The 10 Best & Worst U.S. Airports for Immigration Wait Times

by  Darren Murph | Aug 1, 2013
Airport security
Airport security / martince2/iStock

A couple of weeks ago, Delta's CEO Richard Anderson issued a rare public lashing on immigration wait times for passengers coming into the United States. Obviously, the leader of a U.S.-based airline has financial motives for wanting to get passengers off the plane and through passport control in a more efficient manner – but his rant still held a lot of truth. Immigration wait times in countries like Japan or the Netherlands are far shorter than what we face here in the United States.

For those looking to make informed decisions around their future travel plans, here's a quick look at which airports boast the shortest wait times – and perhaps more importantly, which airports have the worst. Though we can't guarantee you'll miraculously breeze through immigration and customs on your trip, at the very least, you'll know which entry points to avoid or plan for longer layovers if you have a connection.

The 5 Best:

Atlanta: Despite being the busiest airport in the world, ATL has managed to keep average immigration wait times below the 20-minute mark, and even during peak hours, waits rarely exceed 35 minutes. Of course, the recent opening of a second international terminal has helped handle the traffic.

Seattle: Washington's primary gateway doesn't have a dedicated international terminal, but an increasing amount of airlines are adding far-flung destinations to and from SEA. As of now, the average wait time for immigration is holding still around 16 minutes, while peak times are being kept under 40 minutes.

Honolulu: Arguably the best spot in America to hear "Welcome home," Hawaii's largest airport also boasts impressively low immigration wait times. Presently, the average is hovering around 18 minutes, with peak times still running under 40 minutes.

Boston: If you need to make a connection from the east coast, consider flying into BOS instead of one of the NYC's airports. Modern and efficient, Logan has trimmed down immigration wait times to an average of just 19 minutes, with peak wait times remaining under 45 minutes.

Charlotte: If you're flying US Airways, there's a good chance you'll be flying into CLT. The North Carolina gateway is averaging immigration wait times of around 20 minutes, with peak wait times under 50 minutes.

The 5 Worst:

Miami: Chalk it up to the vast array of nations that send flights to Southern Florida (including a smorgasbord of Caribbean countries), but, frankly put, MIA presents a terrible first impression for those flying in to the U.S. for the first time. Peak wait times at customs have recently soared past three hours, while average wait times routinely hit the 60 minute mark.

New York – JFK: Despite Delta updating its digs at JFK, the old New York airport is still in massive need of an overhaul; that includes immigration facilities, which have forced passengers to wait upwards of two hours to get to wherever they're going.

Dallas: This Texas city has plenty to offer, but flying back into it from abroad is probably a bad idea. Recently, passengers have waited over two hours to pass through customs and immigration, with average times rising above the half-hour mark.

Los Angeles: LAX transports millions of people to international destinations each year, and it acts as the entry point for a huge number of tourists and business travelers alike. The airport's existing international terminal is severely dated, boasting average wait times of over 30 minutes and peak times of over 1.5 hours. Hopefully, the ongoing $1.7 billion makeover of its primary international gateway will improve the numbers next year.

San Francisco: Journeying to the Bay Area for business? Get ready to wait, as peak wait times for SFO generally hover north of 100 minutes, with things speeding up to around 35 minutes when traffic is lighter.

If you're looking to investigate further, the U.S. Customs & Border Protection website actually offers a public venue for tracking wait times at the nation's biggest international hubs. That said, those who routinely travel overseas should absolutely consider Global Entry, an official, government-approved access program that enables frequent travelers to bypass the conventional customs and immigration lines. You'll need to pay $100 for a five-year membership and undergo an in-person examination, but remember: that money could save you time, and time is money!

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