Saturday, July 13, 2024

The 15 Worst Airports for International Travel This Holiday Season

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Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on Upgraded Points.

International travel has skyrocketed in 2023, driven in large part by pent-up demand from the COVID-19 pandemic. And while the winter holiday season is not as busy as the summer months, December is still a very popular time for U.S. travelers to head abroad.

Apart from higher ticket prices and longer flight times, one of the biggest inconveniences of traveling internationally is the ever-dreaded wait at immigration checkpoints.

“Being stuck in a traffic jam at customs after an already lengthy day of travel can really sour an otherwise great vacation,” explained Alex Miller, founder and CEO of Upgraded Points.

Fortunately, many factors within the traveler’s control — including choice of airport — can increase the likelihood of an efficient travel day this holiday season.

Despite common perceptions, immigration and customs wait times at U.S. international airports are typically reasonable, even during the winter holiday period (the week before Christmas through the New Year holiday).

However, factors such as arrival time and citizenship status significantly impact how long it takes travelers to clear these checkpoints. Here are the worst airports for international travel this holiday season.

1. Seattle–Tacoma International Airport

A TSA agent inspects carry-on bag luggage
Carolina K. Smith MD / Shutterstock.com
  • Airport Code: SEA
  • Primary City: Seattle, WA
  • Average Wait Time for All Travelers (Minutes): 31.6
  • Average Max Wait Time for All Travelers (Minutes): 74.4
  • Average Wait Time for U.S. Citizens (Minutes): 27.3
  • Average Wait Time for Non-U.S. Citizens (Minutes): 37.1
  • Share of All Travelers Who Wait Less Than 15 Minutes: 31.3%
  • Share of All Travelers Who Wait More Than 60 Minutes: 14.6%

2. Miami International Airport

Miami International Airport
Philip Lange / Shutterstock.com
  • Airport Code: MIA
  • Primary City: Miami, FL
  • Average Wait Time for All Travelers (Minutes): 30.6
  • Average Max Wait Time for All Travelers (Minutes): 79.8
  • Average Wait Time for U.S. Citizens (Minutes): 18.3
  • Average Wait Time for Non-U.S. Citizens (Minutes): 38.2
  • Share of All Travelers Who Wait Less Than 15 Minutes: 33.5%
  • Share of All Travelers Who Wait More Than 60 Minutes: 13.2%

3. Austin–Bergstrom International Airport

Unhappy woman in the airport
aslysun / Shutterstock.com
  • Airport Code: AUS
  • Primary City: Austin, TX
  • Average Wait Time for All Travelers (Minutes): 29.2
  • Average Max Wait Time for All Travelers (Minutes): 59.2
  • Average Wait Time for U.S. Citizens (Minutes): 26.9
  • Average Wait Time for Non-U.S. Citizens (Minutes): 33.5
  • Share of All Travelers Who Wait Less Than 15 Minutes: 34.3%
  • Share of All Travelers Who Wait More Than 60 Minutes: 11.6%

4. Orlando International Airport

Orlando International Airport
Joni Hanebutt / Shutterstock.com
  • Airport Code: MCO
  • Primary City: Orlando, FL
  • Average Wait Time for All Travelers (Minutes): 27.8
  • Average Max Wait Time for All Travelers (Minutes): 55.0
  • Average Wait Time for U.S. Citizens (Minutes): 19.6
  • Average Wait Time for Non-U.S. Citizens (Minutes): 30.7
  • Share of All Travelers Who Wait Less Than 15 Minutes: 37.9%
  • Share of All Travelers Who Wait More Than 60 Minutes: 10.7%

5. John F. Kennedy International Airport

John F. Kennedy International Airport
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  • Airport Code: JFK
  • Primary City: New York, NY
  • Average Wait Time for All Travelers (Minutes): 27.4
  • Average Max Wait Time for All Travelers (Minutes): 62.8
  • Average Wait Time for U.S. Citizens (Minutes): 17.8
  • Average Wait Time for Non-U.S. Citizens (Minutes): 33.6
  • Share of All Travelers Who Wait Less Than 15 Minutes: 38.5%
  • Share of All Travelers Who Wait More Than 60 Minutes: 10.4%

6. Washington Dulles International Airport

Dulles International Airport
Joe Ravi / Shutterstock.com
  • Airport Code: IAD
  • Primary City: Washington, D.C.
  • Average Wait Time for All Travelers (Minutes): 26.1
  • Average Max Wait Time for All Travelers (Minutes): 71.0
  • Average Wait Time for U.S. Citizens (Minutes): 21.2
  • Average Wait Time for Non-U.S. Citizens (Minutes): 33.7
  • Share of All Travelers Who Wait Less Than 15 Minutes: 46.7%
  • Share of All Travelers Who Wait More Than 60 Minutes: 13.5%

7. Ontario International Airport

Ontario International Airport
Kit Leong / Shutterstock.com
  • Airport Code: ONT
  • Primary City: Ontario, CA
  • Average Wait Time for All Travelers (Minutes): 25.1
  • Average Max Wait Time for All Travelers (Minutes): 48.5
  • Average Wait Time for U.S. Citizens (Minutes): 22.0
  • Average Wait Time for Non-U.S. Citizens (Minutes): 27.5
  • Share of All Travelers Who Wait Less Than 15 Minutes: 31.6%
  • Share of All Travelers Who Wait More Than 60 Minutes: 4.3%

8. San Francisco International Airport

San Francisco International Airport
JHVEPhoto / Shutterstock.com
  • Airport Code: SFO
  • Primary City: San Francisco, CA
  • Average Wait Time for All Travelers (Minutes): 23.8
  • Average Max Wait Time for All Travelers (Minutes): 56.2
  • Average Wait Time for U.S. Citizens (Minutes): 18.5
  • Average Wait Time for Non-U.S. Citizens (Minutes): 29.7
  • Share of All Travelers Who Wait Less Than 15 Minutes: 40.4%
  • Share of All Travelers Who Wait More Than 60 Minutes: 6.0%

9. San Diego International Airport

San Diego International Airport
Markus Mainka / Shutterstock.com
  • Airport Code: SAN
  • Primary City: San Diego, CA
  • Average Wait Time for All Travelers (Minutes): 23.3
  • Average Max Wait Time for All Travelers (Minutes): 50.9
  • Average Wait Time for U.S. Citizens (Minutes): 19.0
  • Average Wait Time for Non-U.S. Citizens (Minutes): 28.5
  • Share of All Travelers Who Wait Less Than 15 Minutes: 35.1%
  • Share of All Travelers Who Wait More Than 60 Minutes: 3.2%

10. Los Angeles International Airport

Los Angeles International Airport
Phillip B. Espinasse / Shutterstock.com
  • Airport Code: LAX
  • Primary City: Los Angeles, CA
  • Average Wait Time for All Travelers (Minutes): 22.8
  • Average Max Wait Time for All Travelers (Minutes): 61.2
  • Average Wait Time for U.S. Citizens (Minutes): 16.2
  • Average Wait Time for Non-U.S. Citizens (Minutes): 28.7
  • Share of All Travelers Who Wait Less Than 15 Minutes: 40.1%
  • Share of All Travelers Who Wait More Than 60 Minutes: 5.3%

11. Chicago O’Hare International Airport

Chicago O'Hare International Airport
EQRoy / Shutterstock.com
  • Airport Code: ORD
  • Primary City: Chicago, IL
  • Average Wait Time for All Travelers (Minutes): 22.3
  • Average Max Wait Time for All Travelers (Minutes): 52.7
  • Average Wait Time for U.S. Citizens (Minutes): 21.0
  • Average Wait Time for Non-U.S. Citizens (Minutes): 24.2
  • Share of All Travelers Who Wait Less Than 15 Minutes: 44.2%
  • Share of All Travelers Who Wait More Than 60 Minutes: 5.8%

12. George Bush Intercontinental Airport

Frustrated man in an airport
cunaplus / Shutterstock.com
  • Airport Code: IAH
  • Primary City: Houston, TX
  • Average Wait Time for All Travelers (Minutes): 21.4
  • Average Max Wait Time for All Travelers (Minutes): 57.8
  • Average Wait Time for U.S. Citizens (Minutes): 17.4
  • Average Wait Time for Non-U.S. Citizens (Minutes): 25.7
  • Share of All Travelers Who Wait Less Than 15 Minutes: 45.0%
  • Share of All Travelers Who Wait More Than 60 Minutes: 3.9%

13. Salt Lake City International Airport

Salt Lake City International Airport
JW_PNW / Shutterstock.com
  • Airport Code: SLC
  • Primary City: Salt Lake City, UT
  • Average Wait Time for All Travelers (Minutes): 20.9
  • Average Max Wait Time for All Travelers (Minutes): 42.0
  • Average Wait Time for U.S. Citizens (Minutes): 19.8
  • Average Wait Time for Non-U.S. Citizens (Minutes): 23.5
  • Share of All Travelers Who Wait Less Than 15 Minutes: 35.4%
  • Share of All Travelers Who Wait More Than 60 Minutes: 2.0%

14. Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport
Gabriele Maltinti / Shutterstock.com
  • Airport Code: FLL
  • Primary City: Fort Lauderdale, FL
  • Average Wait Time for All Travelers (Minutes): 19.8
  • Average Max Wait Time for All Travelers (Minutes): 56.2
  • Average Wait Time for U.S. Citizens (Minutes): 13.8
  • Average Wait Time for Non-U.S. Citizens (Minutes): 24.5
  • Share of All Travelers Who Wait Less Than 15 Minutes: 49.5%
  • Share of All Travelers Who Wait More Than 60 Minutes: 5.8%

15. Tampa International Airport

Tampa International Airport
VIAVAL TOURS / Shutterstock.com
  • Airport Code: TPA
  • Primary City: Tampa, FL
  • Average Wait Time for All Travelers (Minutes): 19.5
  • Average Max Wait Time for All Travelers (Minutes): 46.7
  • Average Wait Time for U.S. Citizens (Minutes): 10.3
  • Average Wait Time for Non-U.S. Citizens (Minutes): 25.5
  • Share of All Travelers Who Wait Less Than 15 Minutes: 50.0%
  • Share of All Travelers Who Wait More Than 60 Minutes: 3.9%

Methodology

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The data used in this study is from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s CBP Airport Wait Times dataset.

To determine the best and worst airports for international travel this winter holiday season, researchers at Upgraded Points calculated average wait times for travelers passing through customs during the 2022 winter holiday travel season (the week before Christmas through the New Year holiday).

All major U.S. international airports tracked by the CBP were included. Researchers also calculated the average max wait time for all travelers, which is a total traveler-weighted average of the hourly maximum wait times reported for each airport over the study period.

Average holiday wait times for U.S. citizens and non-U.S. citizens, the percentage of all travelers that passed through customs in under 15 minutes, and the percentage of all travelers that passed through customs in greater than 60 minutes during the same time period were also included.

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