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How to avoid long lines at US immigration

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There was an interesting piece in The Independent recently (see here) in which Simon Calder analysed the average waiting times at US immigration by time of day and by airport.

US immigration is a painful fact of life for most UK travellers to the USA.  (I was not amused – to put it mildly – when I was met by a Lufthansa ‘special services’ agent after my First Class flight to Newark in February.  The rep spent five minutes telling me and the other First Class passenger that he couldn’t help us get through immigration any faster – by which point the rest of our 747 had run past us and was ahead of us in the queue!)

Immigration queue

Annoyingly, the article does not list all of the source material they use.  However, some of the numbers quoted are frankly scary, especially if travelling with young children:

Miami, average wait for landings between 8pm and 9pm, 3 hours 6 minutes

New York JFK Terminal 4 (the Virgin one), average wait for landings between 4pm and 5pm, 2 hours 31 minutes

Dallas-Fort Worth, average wait at peak times, 2 hours 22 minutes

Luckily Calder makes some good suggestions to beat the wait, including using Newark instead of JFK in New York (the average wait is halved) or arriving on BA115 which arrives at the quietest time of day at JFK Terminal 7 (36 minutes average wait).

If flying to the US, of course, one option is to fly via Ireland.  This means taking a direct flight from Dublin or Shannon or using BA1 from London City Airport (the ‘100% business class’ service, often available on Avios points) which stops to refuel in Shannon.  These allow you to clear US immigration in Ireland.  You land in the US as a domestic passenger, and if you have no checked luggage you can immediately walk out of the airport.

Do not take BA3 from London City, though, as that arrives in Shannon too late for US pre-clearance.

Comments (23)

  • trojan says:

    Funny how all Brits are complaining about US immigration. I’ve lived in US 11 years on visa and never had a massive wait in any of my travels in JFK or LAX or EWR(other than customs deciding to open bags).

    The few times I’ve been to LHR in last one year – the wait has been 1hr+
    Fast Track lane abandoned by BA staff at night(this was after the extended timings from March 1)

  • I find that SFO typically has OK arrival times. United’s immigration facility is now shared with Alaska at LA and this has produced additional wait times. Thomas Bradley at LA is just a zoo as it has been for years. Chicago can be quite long but the first AA flight seems to be timed well between the asia arrivals and EU arrivals. Another options is to travel ex-Dublin where you clear in Ireland and arrive as a domestic flight.

  • trojan says:

    Passengers are also to take some blame for the delays – I’ve seen so may pax who dont complete the forms(now I94 is online for some airports) correctly. Singapore and Spain are two countries that consistently impress with their immigration. I’ve never had more than 3 people before me whenever I’ve been to these places(2-3 times a year)

  • Steve says:

    Thanks for that link – says average waiting time for me, based on day and time, is around 30 mins. I’m happy with that, and is a huge relief too!!

  • Thunderbirds says:

    Rather than wait many hours in USA immigration queues I took the rather drastic of marrying an American. What do you think of my solution to the Kobayashi Maru scenario….?

  • John says:

    If you travel club or are silver/gold,to various airports in the US and have a short transfer time, BA have staff who will fast track you through both customs and immigration. I cleared both in DFW plus terminal transfer to AA domestic in 40 minutes! arrangements are done for you before arrival, just pick up the pass at the end of the ramp.