If you’re traveling abroad this summer, the time you’ll spend waiting in line to get through Customs & Border Protection (CBP) on your return could be torturous – or it could be pleasantly brief. It all depends on the airport you come back through.
And whether you belong to CBP’s Global Entry or not, of course.
A new study from MileCards.com warns that the longest CBP lines will be encountered during July and August, averaging 21 to 22 minutes. And the worst waiting times will be at California airports. The top 10 worst airports for CBP line times out of the 41 that have international arrivals facilities include five in the Golden State, the study found: Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, Fresno and Los Angeles.
Considering only the nation’s busiest airports, MileCards.com determined that the longest waiting times are at Miami, with an average of 27 minutes, but maximum line time that ranges up to 55 minutes. In second place was San Francisco International, with a 24-minute average and maximum line time of 48 minutes; New York JFK also posted average waits of 24 minutes.
By contrast, the shortest lines among the busiest international airports were at Phoenix, averaging 10 minutes; close behind Phoenix were Charlotte, Washington Dulles and Atlanta, all with average waiting times of 12 minutes or less.
MileCards.com noted that 13 of the busiest airports (including San Francisco and San Jose) now offer the free Mobile Passport Control app (www.MobilePassport.us) that can handle arrival formalities and gives users access to an expedited CBP lane as well as priority lanes for Customs declarations. Other advice from the company: Try to schedule a return flight that doesn’t arrive very early in the morning, as many flights from Asia and Latin America do. For returns from Europe, try to avoid mid-afternoon arrivals.
At San Francisco International, a spokesman confirmed to TravelSkills that the airport had the highest growth rate for international arrivals of any U.S. airport last year. He said that it is trying to reduce line times by installing more self-service Automated Passport Control kiosks (increasing their number last month from 40 to 64, with another 16 coming this fall), and that SFO is currently “pilot testing the first 24/7 Global Entry enrollment office in the U.S.,” as we reported a few weeks ago.
The study suggests that travelers coming back from Europe should arrive through Atlanta or Washington Dulles instead of JFK or Newark, while Asia travelers should look to a Seattle return instead of California airports.
It also suggests enrolling in CBP’s Global Entry trusted traveler program ($100 for five years) over the Mobile Passport Control app, especially for travelers with connections from their re-entry gateway. (Why? Because in addition to speeding members through the Customs checkpoint via self-service kiosks, Global Entry also provides TSA PreCheck privileges.) MileCards.com notes that several credit cards will reimburse holders for the cost of Global Entry membership.
MileCards.com this week also issued a comparison of the Mobile Passport Control app vs. the Global Entry program, with details about how and where they work, along with a list of credit cards that cover the cost of Global Entry.
Are customs and immigrations crowds affecting you? Please leave your comments and experiences below.
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