbers of travelers after covid-related layoffs, we often hear stories of someone waiting at customs for several hours both at American airports and in other countries — not because of a problem with immigration but simply due to the high number of fellow travelers.
By looking at Custom Borders and Protection (CBP) data from 34 of the country’s biggest airports between October 2021 and 2022, travel company Upgraded Points ranked the best and worst airports for customs delays.
How Do I Avoid That Long Airport Line?
“Many passengers are familiar with the instant dread that fills their souls upon seeing a massive Immigration and Customs line at the airport,” writes Alex Milller of Upgraded Points. “It’s a common occurrence that is usually paired with tired legs after a 10-hour flight.”
While it can feel much longer when you’re actually in line, someone arriving to one of these 34 airports from another country had to wait an average of 17.88 minutes. 52.86% of passengers got through customs in 15 minutes or less.
While smaller airports like Phoenix Sky Harbor and Raleigh-Durham International Airport generally fared much better than behemoths like New York’s JFK and Los Angeles’ LAX, the worst airport for customs lines was actually in Florida — international arrivals to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport had to wait 79% times longer than the overall average.
Due to the large numbers of people going through their entry ports daily, the main airports in Miami, New York and San Francisco had some of the longest customs lines. Phoenix Sky Harbor, meanwhile, is the best place to get through quickly — the average traveler was held up only 5.09 minutes or 88.59% faster than the country’s average.
The airports at Denver and Raleigh-Durham ranked among the top three best for customs times followed closely by St. Louis and Detroit.
The Airport Mess Of Summer Weekend Travel
The report also looked at the best times during the year, best day of the week and best hour of the day to transit customs at the airport. While it’s rarely possible to plan one’s travel to fit these findings, those crossing into the U.S. waited an average of 14.88 minutes in February and 20.92 minutes in July.
Peak wait times are in August, April and June while those traveling in the winter and late fall months will generally wait less. When looked at by day, the busiest travel days are Thursday and Friday — those coming into the country will wait a respective average of 18.71 and 18.67 minutes while those coming on Sunday go through, on average, in 16.13.
Wait times by time of day stay from the general finding of longer lines during peak travel periods — likely due to the smaller number of working customs officers, those going through between 5 and 6 a.m. will wait the longest at an average of 24.86 minutes.
The quickest hour for getting through is between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. — the 15.53 wait time comes from a combination of officers working and flights arriving during that time.