Travel

Holiday travel? These U.S. airports have the speediest and longest lines at customs

Traveling internationally for the holidays?

In South Florida, there’s a good chance you are.

According to U.S Customs and Border Protection data, nearly 80 million people traveled internationally in 2018. And all of these people passed through customs.

A new study, analyzing data provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, looks at airport wait times from 2018 to 2019 to find out which major international airports had the shortest and longest wait times in customs lines.

The idea is to give travelers an idea of where and at what times traveling internationally will give the least headaches.

Florida international airports

Florida’s airport with the shortest average wait time: Palm Beach International Airport, the zippiest in the U.S. at 4.7 minutes.

Last year, Palm Beach International processed 26,648 passengers, which is one factor that accounts for its fast service.

By comparison, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport processed more than 4.1 million travelers and still made the 15 best list with a wait time of 11.6 minutes, just under the average 12 minute mark.

Chicago O’Hare, Dulles and Boston Logan also fared well in average wait times for passengers processed.

Conversely, Florida’s airport with the longest average wait time: Orlando International, topping the list of the slowest at 25.8 minutes and nearly 2.8 million processed passengers.

Orlando Sanford International Airport was No. 2 on the longest wait list at 25.4 minutes and 116,151 passengers.

Miami International Airport, the third busiest international airport behind John F. Kennedy and Los Angeles International airports, was No. 11 on the longest list with 16.8 minutes and 10.6 million passengers.

(JFK had 16.3 million processed passengers and got them through customs lines in 18.3 minutes, according to the data.)

Oakland, Fresno Yosemite, Sacramento, Ontario and San Jose international airports were also on the longer than average wait times.

New technology

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In February, MIA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials unveiled a new biometric boarding process at one gate, J17, for a Lufthansa flight en route to Germany. The system uses facial recognition technology to speed up service.

The goal is to phase this technology at many international airports.

Other data you can use to plan ahead:

Best and worst hours to arrive for international flights

At Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport you will want to arrive at 3-4 a.m. where you will only wait eight minutes.

Avoid FLL between 4 and 5 a.m., though, or you could wait nearly 32 minutes.

At Orlando International Airport arrive at midnight to 1 a.m. for a 13 minute wait. Avoid 5-6 a.m. where that wait can stretch to nearly 34 minutes.

At Miami International, night time is the right time. Arrive between 10 and 11 p.m. and wait 13 minutes. Don’t go between 11 a.m. and noon or you’ll wait nearly 22 minutes.

MIA processes 350 international passengers through customs’ average 14 booths in 15 minutes, according to the data. That’s faster than FLL, which processes 197 passengers or Orlando International which moves 120 passengers through the lines in a quarter hour.

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Busiest holidays

Thanksgiving.

New Year’s Day.

Memorial Day.

Easter.

Independence Day.

Christmas.

Labor Day weekend.

“Seattle Tacoma International has the shortest average wait time of 7.4 minutes during the Thanksgiving holiday while MCO [Orlando International Airport] has the longest time of 28.6 minutes. Expect to have a bit of a wait at FLL and MIA where the average wait time is 14.2 and 15.7 minutes, respectively,” said Zindzi Hamilton, a spokesperson for Bayut.

The customs data was analyzed by Bayut, a Dubai-based real estate company.

Miami Herald Real Time/Breaking News reporter Howard Cohen, a 2017 Media Excellence Awards winner, has covered pop music, theater, health and fitness, obituaries, municipal government and general assignment. He started his career in the Features department at the Miami Herald in 1991.
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