There’s no such thing as a crystal ball in travel, but a little data research can go a long way in predicting how long you’ll spend waiting to get the next stamp in your passport from the USA.
Even during covid-19 times when air travel is decimated, airport immigration can add a lengthy wait to any journey as you wait to discuss plans with one of those ever friendly and cordial CBP officers. But what if you could pick a better flight, terminal or arrival time, greatly improving your chances of breezing through the airport? Surprise, you can…
US CBP Airport Wait Times
The US Customs & Border Protection agency – aka CBP – offers an AWT service. Enough acronyms for you, yet? The service simply stands for “airport wait times”, and indicates recent wait times by hour, for each terminal in the USA with immigration facilities.
In short, you can select the US airport and terminal you plan to arrive into, and get a very quick picture of the hour by hour passenger processing times it takes before a traveler makes it through the gates. What’s fantastic, is that you can look at weeks or months of historical data, including data as fresh as yesterday.
Using this airport wait time data allows you to identify when a given airport terminal experiences its busiest hours, and when might be a good time to aim for arrival. You’d be able to see if certain days, or dates are worse, and plan travel accordingly.
At John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, Terminal 4 can be chaos at certain hours, while being a breeze at others. An early morning redeye arrival carries an average wait time of over 30 minutes for non citizens, while a 1PM lunchtime arrival averages just 5 minutes in total.
If a traveler has any flexibility, or the foresight to check this free resource, precious minutes, or even hours could be saved. Especially when talking about US immigration.
How do you best go about it? Simply head to awt.cbp.gov, enter your arrival terminal, or browse through potential options and find a flight which fits your travel schedule and manages to avoid peak immigration times. It’s not for everyone, and even the best laid plans can backfire, but knowing which times to avoid can be huge.
Global Entry For The Win
Of course, Global Entry is a way to ensure you pretty much never spend more than 5 minutes at US airport immigration checkpoints, and it’s open to travelers not only from the USA, but quite a few other countries as well.
At just $100 for 5 years, Global Entry is more than worth its value, and since many US rewards credit cards cover the annual fee, and TSA PreCheck is included, it’s a no brainer for frequent travelers.
If you’re ineligible for Global Entry or just don’t want to pay, at least you’ve got the hack to potentially avoid hours of wait time, by finding a flight that lands at an off peak time.