We are in the midst of an international travel boom this summer. And that means one thing is certain: much longer lines at airport customs and immigration on both ends of your trip. Are you prepared? Have you built the possibility of immigration delays into your schedule?
By now, every frequent international traveler should have Global Entry which helps speed you through immigration via a kiosk instead of an agent. It’s cheap ($100), many high end credit cards will reimburse that fee, it includes PreCheck and it’s good for five years. And as we reported last month, it’s now easier than ever to get your Global Entry appointment, too. So what are you waiting for?
Still, some of you may not get Global Entry in time for your international trip this summer. In that case, take advantage of Mobile Passport, a handy smartphone app to speed up Customs and Border Protection processing. The app is FREE, available from Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store, and is almost as good as Global Entry. Currently, it is only available to U.S. and Canadian passport holders. Download the app before you take off on your trip!
Despite all that preparation, you can still run into hassles at immigration. Sometimes the kiosks go on the fritz. Many times there are staffing issues. And the sheer volume of travelers is bound to slow things down during peak summer season.
If you are worried about the possibility of immigration delays, you can try to avoid arriving at peak times. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) tracks wait times and posts the data on this website— but it’s a LOT of data, and not very helpful. CBP does not track Oakland or San Jose lines, so we relied on advice from airport PR folks for those airports below.
Keep in mind that immigration lines are subject to irregular/off schedule airline operations, and it’s always possible that four or five jumbos could unload at the same time.
Here’s our post with a list of airports that experienced the longest immigration lines last summer. Below is a listing of peak times at Bay Area airports.
San Francisco International:
SFO has two different customs halls, one in International Terminal A (primarily SkyTeam & Oneworld airlines) and one in International Terminal G (primarily United and Star Alliance).
Terminal A peaks from 10:00 am -1:00 pm and then 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm on weekdays when maximum wait times regularly exceed 45 minutes. On weekends, the peak lasts longer– until about 3:00 pm and 8:00 pm.
Terminal G peaks from 6:00 am – 10:00 am on weekdays, but on weekends, the peak shifts to 12:00 noon – 5:00 pm.
Last month Oakland expanded its International Arrivals Building adding 13,000 sq. ft. of additional space incorporating a new baggage carousel and an expanded passenger primary processing room. Before the expansion, international arrival operations had been limited to approximately 300 passengers per hour, the equivalent of one widebody aircraft. However, with the expanded facility, approximately 600 passengers per hour can be accommodated, meaning two widebody aircraft can be processed simultaneously. Additionally, the new space accommodates 16 automated passport control kiosks, doubling availability from eight previously. That’s great news considering OAK’s international arrivals are up 106% over last summer.
Since many of Oakland’s international flights are not daily, peak times can vary from day to day.
Mondays & Tuesdays: 3:00 pm – 7:00 pm
Wednesdays: 5:00 pm – 6:30 pm
Thursdays: 4:00 pm – 5:00 pm
Fridays: 4:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Saturdays & Sundays: 5:00 pm – 7 pm
San Jose Mineta International:
Last spring, SJC finished a renovation of its International Arrivals Building adding 5,600 square feet along with a second baggage carousel and an enclosed waiting area.
Similarly, many international flights at SJC are not daily so wait times vary.
Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday: 9:00 am – 2:00 pm and 4:00 p.m. – 7:00 pm
Tuesdays & Thursdays: 9:00 am – noon, 4:00 pm – 7:00 pm
What’s the longest you’ve ever had to wait in a customs or immigration line? Please leave your experiences and advice below.