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I'll be flying into NYC from London and I wonder which among the three area airports (JFK, LGA and EWR) is the quickest for custom operations. I generally fly through JFK but operations are often quite long and I've lost connections a couple of times.

I realise that custom operations may be slow on account of many unforseeable reasons, but my question refers to ordinary, routine operations.

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    LGA has no customs at all, so... – Nate Eldredge Sep 3 '16 at 16:51
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    If you're flying with connections the number of options is much bigger than just NYC, e.g. you can fly via Canada and go through US immigration on Canadian soil. Or fly via Dublin and likewise pre-clear there. – JonathanReez Supports Monica Sep 3 '16 at 16:54
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    BA Flight 1. Board at LCY, preclear at Shannon, and arrive JFK with no further formality. BA Flight 2 is the reverse route, and is nonstop. – Michael Hampton Sep 3 '16 at 17:00
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    @MichaelHampton: Great plan if you are already paying for business class. Not so great if you were thinking of paying for economy. – Nate Eldredge Sep 3 '16 at 18:25
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    @JonathanReez Or fly via any one of a number of different airports in the US. – David Richerby Sep 3 '16 at 22:15
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Starting from London, the quickest option is to take BA1 from LCY to JFK on the "babybus". That undergoes pre-clearance at Shannon in Ireland whilst refueling, and so lands as a "domestic" flight. Hand baggage only, you can get from jetty to cab/taxi in under 5 minutes (3 isn't impossible!)

Next quickest from the arrivals perspective is to fly from London (any airport) to Dublin, and connect there onto a flight to New York. All US-bound flights leaving from Dublin are pre-clearance flights, so you'll go through US immigration + customs in Dublin. You also go through US-compatible security re-screening in Dublin too, so you pop out in New York as a "domestic" arrival straight into the terminal. If you have onward connections, this makes a big difference, as you can just walk to the next gate

Otherwise, the question isn't what airport, but what terminal. It's no good deciding that JFK is great if you then book on an airline that flies into a terminal with no automated APC kiosks, for example!

Finally, consider other flights arriving at the terminal at the same time as you. If your flight gets in 20 minutes after two A380s just pitched up, you're in a long queue. If your flight is the first international flight of the day to arrive, you're probably fine.

Oh, and consider Global Entry if you travel to the USA a lot - it'll get you much quicker immigration, often a quicker customs line, and it'll get you TSA Pre which means quicker security on your departure.

  • It should be noted that BA1 offers business class service only. If you only want to pay economy fares, BA1 may be out of your price range, as business class fares are typically 5x higher or more. There are also only 32 seats per day, and you might have trouble booking on the specific day when you want to travel. – Nate Eldredge Sep 4 '16 at 13:26
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    @NateEldredge In a sale, it isn't always that much more than economy. (Whenever I've taken the babybus, it certainly wasn't at 5x normal economy pricing!) Avios redemptions aren't too hard to get – Gagravarr Sep 4 '16 at 18:02
  • Fair enough. I just looked up fares for a random date and that is what I found: economy on another flight was £199, business class on BA1 or other flights was over £1000. I guess I should not have said "typically" without more evidence. – Nate Eldredge Sep 4 '16 at 21:46
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The answer depends not only on the airport, but also on the airline (as there are multiple immigration/customs areas in each airport) and the time of day.

The US CBP has a website where you can check the historic wait times for each airport at various times of day - both average and maximum wait times. http://awt.cbp.gov/

Select your airport/terminal, and a date range, and you can check the wait times at around the time that your flight is expected to land.

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JFK is not as bad These days, not if you're a British citizen, because you can use the APC kiosks which generally reduces waiting times significantly.

They're also available at EWR, the less busy Airport.

  • 1
    APC queues at JFK T7 off BA were terrible a couple of weeks ago. Including for US citizens since they were in the same queue as ESTA holders. – Berwyn Sep 3 '16 at 18:50
  • @Berwyn JFK supposedly now has smartphone passport control for US citizens. But I think most people don't know about it. I haven't been through JFK since it was supposedly introduced (in April) so I haven't seen it there for myself. – Michael Hampton Sep 3 '16 at 18:54
  • @MichaelHampton That does look useful for US citizens. Saw signs at SJC the other day. – Berwyn Sep 3 '16 at 19:37
  • @Berwyn Also at JFK T4 there are now separate APC queues for US/Canadian citizens and for Perm. Residents/VWP/B visa travellers – Crazydre Sep 3 '16 at 19:43

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