Personal finance

If you’re flying this Thanksgiving, here’s how long you’ll wait at immigration, security

Passengers entering customs at Miami International Airport, ranked among the bottom five for immigration processing by Airside Mobile.

JodiJacobson | iStock Unreleased | Getty Images

If you’re traveling abroad this Thanksgiving weekend, you might want to think about waiting until the very last minute to fly home. That’s because you’ll find some of the shortest lines at airport customs and immigration on Sunday, Dec. 1 from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m., and then from 1 a.m. to 2 a.m. in the morning Monday.

That’s according to a new study on anticipated Thanksgiving weekend wait times at the nation’s top 25 airports for international arrivals from Airside Mobile, developer of the Mobile Passport smartphone app. Launched in 2014 by Arlington, Virginia-based Airside, the free app allows U.S. citizens and Canadian visitors to clear immigration and customs by electronically submitting passport and customs information before arrival at checkpoints.

“We’re seeing a small trend during the Thanksgiving window, with a lot of folks taking advantage of the long weekend to go abroad,” said Patrick Merfert, Airside’s vice president of marketing. “We wanted to see what it was going to look like when they arrived back home.” The projected wait times apply to U.S. citizens only.

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The firm found that, in general, the best days to arrive back in the U.S. (based on average maximum wait times) are both the Saturday and Sunday after Thanksgiving, with predicted maximum wait times nationwide of 29.7 and 29.4 minutes, respectively. The lowest maximum waits on any day are, as noted, from 1 a.m. to 2 a.m. and then 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. The worst time to arrive from abroad? Between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. daily.

How much time you’ll spend in line trying to get home after a Turkey Day abroad — whether you were visiting family in Canada or sunning yourself in Cancun — also depends on where home is.

“You tend to see a lot of smaller airports performing quite well, which is partially due to lower traffic, but you also see some larger airports punching above their weight,” said Merfert. “Washington Dulles is ranking quite well despite having moderately high traffic and Dallas-Fort Worth and Chicago O’Hare, as well.”

The airports with the speediest processing times for international arrivals are Phoenix; San Jose; Baltimore; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Philadelphia.

“On the reverse, Orlando is a relatively low volume airport where the wait times are very painful,” said Merfert. There, arriving international passengers have to wait 36 minutes, on average. New Jersey residents might want to consider flying into nearby Philly, because Newark Liberty International ranks among the five worst airports on the list, with an average 35-minute wait. Joining Jersey’s “Gateway City” and Orlando in the bottom five, in order of increasing delays, are Miami (39 minutes), George Bush Intercontinental in Houston (43 minutes) and San Francisco (44 minutes.)

Want to cut down on time spent tapping your toes — and wristwatch? Users of Mobile Passport or programs like Global Entry wait one-fifth as long as the hoi polloi on arrival, according to Airside. “Mobile Passport is at more than 20 of these 25 airports,” said Merfert. “It’s possible that folks using Global Entry and Mobile Passport are bringing down average wait times at those airports.”

For the full study from Airside Mobile with results for all 25 airports analyzed, click here.

We’re seeing a small trend during the Thanksgiving window, with a lot of folks taking advantage of the long weekend to go abroad.

Patrick Merfert

vice president of marketing, Airside Mobile

And what about airport departure wait times — whether or not you’re flying internationally? For its part, frequent traveler website Upgraded Points looked at Transportation Security Administration data from the 25 busiest U.S. airports in the spring of 2018 to compile its list, updated this month, of the best and worst five airports for average security line wait times.

One of the airports on Airside Mobile’s list of quickest immigration lines — Charlotte — also made Upgraded Points’ rankings of security line waits, as did three of the facilities — Miami, Newark and Houston — with the worst delays.

The top five U.S. airports with the best/shortest security wait times for departing passengers, according to Upgraded Points, are:

  1. Salt Lake City (SLC): Average wait: 9.1 minutes.
  2. Washington Dulles (IAD): Average wait: 10.5 minutes.
  3. Boston Logan (BOS): Average wait: 10.6 minutes.
  4. Minneapolis-St. Paul International (MSP): Average wait: 13 minutes.
  5. TIE — Charlotte Douglas (CLT)/Detroit Metropolitan (DTW): Average wait: 13.2 minutes.

The bottom five U.S. airports, with the worst/longest security wait times are:

  1. Newark Liberty (EWR): Average wait: 23.1 minutes.
  2. George Bush Intercontinental (IAH), Houston: Average wait: 19.8 minutes.
  3. Miami (MIA): Average wait: 19.6 minutes.
  4. Baltimore-Washington (BWI): Average wait: 18.2 minutes.
  5. McCarran (LAS), Las Vegas: Average wait: 17.3 minutes.

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