Two-thirds of British visitors to the US touch down in one of three locations: New York (29 per cent, divided between JFK and Newark airports), Orlando (20 per cent) and California (primarily San Francisco and Los Angeles – 17 per cent between them). Boston, Washington DC, Miami, Chicago and Houston also receive thousands of international arrivals daily. You might imagine these top-10 gateways would ensure arriving passengers are processed swiftly by Customs & Border Protection (CBP) staff.
Yet it doesn't work like that. When the main wave of flights from Europe starts arriving in the early afternoon, waits of more than an hour for CBP are common at the biggest airports. Last Friday afternoon at JFK Terminal 4, for example, the average maximum was 76 minutes.
The earliest and latest flights of the day are good bets: the first Heathrow-New York departure is at 8.20am on BA (arriving 11am), the last at 8.05pm on Virgin (arrives 11.05pm).
Using a smaller hub also seems to speed progress; anecdotally, they also offer a friendlier welcome. So consider San Diego as an alternative to LAX, Baltimore instead of Washington DC, and Fort Lauderdale for Miami.
The smoothest way to avoid delays is to clear immigrations and customs before you land in the US. CBP officials are stationed at a few overseas airports, to process passengers ahead of their flights. Queues tend to be much shorter. On touchdown in the US, you are treated as a domestic arrival, with no further formalities.
Flying Air Canada via Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver to the US offers this prospect, as does Aer Lingus via Dublin or Shannon in Ireland.
British Airways' "son of Concorde," the business-class only jet from London City to New York JFK, stops in Shannon to refuel – and passengers are able to clear formalities during the 45-minute pause. Unfortunately, only the morning flight (BA1) benefits from this courtesy.Reuse content