Skip to content

How to avoid long lines at US Customs in 11 coronavirus 'screener airports'

Feb. 06, 2020
6 min read
How to avoid long lines at US Customs in 11 coronavirus 'screener airports'
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.

The deadly Wuhan coronavirus has been rapidly spreading around the world, with more than 24,000 confirmed cases and nearly 500 fatalities. Last week, the World Health Organization declared it a global emergency — and governments are taking serious precautions to keep it from escalating further.

In the U.S., all flights from China are being routed into 11 "screener airports," as per Matador Network. They include:

Related: Listen to what experts have to say about traveling during the coronavirus outbreak

At these airports, CDC health officials are asking travelers about symptoms and places they've visited, as well as taking their temperatures. If a traveler is suspected of having contracted the virus, they will be transported to a predesignated facility for further screening. This could take anywhere from a couple of hours to an entire day, as testing requires specimens to be collected and sent to the CDC.

A spokesperson for CBP told TPG, "CBP identifies arriving travelers [from Hubei province or mainland China] and refers to CDC – they conduct the enhanced health screening in a location isolated from the general public."

If you've traveled to the Hubei province — home to the city of Wuhan, where the virus originated — in the last 14 days, you'll be under a mandatory quarantine for two weeks, Matador Network adds. The select travelers who do not display any symptoms during the screening process will be given a card with further information on what to do and who to contact if they do develop any of the symptoms, such as fever, cough or shortness of breath.

Reports are now surfacing that there are some pretty long wait times at the aforementioned screener airports. Some passengers are claiming wait times of more than six hours.

The CPB contested this, though, adding "there were weather delays on Saturday [at SFO] resulting in multiple flights arriving at one time, but no one saw anything approaching six hours or more waits."

Sign up for our daily newsletter

We dug into the data to gather the average maximum wait times for U.S. citizens at these 11 designated airports from Jan 20. to Feb 3.. Here's what we found:

  • SFO: 71.5 minutes
  • SEA: 38.5 minutes
  • HNL: 34.0 minutes
  • ORD: 40.2 minutes
  • IAH: 49.2 minutes
  • DFW: 37.5 minutes
  • ATL: 27.1 minutes
  • DTW: 32.0 minutes
  • JFK: 46.4 minutes
  • EWR: 39.0 minutes
  • IAD: 21.9 minutes

As a comparison, here are the average maximum wait times before the coronavirus outbreak, between Dec. 1–15:

  • SFO: 55.8 minutes
  • SEA: 30.4 minutes
  • HNL: 29.4 minutes
  • ORD: 31.5 minutes
  • IAH: 45.7 minutes
  • DFW: 33.5 minutes
  • ATL: 28.4 minutes
  • DTW: 31.4 minutes
  • JFK: 37.7 minutes
  • EWR: 34.2 minutes
  • IAD: 24.4 minutes

Nine out of the 11 screener airports are experiencing longer average maximum wait times than they were before the coronavirus outbreak, except for Atlanta and Washington-Dulles. Additionally, San Francisco had the biggest wait time increase.

Related: Is it safe to travel to Asia? Complete guide to traveling during the coronavirus outbreak

Of course, these are average wait times and can vary depending on the time of day, weather and location. Bottom line? Be prepared.

One way to do so is by using Global Entry.

If you're not familiar with Global Entry, it's a program from U.S. Customs and Border Protection that gives you expedited entry back into the U.S. You have to be preapproved as well as a low-risk traveler. Once you're a member of the program, you can enter your information through automatic kiosks at these airports and clear U.S. customs in minutes instead of hours. Better yet, enrollment in the program also gives you access to TSA PreCheck. It's a game-changer for frequent and even casual travelers alike.

As scheduling your interview with Global Entry can take a few months, you'll want to take advantage of the Enrollment on Arrival service. With it, you can get Global Entry upon arrival at 53 airports throughout the U.S. — including at all of the 11 aforementioned "screener airports." Keep in mind, though, that you'll still have to apply ahead of time — you're just completing your interview on arrival.

Global Entry costs $100 for a five-year membership but, depending on which credit card you have, you might be able to get it for free. Cards such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve, The Platinum Card® from American Express and Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card all give you an application fee credit (up to $100).

Mobile Passport can also be a handy option to skirt these long lines, as well.

This program can be used at 26 airports (and three seaports). Eligible travelers can download the Mobile Passport app to generate a digital version of the required customs form instead of filling it out by hand. Then, a CBP officer scans the QR code on your Mobile Passport digital receipt, and you’ll be on your way. Mobile Passport requires users to submit the passport form every time they enter the country.

While the basic paperless functionality is still available for free, users now have to pay $15 per year to use their smartphone camera to scan and store passport information.

Related: Why you can't use both Mobile Passport and Global Entry at the same time

Either way, you have options to safely bypass the long wait times, all while keeping in line with government and health protocols.

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Top offers from our partners

How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
See all best card offers

TPG featured card

Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day

Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023