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Proof in the numbers: A lot of people are traveling abroad this summer

July 25, 2022
7 min read
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If you have plans for international travel in the near future, you’re not alone. June figures released by the federal government provide some context on just how much busier this summer has been than the past two when it comes to international trips, and there’s every reason to believe June was just the beginning.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials screened more than 9.7 million passengers in June – a number that includes all U.S. citizens and non-citizens who went through passport control at airports while entering the U.S. or went through international preclearance. Put plainly, it’s an indicator of international air travel volume.

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Those June numbers were up 1,701% compared to 2020 which, while staggering, isn’t a huge surprise considering the extent to which international travel shut down in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the June CBP numbers also were double those from a year ago, when agents cleared more than 4.8 million international passengers.

These figures are a sign of what TPG has been reporting for months leading into the summer: a travel season unlike any in recent years, including a huge spike in trips abroad.

Travelers exit the customs area at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) in June. (Photo by David Paul Morris/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

The surge in passengers arriving at U.S. customs facilities also comes just months after the country’s testing mandate for international passengers ended, affecting both American travelers considering the ease of a trip abroad (and back home) and international visitors considering trips to the U.S.

Related: Travelers, industry react to end of U.S. testing mandate

In announcing those June numbers, CBP officials touted the agency’s response to the surging volume, noting agents had processed travelers “without any significant delays.”

At the same time, agency data analyzed by TPG points to moderately longer average wait times for arriving travelers so far this summer compared to the same time period in 2019.

As you might expect, the busiest times at customs generally fall each day between mid-afternoon and evening, when many international flights arrive in the U.S. If you're arriving from an international flight at a major U.S. airport during those hours, there's a good chance you'll see pretty big crowds, though that's also when CBP tends to have the most booths open in order to handle the volume.

TPG analyzed data from May 27, the Friday leading into Memorial Day weekend, this year through July 21. We also compared 2022 data with the numbers from the Friday leading into Memorial Day 2019 through July 21, 2019.

Keep in mind, that these are across-the-board average numbers, so if you are a member of a CBP Trusted Traveler Program, most notably Global Entry, you’ll almost certainly fall at the far shorter end of the wait time range.

Here's what we found:

Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL)

  • Average of hourly-reported passport control wait times for U.S. travelers: 10.9 minutes (up from 7.5 minutes in 2019).
  • Worst single-hour average wait times for U.S. citizens: 58 minutes, between 5 and 6 p.m. on July 4.

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)

  • Average of hourly-reported passport control wait times for U.S. travelers: 14.5 minutes (up from 9.6 minutes in 2019).
  • Worst single-hour average wait times for U.S. citizens: 48 minutes, between 9 and 10 p.m. on June 26.

Dulles International Airport (IAD), Washington, D.C., area

  • Average of hourly-reported passport control wait times for U.S. travelers: 12.7 minutes (down from 13.1 minutes in 2019).
  • Worst single-hour average wait time for U.S. citizens: 77 minutes, between 8 and 9 p.m. on July 14.

John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), New York CITY

  • Average of hourly-reported passport control wait times for U.S. travelers: 18.5 minutes (up from 11 minutes in 2019).
  • Worst single-hour average wait time for U.S. citizens: 98 minutes between 10 and 11 a.m. on June 2 in Terminal 4.

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)

  • Average of hourly-reported passport control wait times for U.S. travelers: 19.2 minutes (up from 13.5 minutes in 2019).
  • Worst single-hour average wait time for U.S. citizens: 91 minutes between 11 p.m. and midnight on July 21 in the Tom Bradley International Terminal.

Miami International Airport (MIA)

  • Average of hourly-reported passport control wait times for U.S. travelers: 15.1 minutes (up from 12.2 minutes in 2019).
  • Worst single-hour average wait time for U.S. citizens: 101 minutes between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. on July 4 in the North Terminal.

O’Hare International Airport (ORD), Chicago

  • Average of hourly-reported passport control wait times for U.S. travelers: 22.7 minutes (up from 12.3 minutes in 2019).
  • Worst single-hour average wait time for U.S. citizens: 98 minutes between 4 and 5 p.m. on July 14.
Travelers arrive at O'Hare International Airport on June 30, 2022 in Chicagos. (Photo by KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

What to expect on your trip

Typical wait times have gone up at many of these airports, but in most cases, we’re talking about just a few minutes.

As you can see, there have been some cases at each of these airports where passengers over the course of an hour or so have faced significant wait times, but this often resolves rather quickly.

For instance, when passengers at JFK Terminal 4 faced an average of 98 minutes at one point on the morning of June 2, those average wait times were back down to 29 minutes the following hour. Other airports saw similar phenomena — which, you’d imagine, can be triggered by any number of circumstances, from technological problems to an unusually large influx of international arrivals.

Related: What happens if you accidentally let your Global Entry expire?

Global Entry kiosks inside Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH). (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Still, it’s a reminder of just how much time programs like Global Entry can save you. Enrollment in that program, along with other known traveler programs like TSA PreCheck, has risen sharply in the last couple of years. If you’re one of the many travelers waiting on an interview, keep in mind that you don’t necessarily have to wait in the longer, standard line at passport control. If you have conditional approval, you may be able to take advantage of the CBP’s Enrollment on Arrival program, which allows you access to the expedited line on the condition that you complete your Global Entry interview right there on the spot.

Bottom line 

We’ve known for some time that this would be a busy summer for international travel, and the latest numbers confirm that.

While the data in June suggested the typical U.S. citizen re-entering the U.S. at major airports waited from 10 to 20 minutes at passport control, there are obvious cases where those waits have been longer. In some cases, the waits have been substantially longer, but statistically speaking, you were far less likely in June to wait in line for an hour or more.

All travelers join us in our hope that things will run as smoothly as possible through the rest of the summer and beyond.

Featured image by Bloomberg via 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.

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  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases