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Best for entering the USA: LAX or SFO?

Best for entering the USA: LAX or SFO?

Old Sep 4, 13, 10:29 am
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Best for entering the USA: LAX or SFO?

Which airport is best (fastest) for clearing immigration/customs: Los Angeles or San Francisco? I'm a US citizen, and have a choice of flying directly to SFO on a flight that arrives at about 8 pm, or flying to LAX on an earlier flight (arrives 4:30 PM) and connecting to a 6:30 flight to SFO. What would you do?
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Old Sep 4, 13, 10:39 am
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No need to even think about this. SFO beats LAX every time, it's not even close. LAX is a zoo, always. Plus with the routing you have, if you go via LAX, after you get done with customs and immigration you are going to have to go to another terminal (I usually walk) and clear through security again.

A final nail in the coffin given that SFO is your final destination: If weather (usually fog) causes any delays at SFO -- and it does a lot -- the first flights that many carriers choose to delay are LAX-SFO.
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Old Sep 4, 13, 11:39 am
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Thanks, Richard!
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Old Sep 4, 13, 5:31 pm
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Second that suggestion. In your scenario, it doesn't seem like there's any benefit to doing an extra leg to LAX - unless the miniscule amount of miles is worth it (assuming you're traveling in a direction that even generates extra mileage).
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Old Sep 5, 13, 1:52 am
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Broadly, I agree. Having said that, I have always arrived on UA into LAX T7 from abroad, usually about 1 or 2pm and have never waited more than 15 minutes in line for Passport control, as a US citizen sitting in UA's E+ section.

Arriving in SFO on the G side, I have found it's a crapshoot. I tend to arrive at about 5pm, and sometimes it's deserted and twice in the last two years I've waited over an hour, with the line stretching outside the hall and some way down the corridor.
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Old Sep 5, 13, 7:53 am
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Originally Posted by OskiBear View Post
Second that suggestion. In your scenario, it doesn't seem like there's any benefit to doing an extra leg to LAX - unless the miniscule amount of miles is worth it (assuming you're traveling in a direction that even generates extra mileage).
Actually it's an award ticket - EVA Air in business class. Here are the choices: I arrive in TPE at 5 PM from an intra-asia BR flight. Then either:

1. Connect to TPE-SFO departing 8 pm, arriving ~4 pm
2. Connect to TPE-SFO departing 11 pm, arriving ~8 pm
3. Connect to TPE-LAX departing 7 pm, arrive LAX at 4 pm, connect to UA flight LAX-SFO at 6:30 pm, arrive SFO ~8 pm.

Obviously option 1 is the best - but there are no award seats available on this flight. I've booked option 2, but keep wondering whether option 3 would be better - it avoids the 6 hour wait in TPE and brings me to SFO at about the same time as option 2, but at the risk of (a) long customs lines in LAX, and (b) dealing with the the connecting flight to SFO.

(The other thing to consider is that BR *might* move me to the earlier SFO flight if seats are available. But if I'm booked through LAX, presumably that would mean changing the United award ticket, which BR can't do.)
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Old Sep 6, 13, 6:01 pm
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Originally Posted by snic View Post
1. Connect to TPE-SFO departing 8 pm, arriving ~4 pm
2. Connect to TPE-SFO departing 11 pm, arriving ~8 pm
3. Connect to TPE-LAX departing 7 pm, arrive LAX at 4 pm, connect to UA flight LAX-SFO at 6:30 pm, arrive SFO ~8 pm.
You were right to pick option 2 when option 1 was unavailable. Option 3 is clearly worse. It gets you to your destination no earlier than #2 but involves the effort, complexity, and risk (of misconnecting or lost baggage) of an extra leg. Also, it splits your ground time into two periods. When you put all your connection time into a single period you have more flexibility with what to do. Use your 6 hours to eat a leisurely meal, browse in a few stores, get a shower or massage, or just relax in the business lounge-- where the seats are more spacious and comfortable than in business class on the plane!
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Old Sep 6, 13, 8:57 pm
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Yeah, that does make sense. On the other hand, I'll have a 10 year old with me - kind of hard to keep a kid entertained for that long of a layover. At least she'll mostly sleep on the TPAC, given that it departs at 11 pm.

Another option I just thought of: take the flight to LAX and get a hotel, then fly to SFO the next morning. It's more expensive, but minimizes most of the complications with transferring - and we'd arrive at our Bay Area relatives well rested. Hmm... Any recommendations for a nice LAX airport hotel (preferably with a good pool)?
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Old Sep 6, 13, 10:39 pm
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I could agree with lhrsfo: coming into T7 with United is usually an easy entry. But your flight is coming into the TBIT! I have always found the international arrivals hall in that terminal to be among the worst I have experienced anywhere in the US. I recall entering there about one year ago, with computer monitors identifying the lines for "US Citizens", "Resident Aliens" and "Visitors". There were also paper signs with the same information --- identifying totally different lines. And then there were the (literally) screaming security guards, who were pointing people to still different areas to get in line. Total chaos!

I know that the TBIT has been recently renovated, but I don't know whether the Immigration and Customs area has changed.

I would strongly recommend SFO: even if the lines are long, I've never experienced such chaos there.

(By the way, I am a US citizen and English is my native language...)
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Old Sep 7, 13, 8:52 am
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Originally Posted by david7031 View Post
computer monitors identifying the lines for "US Citizens", "Resident Aliens" and "Visitors". There were also paper signs with the same information --- identifying totally different lines. And then there were the (literally) screaming security guards, who were pointing people to still different areas to get in line. Total chaos!
That is impressively moronic. Sounds like, in addition to paying for a hotel at LAX, springing for Global Entry for the kid and me might be yet another required expense...
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Old Sep 8, 13, 8:48 am
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Originally Posted by snic View Post
That is impressively moronic. Sounds like, in addition to paying for a hotel at LAX, springing for Global Entry for the kid and me might be yet another required expense...
I have Global Entry now, and it is absolutely fantastic! And for $100 for 5 years -- let's just say, if you use it just once a year, it will pay for itself in reduced aggravation! Even LAX is bearable with Global Entry...

My only problem is, my wife is German, so when we enter the US together, I have to use the regular line. But on our last trip, she got upgraded and I didn't, so I retaliated by using the Global Entry Kiosk and letting her wait in line!
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Old Sep 8, 13, 11:40 am
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Originally Posted by david7031 View Post
I have Global Entry now, and it is absolutely fantastic! And for $100 for 5 years -- let's just say, if you use it just once a year, it will pay for itself in reduced aggravation! Even LAX is bearable with Global Entry...

My only problem is, my wife is German, so when we enter the US together, I have to use the regular line. But on our last trip, she got upgraded and I didn't, so I retaliated by using the Global Entry Kiosk and letting her wait in line!
The other advantage of GlobalEntry is that you get PreCheck with it - which I'm not getting selected for through the airline. Of course, for GE to be useful to get through LAX, my kid would need to have it too - yet another $100.

On the other hand, looking at the TBIT immigration wait times for this July, they don't seem so bad - they are actually shorter than at SFO or JFK terminal 1 or 4: apps.cbp.gov/awt/ . As someone mentioned above, maybe the TBIT renovation is helping?
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Old Sep 13, 13, 12:11 pm
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LAX is easily my least favorite airport in the USA. Not only is customs worse, but every other aspect of the airport is worse. The only advantage is LAX may have more flight options in and out of it.
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Old Sep 14, 13, 2:18 pm
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Your child will be likely more than bored at LAX - Immigration can get clotted up mightily at times, and you may be bussed in adding more time; Customs has personnel who seem to revel in disorganisation and yelling loudly at passengers. If you can fly directly to SFO, do so.
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Old Sep 18, 13, 7:51 pm
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Phase 1 of construction on the TBIT was completed today. Five new gates opened, as well as "an expanded and upgraded U.S. Customs and Border Protection federal inspection area."

Phase 2 starts later this year and also will include "upgraded federal customs and immigration inspection areas."

The "fully modernized facility will be able to accommodate 4,500 passengers per hour, up from current 2,800 passengers"

I guess that will help.
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