How Long Does It Take To Leave the Airport After Landing From an International Flight?

Are you arriving from an international flight and trying to figure out how long it will take you to get through the airport?

Perhaps you are scheduling a pick up with someone and you want to make sure that they arrive close to your scheduled “airport exit time.”

Well, there are a lot of different variables that go into play when trying to predict how long it will take you to exit the airport after an international flight. But by breaking things down a little bit, you can often arrive at a pretty close estimate and we will show you how to do that in this article.

How long does it take to leave the airport after landing from an international flight?

You can generally expect to exit the airport after an international flight anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour after the scheduled arrival time assuming that your flight departed on time.

However, the exact amount of time that it takes can vary dramatically based on a lot of different factors so keep reading below to find out how to more accurately predict this time!

Your journey through the airport after an international flight

Let’s walk through what your journey will be like after an international flight to see how long it will take you to get through the airport.

Arrival time

If a flight departs on time or at some time near the departure time, there is a high chance that the flight is going to arrive earlier than the scheduled arrival time.

In my experience, this is even more so the case with long-haul international flights where predicting the exact arrival time is a little bit more difficult because of the longer distance.

Here are some examples of flights between LAX and Sydney Australia (SYD) taken from Flight Radar to give you an idea of just how early these flights can arrive.

These are the actual arrival times for a Delta flight with a scheduled arrival time of 6 AM:

  • 5:24 AM
  • 5:18 AM
  • 5:25 AM
  • 5:20 AM
  • 5:41 AM
  • 5:38 AM

Something interesting about these flights is that they all did not depart until about 15 to 30 minutes AFTER the scheduled departure time. So a long international flight could depart a good 20+ minutes late and still arrive over 30 minutes early from the scheduled arrival time.

I would encourage you to check out the specific flight you are concerned about and look through the past couple of weeks of arrival times. This will help you get a very accurate sense of when the flight will be arriving.

Delay getting to the jet bridge

Arriving at an airport extra early is great but sometimes getting there too early can be a problem. This is because there may not be an open gate for the aircraft to deplane at.

I’ve been on international flights where we arrive super early and are essentially forced to just wait 20+ minutes on the tarmac until the gate opens up. So unfortunately, sometimes even though your flight is early, you’re not going to be able to get a jumpstart on exiting the airport.


How passengers deplane will depend on the aircraft and also on the airport.

Some aircraft may have multiple jetbridges while others may only have one exit point. For those that only have one exit point, typically first class/business class get priority exit and then economy will follow.

Being one of the first off the plane also means getting a jump in line for immigration and customs.

Airport size and layout

If you are arriving at a large airport you may have to take a shuttle bus or tram to travel between terminals.

In my experience, trams are pretty reliable at airports but the shuttle bus systems can be a cluster you-know-what.

Sometimes it may take you 15 to 20 minutes to get from your arrival gate area to the immigration and customs lines. Other times, you’ll be there within five minutes.

Immigration & Customs

Unless you were able to do some type of pre-clearance through customs in a foreign country, you will have to go through customs and immigration whenever you arrive in the US.

First, you go through immigration which is where you will show your passport and explain the reason for your international visit.

If you want to get an idea of the waiting times for your specific airport, you can look up those wait times here.

The wait times will be different based on if you are a US resident or non-resident (it typically takes a non-resident longer to get through).

You can also see what the wait times are at different times in the day — certain hours tend to be MUCH busier than others.

If you are trying to play things conservatively, you could take a look at the maximum wait time which should give you an indication of what the worst case scenario would likely be.

Remember that if you have Global Entry you’ll be able to breeze through immigration, sometimes in only a matter of a couple of minutes. Another way to get through immigration quickly is to enroll in Mobile Passport.

International checked baggage

Another time hurdle you have for getting out of the airport is getting your checked baggage (assuming that you checked a bag).

By the time that you get through immigration, your checked bag may already be on the carousel because bags can start hitting the conveyor belt in as little as 15 minutes.

Usually, passengers with premium tickets such as first class or business class get their bags handled with priority so they should be the first ones out although that does not always happen.

Just keep in mind that the widebody jets that fly international routes are often some of the bigger planes with lots of passengers and bags. That means that it could take longer for the plane to be unloaded and for all of the bags to be transported.

Having to wait close to 45 minutes for your bags to arrive on the carousel is unfortunately a possibility for some unlucky passengers.

As a rule of thumb, you could probably expect your bags to arrive within 20 to 30 minutes of the plane arriving at the gate but arrival time for checked bags can sometimes be hard to predict.


Airports handle immigration and customs differently with some combining the two and others utilizing a separate process for each.

So just be prepared to potentially go through two separate areas, one for immigration and one for customs.

I’ve had the unfortunate experience of dealing with some extraordinarily long customs lines when trying to exit with my baggage so be prepared to add extra time if you get caught in a scenario like that. (Global Entry can help you avoid these long lines, too.)

At some point you will likely have to indicate if you have something to declare or not. For example, you may have to walk through a special line for people declaring items and speak with an agent.

If you have to declare anything or need to have certain items inspected such as plants or animals, remember that you may have to spend a lot more time in customs. This could easily add an extra 10 to 15 minutes but if there is a hiccup it could take even longer.

Also, there is the possibility that you could be subjected to some type of screening, even on a random basis, so that could easily add to your wait time.

So what time should you arrive to pick someone up from the airport on an international flight?

In the end, it’s really difficult to give specific guidance on when you should arrive at the airport to pick someone up from an international flight because there are so many variables at play and some of these will always be unpredictable.

To recap, these variables are:

  • Arrival time (which is often early)
  • Tarmac delays
  • Deplaning time
  • Airport size/layout
  • Immigration
  • Baggage Claim (which can vary widely)
  • Customs

Generally, for an international flight that departed on time I would estimate that it would take about 30 minutes to one hour from the scheduled arrival time for someone to get through all of these but there will always be outlier cases.

I remember times when I would arrive back at Houston Hobby Airport (HOU) from an international flight and with no checked bags + Global Entry + seat up front, I would probably exit the airport within 15 minutes of the plane’s door opening at the gate.

However, there are also times when you might arrive at a larger and busier airport where it could easily take you an hour to an hour and a half to get through with late-arriving checked bags.

If you are trying to get as specific as possible then consider all of the different variables and factor in:

  • Average early arrival time from last few weeks of prior flights (using Flight Radar)
  • Average customs wait times for that specific airport/Global Entry status
  • Whether or not the passenger has checked bags

By getting these details and tracking the flight status of the person’s flight on the day of arrival, you could very closely estimate the exact time they would be walking through those exit doors.

When you show up to the airport to pick up somebody I would suggest you checking out the cell phone parking lot as that is a great place to park for free while you wait for your passenger to arrive.

Or, if you are having someone picking you up always be sure to text them as soon as you arrive.

One comment

  1. In busy USA airports, getting through CBP- Customs and Border protection , can be VERY dependent on when you arrive.
    If it is on the East coast in the afternoon…when all the European flights arrive…it could be hours if you are in the non-USA citizen line and do not have Global Entry.

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