When it comes to keeping the security lines moving, some U.S. airports are simply better than others. And it pays to know which ones are most likely to hold you up with TSA wait times, especially if you’re not enrolled in TSA Precheck.
In a study by UpgradedPoints analyzing the busiest 25 airports in the U.S., Newark is the clear loser, keeping travelers in security lines the longest. It suffers the worst average TSA waiting time, at 23 minutes, as well as the longest maximum waiting time: a full hour on Mondays at mid-day. On the other end of the wait rankings, the average wait time at Salt Lake City, at nine minutes, is the only airport where the average wait is below 10 minutes. Its average maximum wait is also among the lowest.
Here’s how the 25 busiest cities in the U.S. ranked, from worst to best, based on their average TSA wait time—plus when their longest delays hit.
U.S. Airports Ranked by TSA Wait Times
|Airport:||Average Wait (min)||Worst Times to Arrive||Worst Maximum Wait (min)|
|Newark||23||Monday 12-1 PM||60|
|Houston Bush||20||Sunday 5-6 PM||51|
|Miami||20||Thursday 4-5 AM||37|
|Baltimore||18||Monday 2-3 PM||35|
|Las Vegas||17||Sunday 6-7 AM||37|
|Atlanta||17||Monday 5-6 PM||33|
|New York La Guardia||17||Sunday 5-6 PM||32|
|Seattle-Tacoma||16||Friday 10-11 AM||34|
|San Francisco||16||Wednesday 10-11 AM||28|
|San Diego||16||Monday 10-11 AM||38|
|Dallas-Ft Worth||16||Thursday 6-7 AM||47|
|New York JFK||16||Friday 2-3 PM||35|
|Phoenix||15||Thursday 9-10 AM||26|
|Chicago O’Hare||15||Tuesday 4-5 PM||33|
|Orlando||15||Friday 12-1 PM||24|
|Los Angeles||14||Monday 10-11 PM||29|
|Denver||14||Friday 9-10 AM||37|
|Ft. Lauderdale||14||Friday 6-7 AM||36|
|Minneapolis-St Paul||13||Monday 2-3 PM||43|
|Detroit||13||Sunday 5-6 AM||33|
|Charlotte||13||Thursday 5-6 PM||29|
|Philadelphia||13||Friday 11 AM-12 PM||32|
|Washington Dulles||11||Friday 9-10 AM||28|
|Boston||11||Friday 5-6 PM||45|
|Salt Lake City||9||Sunday 11 PM-12 AM||26|
Although travelers at Newark suffer the longest average wait time, the average time of 23 minutes is not substantially higher than the times at Houston/Bush and Miami (20 minutes) nor Baltimore (18 minutes). But Newark travelers suffer the double whammy of both worst average and worst-hour maximum wait time: 60 minutes is an outrageous peak wait average to gamble with.
After Salt Lake City, airports with the shortest average wait times are Boston and Washington/Dulles, at 11 minutes. Salt Lake City travelers also enjoy a low worst-hour wait time of 26 minutes. Other airports with extra-long maximum waits are Houston’s Bush, at 51 minutes, Dallas-Ft. Worth at 47 minutes, Boston at 45 minutes, and Minneapolis-St. Paul at 43 minutes.
Airports with the lowest maximum wait time (read: the most reliably fast-moving airports) are Orlando (24 minutes) and Salt Lake City and Phoenix (26 minutes). At all other airports, the average wait time varies from 13 to 17 minutes. Average worst-hour times at other airports range from 26 to 38 minutes, making Houston and Newark big outliers.
The maximum wait times of the week occur on Fridays at eight airports and mostly at mid-day, and on Mondays at seven more airports, again mostly mid-day. Max wait times that are early in the morning (5:00 to 7:00 a.m. on Sundays at Detroit, New York/La Guardia, and Las Vegas) probably reflect low off-peak levels of staffing during those hours, rather than high passenger numbers.
Overall, these times generally support the need to arrive at an airport an hour or so before departure, and closer to 90 minutes or even two hours at airports known to have very long worst-hour waits, such as Newark. Now you know.
Tip: Travelers can check current TSA wait times for any given airport online, in real time, via the MyTSA app.
More from SmarterTravel:
- The 10 Worst Airports for Summer Travel
- 7 Ways to Score Airport Lounge Access
- 10 Worst Airports for Flight Delays, Ranked
Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.