Milecards

2016 Passport Checkpoint Wait Time Study: Longer waits, but new alternatives to avoid the wait

After massive TSA delays earlier this year, travelers have another delay to contend with. July and August are the worst months for passport checkpoint waits returning to the U.S. – at 21 and 22 minutes on average. MileCards.com analyzed passport checkpoint wait times for over 90 million arrivals at the 41 airports with international arrivals facilities in the 50 United States for which data is available from U.S. Customs and Border Protection to find average wait times, the best and worst hours to arrive, which airports are getting worse, and which are improving.

Fortunately, a free way to bypass the lines, Mobile Passport Control, which is officially authorized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, is now available at most of the very largest airports with lengthy waits.

Key findings

  • July and August are the worst months for passport checkpoint waits returning to the U.S. – at 21 and 22 minutes on average.
  • Miami, San Francisco, and New York-Kennedy are the worst of the busiest airports, with an average wait of 27 minutes in Miami and a typical maximum wait of 55 minutes over the last 12 months. Among gateway hubs that process more than 3 million people a year, Washington-Dulles and Atlanta are the best, with average waits of 11 and 12 minutes over the last 12 months.
  • Sacramento is the worst of all airports tracked, with an average wait of 33 minutes and 52% of passengers waiting over 30 minutes over the last 12 months, compared to 22% across all airports. Sacramento does not have Global Entry, Mobile Passport Control, or Automated Passport Kiosk options for travelers.
  • California has 5 of the 10 worst airports overall for waits – Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, Fresno, and Los Angeles. Oakland is seeing a 57% increase in arrivals this summer with the addition of low cost carrier service from Europe, while San Francisco and Los Angeles arrivals are up 9% and 12% so far.
  • Chicago-Midway is the best overall with an average wait of just 9 minutes over the last 12 months and only 8% of passengers waiting over 30 minutes.
  • This summer, checkpoint waits are up 3% vs. last year at the 40+ airports monitored, but at Washington Dulles, Orlando and Chicago they’re up 46%, 40%, and 37%. For the year to date, average waits are also up 3%. Boston is the most improved, with a 31% decline in wait times this summer despite a 20% increase in arrivals. Just 23% of passengers at Boston waited more than 30 minutes to clear passport control, vs. 37% the same period last year.
  • 3am – 4am is the worst hour to clear passport control on average, while 8pm – 9pm is the best hour. Pre-dawn arrivals that arrive ahead of their scheduled arrival time may be a culprit in the 3am – 4am time period.

 

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worst-and-best-busiest-airports

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Tips to avoid the wait

Use the Mobile Passport Control app for iOS or Android.

This is a free and instant option to get access to priority passport lanes.

You can use it at some of the busiest airports with the worst wait times. Unlike the Global Entry program, you don’t have to register in advance to use it. Any U.S. or Canadian passport holder is eligible.

Download the app anytime from the app store, even when you’re in the immigration line, take a picture of your passport, take a selfie, enter your flight info, and you’re ready to go to the Mobile Passport Control lane. You also have access to priority lanes at the customs declaration checkpoint.

mobilepassportscreenshot

It’s available now at 13 of the busiest airports, but less than 500,000 travelers have downloaded it on Android, so only a fraction of eligible passengers are using it to avoid the wait. One point of confusion to clarify – the app maker’s name is ‘Airside Mobile Inc.’, and not U.S. Customs and Border Protection, but the app is officially authorized. For more information, visit MobilePassport.us.

Airports currently offering Mobile Passport Control:

  • Atlanta
  • Chicago O’Hare
  • Dallas-Fort Worth
  • Denver
  • Fort Lauderdale
  • Miami
  • Minneapolis
  • Newark
  • New York Kennedy
  • Orlando
  • San Francisco
  • San Jose
  • Seattle

Time it right.

Try to avoid arriving in the first bank of flights pre-dawn, which is common for flights from Asia and Latin America. Arrivals ahead of schedule tend to leave passengers dealing with skeleton overnight staffing.

Another time to avoid: mid-afternoon, which is peak time for European arrivals at the mega-hubs. Arriving in the evening is the best bet to avoid lines at larger airports.

Smaller isn’t always faster.

Smaller airports with increasing low-cost carrier international service like Oakland and Orlando Sanford are struggling to keep up with the flow, so consider that extra wait when you make your plans, or sign up for Global Entry (these airports don’t yet have Mobile Passport Control).

Pick the right gateway for where you’re traveling.

If you have a choice from Europe, arrive in Atlanta or Washington-Dulles, rather than New York area airports (which are also among the most miserable for general flight delays according to our 2016 Summer Delay Misery Index).

From Asia, consider Seattle over California airports. And from Latin America consider Atlanta or Dallas over Miami. From Mexico and the Caribbean, consider Phoenix, Charlotte, or Chicago-Midway.

Upgrade to Global Entry if you connect.

Mobile Passport Control is free and the best start for most people, but it doesn’t get you TSA Pre-Check access when you re-clear security for a connecting flight. For that you’ll need advance Global Entry enrollment for a fee. You might be able to offset that fee if you have certain credit cards, and Global Entry also offers priority access at more airports, as well as enrollment for non-U.S. citizens from select countries.

These credit cards will reimburse the $100 cost of Global Entry enrollment:

  • Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Silver
  • Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard
  • Citi Prestige
  • Citi Expedia+ Voyager
  • The Platinum Card from American Express
  • The Business Platinum Card from American Express
  • Ritz Carlton Rewards Card from Chase
  • U.S. Bank FlexPerks Gold

Most carry annual fees, so it’s probably not worth getting one of the cards just for the fee waiver, but if you already have one, know you can be reimbursed.

Methodology

MileCards.com analyzed customs wait time data for over 90 million passenger arrivals at the 41 airports in the 50 United States tracked by U.S. Customs and Border Protection at awt.cbp.gov for the periods 6/1/15 – 5/31/16 and 6/1/16 – 6/20/16. Processing facilities outside the 50 United States were not included in the analysis.

Average wait times are reported by CBP on an hourly basis, and were weighted by the number of passengers processed each hour at each terminal.

Summary data – Last 12 months

AirportPassengers processed (mn)Global Entry?Mobile Passport Control?Avg. wait (min.)Avg max. wait (min.)% waiting 30+ min.Worst hourAvg. wait (min.)Best hourAvg. wait (min.)
New York - Kennedy14.6YY245326%2pm - 3pm296pm - 7pm19
Miami10.1YY275533%7pm - 8pm318am - 9am19
Los Angeles9.7Y224425%2pm - 3pm261am - 2am15
Newark5.2YY163614%3am - 4am291am - 2am12
San Francisco5.0YY244828%5am - 6am423am - 4am9
Houston - Bush5.0Y205423%3am - 4am32Noon - 1pm11
Atlanta4.9YY124211%5am - 6am182am - 3am0
Chicago O'Hare4.8YY184717%4am - 5am309pm - 10pm10
Dallas - Fort Worth3.6YY154414%9am - 10am232am - 3am2
Washington-Dulles3.3Y113610%4am - 5am366am - 7am5
Honolulu2.6Y204225%6pm - 7pm361pm - 2pm9
Boston2.2Y204320%3am - 4am2910am - 11am11
Fort Lauderdale2.1YY173917%4am - 5am313am - 4am1
Orlando2.1YY234227%3am - 4am3011pm - Midnight15
Seattle1.8YY133012%5am - 6am222am - 3am4
Philadelphia1.6Y163815%9am - 10am38Noon - 1pm9
Detroit1.5Y173916%8am - 9am27Midnight - 1am7
Charlotte1.2Y11297%10am - 11am278am - 9am1
Minneapolis0.9YY153412%1pm - 2pm244am - 5am1
Las Vegas0.9Y193420%9am - 10am298am - 9am1
Denver0.8YY153213%3pm - 4pm188pm - 9pm7
Phoenix0.7Y10226%5pm - 6pm1511am - Noon5
Baltimore0.5Y122310%1am - 2am247am - 8am8
Chicago-Midway0.4Y9208%11am - Noon227am - 8am2
San Diego0.3Y123112%11pm - Midnight23Midnight - 1am3
Salt Lake City0.2Y133212%11am - Noon265pm - 6pm6
San Jose0.2YY203823%11am - Noon2810pm - 11pm1
Tampa0.2Y173317%8am - 9am572am - 3am2
San Antonio0.2Y162611%7am - 8am424am - 5am7
Portland0.2Y153915%4pm - 5pm377am - 8am6
Oakland0.2Y275240%1pm - 2pm402am - 3am10
Santa Ana0.2Y11203%11am - Noon217pm - 8pm7
Orlando - Sanford0.1Y284339%6pm - 7pm379am - 10am3
Austin0.1Y153815%1am - 2am604am - 5am1
Sacramento0.1336252%10pm - 11pm366pm - 7pm7
Cincinnati0.1Y153110%Midnight - 1am18Noon - 1pm5
Fresno0.1275440%1am - 2am347pm - 8pm13
St. Louis0.112254%Noon - 1pm148pm - 9pm10
Ontario0.1264934%10am - 11am383am - 4am6
Raleigh0.1Y184219%7pm - 8pm3111pm - Midnight0
West Palm Beach<0.110127%11am - Noon168pm - 9pm2
All Airports90.2204222%3am - 4am238pm - 9pm18

*(Wait times in minutes, passengers in millions, 6/1/15 – 5/31/16)

 

Summary data – June 2016 vs June 2015

AirportAvg. wait (2016, min.)Avg. wait (2015, min.)% ChangeAvg. max. wait (min.)% waiting 30+ min. (2016)% waiting 30+ min. (2015)Worst hourAvg. wait (min.)Best hourAvg. wait (min.)
Orlando - Sanford362638%5255%37%3pm - 4pm46Noon - 1pm1
Sacramento353017%6255%48%10pm - 11pm4211pm - Midnight24
Orlando271940%4635%21%5am - 6am387pm - 8pm13
Fresno262410%5239%34%11pm - Midnight279pm - 10pm25
Oakland2527-5%4935%39%9pm - 10pm314pm - 5pm17
Miami25239%5130%27%1am - 2am3910pm - 11pm20
San Francisco2528-12%5629%34%Noon - 1pm342am - 3am4
Las Vegas242022%4132%23%1pm - 2pm319am - 10am1
Ontario242210%4429%26%10pm - 11pm2411pm - Midnight22
San Jose221635%4527%17%11am - Noon404pm - 5pm8
Los Angeles22215%5124%23%10am - 11am281am - 2am10
Boston2131-31%4823%37%6pm - 7pm2610am - 11am7
New York - Kennedy2123-9%4822%26%2pm - 3pm283am - 4am15
Chicago - O'hare211537%6022%13%7am - 8am309pm - 10pm10
Fort Lauderdale201625%4521%17%10pm - 11pm361am - 2am3
Minneapolis19193%4818%19%1pm - 2pm2911am - Noon7
Seattle191529%3822%16%Noon - 1pm339pm - 10pm4
Houston191710%5721%17%5am - 6am277am - 8am8
Portland1819-5%4721%22%10pm - 11pm348pm - 9pm7
Newark1719-9%4215%19%7am - 8am32Midnight - 1am13
Dallas - Fort Worth171421%5016%10%Midnight - 1am3011pm - Midnight7
Detroit17163%4214%15%8am - 9am258pm - 9pm7
Honolulu1621-25%4012%25%6pm - 7pm476am - 7am10
Denver15156%3511%12%10am - 11am249pm - 10pm7
Raleigh1519-21%3613%20%2pm - 3pm174pm - 5pm14
St. Louis151136%309%1%3pm - 4pm166pm - 7pm10
Austin14141%3813%12%9pm - 10pm202pm - 3pm4
Philadelphia1418-22%369%17%7am - 8am3711am - Noon7
Tampa14136%289%11%9pm - 10pm277pm - 8pm3
Washington - Dulles13946%4614%7%8am - 9am193am - 4am2
Salt Lake City1317-23%3612%18%Noon - 1pm234pm - 5pm8
Baltimore13127%2711%11%6pm - 7pm174pm - 5pm5
San Antonio1316-18%235%10%9pm - 10pm231pm - 2pm9
San Diego131027%3113%10%6pm - 7pm195pm - 6pm6
Cincinnati1213-8%274%8%5pm - 6pm189pm - 10pm7
Atlanta121017%4811%9%5am - 6am194am - 5am0
Orange County12853%234%0%5pm - 6pm136pm - 7pm6
West Palm Beach11843%118%2%11am - Noon177pm - 8pm0
Charlotte10102%284%5%Noon - 1pm23Midnight - 1am3
Chicago - Midway911-20%218%12%11am - Noon228am - 9am0
Phoenix89-8%224%5%2am - 3am144pm - 5pm4
All airports20193%4521%20%5am - 6am22Midnight - 1am17

*(Wait times in minutes, passengers in millions, 6/1/15 – 5/31/16)

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