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Whenever I have to fetch someone from the airport I usually arrive at the airport on the estimated arrival time resulting me spending useless time in the arrival hall.

Can you get a reasonable estimate how long it takes to get through? I am specifically interested in long hauls, because schengen flights or short hops is usually a question of minutes

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+1 nice question, it is a bit broad since there is no answer that can answer for all airports in the world, but maybe some guidelines can be given. –  MeNoTalk Jul 17 at 21:13
    
May depend a lot on if they have checked bags to collect, if they qualify for the "speedy" locals line at immigration or if they have to wait for the "everyone else" slow queue, and if the country in question does "stop and review" customs or "walk through unless flagged down" –  Gagravarr Jul 17 at 21:17
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As examples: Hand luggage only, from row 1, my record is probably sub 3 minutes from plane door open until I was out of the small European airport. Entering the US as a non-citizen under the visa waiver program, with baggage to collect, customs to clear, and the bizarre arrivals security check at Atlanta, I think my worst was about 3 hours... :( –  Gagravarr Jul 17 at 21:19
    
@Gagravarr What is the bizarre arrivals security check at Atlanta? –  Ari Brodsky Jul 17 at 22:39
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@AdityaSomani This was before they opened the new terminal, on an international arrival. Was just trying to show how dramatically different it can be depending on the airport –  Gagravarr Jul 18 at 9:28

3 Answers 3

There is no formula that can tell you the exact waiting time for every airport in the world, there are many factors:

  • Is visa required for the passenger? usually people with visas takes longer time to clear immigrations. Especially if it was visa on arrival.
  • Are there separate lanes for immigrations for citizens and non-citizens?
  • Does the passenger you are picking up have items to declare for customs?
  • Does the passenger you are picking up have checked-in luggage?
  • Luggage carousels at the airport, some airports with few carousels makes people wait a lot for their luggage.
  • Class of travel.

Each factor of the above factors can add few minutes to the check-out process, sometimes all of these factors come together making it an hour or even more. Other thing that can also be a pain in the neck is special security measures in some airports (USA comes in mind), in JFK I spent 5 hours due to the NSEERS process. There are also other factors that can add to this, such as gates locations, some airports have gates that are so far from the immigration counters, DXB comes in mind. Also, taxi time, some airports have a big ramp, aircraft can literally taxi for more than 15 minutes before reaching the gate, JED comes in mind.

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Country of travel also makes a huge difference. What time is my flight landing, in peak hours it will take longer etc... This is a good question, but there are wayyy too many factors. –  Aditya Somani Jul 18 at 1:12
    
@AdityaSomani country of travel is only important in the US. I do not recall any other place where this matters. I also mentioned NSEERS in my answer, which is a security measures found only in the US for travelers coming from some countries. –  MeNoTalk Jul 18 at 1:19
    
I meant for instance traffic in Indian airports is largely people tryin to get out of the airport, whereas traffic in London or Frankfurt might be a lot of transit passengers. –  Aditya Somani Jul 18 at 2:17

The answer from MeNoTalk is excellent, basically it varies. I wanted to give you a few ideas of how to find out for a given airport.

You can try and Google 'How long does it take to get out of <airport>' normally this gives some pretty good hits. There may be a thread on FlyerTalk about it (for example).

Many airports publish target and actual queuing times for immigration (here's Heathrow) so you can get a rough idea about that and adjust based on the factors in the other answer. Note that some factors cancel out -- immigration and baggage reclaim for instance, generally you only need to worry about the longest one, they don't add the time together.

You can also look up the minimum time to change flights at the airport, which will give you some idea of the in airport travel time (and maybe passport control if they quote for flight changes going through passport control -- i.e. Schiphol from the KLM website).

The best idea is to find someone who's done a similar flight with similar conditions. One other thing you can try is phoning an airport limo or private car service, they generally arrange the car to meet an incoming flight and they'll have some idea of the average touch-down to out-the-door time. Although how you get them to tell you that is up to you.

On long-haul, I'd watch the real-time flight information (just Google the flight number) to check for delays. Then probably aim to be at the airport 20 to 25 minutes after that. And take a good book.

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For the car service tip you could state that you will meet a client at the airport, and ask when you should be at the airport to not waste your time. –  user1261166 Jul 18 at 12:09
    
@user1261166, yeah -- good point. Or find a local company that regularly meets clients at the airport and ask them. –  SpaceDog Jul 19 at 5:10

It sounds like you're trying to guarantee that you will be waiting before the other person. This is usually fruitless, since aside from anything else planes can land early. It's also kind of unfair, unless your time is clearly less valuable than theirs (e.g. because you're picking up an important client, or because you know the traveller will be exhausted and desperate to get home as quickly as possible).

I would ask the traveller to estimate. Unless they're relatively inexperienced, they have as good a notion as you do that it takes a while. They have more idea than you do what their baggage, customs and immigration situation is. And most importantly, if they tell you that they expect it to take at least X minutes, then they've given you "permission" not to be there if they're any earlier. They won't be all that disappointed when you aren't, and you won't feel bad.

Arrange a back-up meeting place to wait in the event that you're not standing at arrivals.

My rule of thumb when I'm guessing what bus/train I can catch away from the airport, is that it's not worth even looking at less than 30 minutes if I have checked baggage. Most commonly I perform this calculation for Heathrow or Gatwick, which admittedly are not the smallest or fastest airports in the world.

Still, you can probably add that 30 minutes and be reasonably safe. They're unlikely to do better than 20 minutes for anything other than "trivial" cases (Schengen/domestic, no baggage, normal-sized airport as opposed to say Schipol which is vast and has correspondingly long taxi times). They're unlikely to be massively inconvenienced by waiting 10 minutes, provided they know you're on your way.

At large airports you can probably add an hour and still be there first half the time or better. Just pay attention in future to when you arrive and how long you wait.

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