SFO (Allegedly) Has the Longest Wait Times on the West Coast — Here Are a Few Ways to Get Around Them

Plus: The absolute worst time of the week to fly out of SFO

May 6, 2022 7:00 am

Take this with a however big a grain of salt you have personally available, but according to a recent report by Bounce, an app that connects travelers to storage facilities, SFO’s wait times for domestic travelers — including an average of 27 minutes, eight seconds in security lines — are the third-longest among U.S. airports, and the longest on the West Coast.

According to the report, which analyzed data from the TSA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, it’s not much better for international travelers at SFO, who spend another 18 minutes, 8 seconds to clear passport control. SFO’s combined average security and passport wait time (45 minutes, 56 seconds) is just a minute longer than the top two airports: Miami and Fort Lauderdale. 

You already know the obvious tools for getting around this: TSAPre, CLEAR and elite status on your airline of choice. We came up with a few additional strategies to try on your next flight. See you in Sacto, everybody!

Consider Alternate Airports

One guaranteed way to avoid SFO’s long lines? Avoid the airport altogether. Bay Area travelers can take their pick of several international airports within fairly easy driving distance (some are easily accessible via public transit, so you can reduce traffic hassles, too). San Jose and Oakland are the major players within about an hour’s drive of SFO, depending on traffic. Farther north, Sacramento is a solid choice, and — bonus! — SAC ranks third in Bounce’s list of U.S. airports with the shortest security wait times, at a mere eight minutes, eight seconds.

Consider a Private-Ish Jet Service

If you’re flying a short hop from the Bay Area, here are three letters for you: JSX. The Dallas-based carrier, which bills itself as “hop-on,” started off serving commuters between San Francisco and Los Angeles. It’s now expanded to 16 markets (including 10 in the West, plus another handful of seasonal routes) with its fleet of 30-seat Embraer 135 and 145 aircraft, with departures from three Bay Area-ish airports: Oakland, Monterey and Concord/Napa. Perks include free wine, beer and snacks onboard, legroom galore and two complimentary bags (small dogs also fly free in cabin carriers). Plan on getting to the airport just 20 minutes before departure.

The prices are probably better than you think: While most JSX fares will cost significantly more than commercial, flights start at just $199 one-way (though we found a May flight from Oakland to Las Vegas for a mere $169). Of course, smaller cabins with fewer passengers mean a less efficient carbon footprint than a regular commercial flight, so keep that in mind the next time the drought-induced wildfires kick up. 

Strategize Your SFO Flight Wisely

Passengers who still want to take their chances with SFO’s lines can tuck a few strategies into their arsenal of travel hacks. First of all, consider an early-morning flight: Those pre-dawn wakeup calls can be brutal, sure, but the payoff can mean far fewer (i.e., still sleeping) fellow passengers queuing up, which lessens the chances of delays. 

You can also stay updated about security wait times via apps and websites including App in the Air, MyTSA and iFly.com (whose data also claims the worst times to fly out of SFO are Wednesday from 10 to 11 a.m.). Such resources won’t actually reduce the time you spend in line, of course — but at least you’ll know what you’re walking into at SFO so you can plan accordingly (and pack some extra patience).

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