You May Want To Avoid These Flights From New York JFK

Filed Under: Advice, American

I’m mileage running this week, which means I have lots of opinions about everything even tangentially travel-related. Like feeling pretty strongly that you shouldn’t be able to open the CandyCrush app unless the volume is disabled/headphones are connected, or that the Admirals Club is maybe not the best location for taking care of that delayed pedicure.

But that might just be me.

My current adventures have me routing through New York JFK approximately seven million times this week (more like seven, but each time has been epic, so I’m rounding up), and I’ve been stunned by how rarely PreCheck seems to be open at Terminal 8.


American Airlines and the Port Authority are doing their part — there are still lines for elites, PreCheck, and the general public — but after the ID check everyone gets funneled into one lane.

Which is pretty much a disaster.

TSA is still allowing PreCheck-qualified passengers (and who knows how they’re determining eligibility nowadays) to keep their shoes and jackets on, which leads the average clueless traveler to think they can leave their shoes on, and of course the TSA agent manning the metal detectors and nude-o-scopes isn’t going to allow that, so then you have people blocking the screening area while they take off their athletic shoes and then you have a bottleneck on the other end, because those same folks aren’t taking their luggage off the belt because they’re waiting for their shoes which are ten feet behind, and —

It’s really ugly.

And it’s not like TSA at JFK is a paradigm of efficiency to start with, given “average” wait times are up to 30 minutes:


After three 20+ minute wait times, I started to wonder if I was just extraordinarily unlucky (mileage runs do that to a girl). So I reached out to the TSA social media team to ask when the PreCheck lines were officially open:


Ah. So there are only ten hours per day where PreCheck lanes are operational, and based on what I’ve seen the past two weeks, you really don’t want to try and clear security at Terminal 8 outside of those windows.

Assuming most savvy travelers would be clearing security ~90 minutes prior to departure, this means there are about 25 American Airlines flights departing JFK Terminal 8 where PreCheck isn’t available. This includes multiple frequencies to hub/focus cities, along with several other key destinations:

  • Bermuda
  • Boston
  • Charlotte x3
  • Cancun
  • Buenos Aires
  • Sao Paulo
  • Los Angeles x4
  • Miami x3
  • Phoenix x2
  • Raleigh x2
  • Washington DCA x2

That’s not a huge number of flights, but some of those are transcons or international flights with a higher passenger complement. So you potentially have upwards of 3,000 people going through a single security lane between 8AM and 1PM.

Non-peak security line at JFK

And really, it’s not PreCheck being closed that’s the problem per se — rather it’s the tremendous staff-down and use of a single lane that creates the bottleneck. So even if you wouldn’t normally have PreCheck, your TSA experience will still take longer because of the chaos happening in the screening area. It’s bad for everyone.

If TSA can’t justify the staffing costs to keep PreCheck open all day (which seems odd, given they charge for the service, and it’s JFK, but whatever), they either need to make everyone conform to the same screening standards to eliminate confusion, or separate the queue in some other way.

Which, at that point, you might as well just open the darn PreCheck lane.

Bottom line

I appreciate staffing to demand, but at some point TSA needs to realize they’re scheduling security personnel at a huge airport, not baristas at a strip mall Starbucks. Even “non-peak” times are still high-volume at JFK, and the commingling of all passengers into a single queue seems unnecessarily spartan.

But in the meantime, I’ll be arriving to the airport four hours early to enjoy a more civilized screening process. Thankfully the Flagship Lounge has good coffee.

Have you experienced similar PreCheck limitations? Are the other JFK terminals as bad?

  1. Great post. Let me add a point or two.

    Delta Diamond here. So flying from JFK T4 a lot. Even if you can figure out when the PreCheck line opens, and you get there early for an early flight, everyone who works at T4 is going through that lane before you – or cutting in constantly – so even the first 30 minutes or so of it being open is a cluster.

    Also – for those of us who paid for GE or PreCheck – why is it so hard to figure out when the service is open, or to get the actual service we paid for? Yes, it’s the government. And yes conditions vary. I’d put up with that more easily if it was random tax dollars paying for the service – I know what the DMV is like – but when I pay extra for something and rarely get it, should I get my money back?

  2. This is far from limited to JFK, and I’m seeing this all over the place. PHX was rather backed up last night as well as a couple of weekends ago in the later evening, because of the same problems you’ve described. I’ve seen similar reports on FlyerTalk of many other cities having very limited PreCheck hours. While you can still cut the first half of the queue, it easily adds 10-15 minutes to the wait time.

    Another annoyance is that if you use a mobile boarding pass, they have another scanner to verify PreCheck, but it’s pretty much after the point at which your bags are on the conveyor belt, so you need to double back and put your phone in another container, and its usually is going to lag behind your bags.

    Given the doubling of the TSA tax a couple of years ago and the costs of PreCheck (or Global Entry), it’s a bit ridiculous that PreCheck isn’t being staffed at all hours (or in airports with multiple security entry points, in at least one of them at all times).

  3. I really think TSA has significantly messed this up across the country. More and more the lanes are closed (dtw north terminal and sea are great recent examples), yet they are now charging for it and more and more people have it. You can’t charge for a service then limit it.

    At this point there should be an elite pre-check line like they have at DL in LAX and pre-check should be open the same times as normal lines. No idea why they are cutting back despite signing more and more people up for it.

  4. The whole thing is a joke, precheck ha never been open at Ft Myers every time I’ve been there and Terminal D in Miami only has one lane open if you’re lucky.

  5. Couldn’t agree more. Recently came through JFK connecting from a JAL flight on to MIA on a Saturday afternoon around 2 pm. Not only was Pre Check closed but when I approached the manager to provide feedback his response was, and I quote, “talk to your President”.

  6. Bit me in the A in December when I went through on a Sunday late morning.

    The two agents I spoke with had also never heard of Expedited / Pre Light…such a joke.

  7. Tiffany, I share the same feeling as you do. Unfortunately our lawmakers are flying private or not flying in those times because this would have been corrected long ago.

  8. I don’t have pre-check, but transit a JFK twice a month to/from AMS. If I just could transit in the terminal instead of getting in line again, would save everybody loads of time..

  9. Flying AA First out of T8 tomorrow at 3.30pm before my connection to Qantas First in LAX – methinks I will check in then aim to get to security ON THE DOT of 1pm – thanks petal!

  10. Same problems recently with both Denver and IAD.
    Denver – Feb 2016 united domestic / Wednesday 4pm. No TSA open and only 2 lines open and both of those were with xray scanners which seem to take a lot longer. The wait time was about 45 minutes to get through.

    IAD – Jan 2016 returning from MUC and transiting to SFO. No TSA line at all (not even closed, just absent) and waited 1.5 hours in line to clear security as at least 5 international flights had all landed about the same time. We had a 2.5 hour layover @ IAD and by the time we exited international transfer security had to sprint for the gate.

  11. What do you expect. They are a bunch of idiots.

    They have no common sense and therefore have no clue how to schedule things.

  12. I used to love JFK, until I began experiencing exactly what you have. Security at JFK is a nightmare–EWR is similarly bad (and maybe even worse because I tend to be at EWR at like 4:30 in the morning in line with 30 people afraid they’re going to miss their 5am flights; at least JFK flights don’t start leaving until 5:30 I think). At JFK and EWR, I have to budget at least 30 min to get through security, 45 min to be safe.

    Say what you will about LGA, but in my experience security generally takes less than 10 min.

  13. I was at AA Term 8 at 6 am on 1/30. It was a Sat, but Pre Check was not open. I had wheelchair assistance so they brought me to the front of the line and told me to just break in an put my stuff on the belt. I was allowed to keep my shoes on. What a fiasco!

    Btw, returning at 7pm through Miami on 2/14 was no better. Same routine except they gave you a card to show that you were pre check so you could leave your shoes on. I made a mistake and put my card down on a basket that went through the scanner. Even though the agent saw the card she still made me go back and take my shoes off and put them through the scanner.

    I think in both instances (definitely MIA) I had to take my laptop out.

    What a joke!

  14. I’ve had good luck going through PreCheck at JFK. Could that be because I only use the International terminal there after re-entering from Europe? Last time I went through was in December, scheduled next month so I’m hoping this isn’t the new normal….

  15. I rarely go to JFK Terminal 8 but I do go to JFK Terminals 1, 2, and 4 a lot and never had that issue. Terminal 1 always has a long security line whenever I got there but on average the wait I’d say is less than 15 mins. I normally arrive at JFK 1-1.5 hour before departure and luckily I’ve always boarded on time.
    Whenever I fly Delta, I always go to Terminal 2, as I’ve found the security lines there are a lot shorter than Terminal 4. I then take the JFK Jitney to Terminal 4 if my Delta flight is in Terminal 4.
    Since EK, EY, VS, and so many other international airlines fly out of T4, I found the line wait to be less than 15 mins as well. I don’t think they ever have only 1 security lane open.
    Sorry to hear about T8. 🙁

  16. I used to work at JFK and, well, the security line is one of the quirks that makes JFK unique. Seriously, the beauty of JFK is that they literally make everything up as they go… I did not work for the TSA but rather with one of the customer service subcontractors, and have done line management during the Thanksgiving and Christmas rushes. The New York area is generally chaos (which I love), and the average JFK experience complements this very well.

  17. Anywhere Pre-Check was working well, it has been systematically dismantled because by TSA logic they are wasting money if lines are short or non-existent. Pre-Check hours are notoriously variable and arbitrary. I see numerous elderly and disabled being selected for pre-check (on their boarding pass) because they have been determined to be low risk (but high delay impacting to the pre-check line).

    Time to call your congress critters people…

  18. JFK is obnoxious whenever transiting Int’l –> Domestic for Pre-Check. Pet Peeve of mine. The “Express Connection” helps sometimes, but not always.

    But, the WORST is MIA. Early morning MIA connections from South America are ABYSMAL. No Pre-Check. No “Express Connection”. No elite line. NOTHING.

    Had a 2.5 hour layover planning on SCL-MIA-DCA the other day, in Business class, and got to my DCA gate JUST AS IT WAS BOARDING. Absurdity.

    Just another case of the government screwing up a good thing. It infuriates me whenever they mangle the PreCheck experience — and unfortunately, that seems to be more often than not these days.

  19. My airport just stopped TSA Pre Check, which will probably be spreading to more airports soon. The joys of traveling!

  20. Security at JFK T8 (in particular) sounds professionally incompetent, as if they have to be trained to be this counter-productive.
    I don’t have precheck and can’t see the point in getting it, not until they get the govt out and private sector in.
    I usually allow 4 hours before boarding domestic. I hope this is still enough!

  21. @ Nick — If you exit the international arrivals area and go upstairs, I think checkpoint 3 has 24 hour PreCheck. I’ve never seen it open at the transfer checkpoint, personally.

  22. @ schrap — Yeah, that’s awful. Highly recommend walking out of the airport and back in to the normal departure areas, as the transit queues seem particularly bad.

  23. @ Sean — Yeah, Miami is a place where you really need to go back upstairs to the “normal’ security zones. They have one checkpoint that has 24-hour PreCheck, but the transfer screening is a disaster zone.

  24. Newark terminal A has no precheck lane at all. Zero. Zilch. It’s maddening, but I have learned my lesson. I will honestly choose to take a connecting flight out of LGA to not deal with the aggravation of no precheck even if the only direct is out of ewr. (As a bonus I also avoid the traffic snarled schlepp to EWR). I just don’t have the patience to be behind 1,000 clueless folks who never travel and then have debates with the tsa agent about “no, I can bring it through! It’s not water, just juice and I can bring juice through” or “but I never see the “share a Coke with” bottle with my name on it, can’t you make an exception?” My blood pressure is rising just thinking about this stuff…..

  25. I experienced the same thing at JFK a few months ago, and the “manager” told me “pre-check is not a right.” This was after another worker, who was pushing the bin cart into my path told me ” you know, you could wait for me to get through.” They are complete assholes. A friend told me you can complain online, and he’s received responses. I suggest everyone start doing that. And taking pictures of TSA workers and their name badges. THEY do not hold the power they think they do, and it’s high time we tell them that.

  26. Yet another one of the many reasons this lifetime Platinum AAdvantage member started flying Delta exclusively 3 years ago. Terminal 4 @JFK whisks me through TSA PreCheck 99.5% of the time. I don’t miss T8 and everything that goes along with it in the leAAst.

  27. Oddly enough, I find Miami almost always quick & smooth, usually 1-5 minutes to clear. I have NEVER seen MIA TSA closed, & I live there & traveled nearly 300,000 miles last year.

  28. @ Terry — Not odd at all if you live in Miami! It’s the downstairs “transit” security checkpoint in Terminal D that is a mess, which you probably have never used if you’re terminating in Miami. The upstairs checkpoints work just fine, so people who are connecting from international flights are best off going upstairs and through the regular queues.

  29. Thanks for figuring this one out. I’ve always wondered why my late night JFK-LHR flight took longer in the queue than my 4/5pm JFK-AUS queue despite less people in the queue. To put this in perspective, I worked in a McDonald’s Drive Thru in Ireland during college, with a customer spending on average 7euro, we could afford to have 12 people to handle 100-120 customers per hour just ordering and serving (not including kitchen staff) with a very tight labour cost target, so imagine the the staffing levels possible here given 600 ppl and hour, with a higher spending rate in the airport shops and restaurants and airport taxes, even with the TSA earning more. I have always found it strange how slow the queues are in US airports despite Americans flying more than their European counterparts where we trail a lot more by train, so should have than routine down, but I think it’s the TSA more than the travellers to be honest. Being Irish, I don’t get to use the Pre-Check, but being PLT with AA I can use priority where available, but T8 JFK like you say is a mess even with an initial fast track.

  30. What a great post. I am a Concierge Key member with Flagship check in and have had quite the surprise when Flagship services, TSA Precheck and limited gates have been the recent norm. I have highlighted this many times to AA with a general response on TSA makes it’s own rules and manages its own staffing without influence from the Airline. My check-in experience over the past 4 weeks at JFK has averaged 24 – 34 minutes.

    With that said, I have seen inconsistent operations at JFK Terminal 5 and Terminal 8, with Terminal 5 in almost normal capacity all day (including early morning hours). What is so special with terminal 5? I am not sure that anything is other than airline influence.

    AA does not have this issue at LAX, ORD or SFO, so not sure why JFK is operationally not the same. AA is trying hard to compete in the Customer experience game but long security lines without options for loyalty customers or PreCheck seems painful.

    I am looking forward to an improved customer experience at JFK or will continue to notate and track for AA the pain that they are causing, only for someone else to solve the problem and take away their most loyal customers.

  31. Great post, but does anyone know if TSA is still closing its TSA Precheck at JFK T8 between 8 am and 1 pm — as they stated in February? Seems with all the recent complaints about interminably long lines, one way to help reduce wait times would be to keep Precheck open throughout the day — and not shut it down at 8 am.

  32. I agree whole-heartedly. I am a weekly traveler through JFK and have made several service comments to AA and TSA about this. Even with Flagship check in at JFK the average wait for me with precheck lanes closed is 20 min. A bit frustrating to say the least.

    I did just see that AA is hiring help at CLT and I forwarded the article and request for JFK to be next. Hoping some improvements put in place before the summer travel season hits in a few weeks.

  33. JFK Terminal 1 is a NIGHTMARE. No TSA Precheck. and TWO sides of security lines funneling into one in the center. There are no directions, and there is no proper system. Its taken me over 1.5 hours to get through.

  34. I travel 25-30 times/per yr for business Domestically and become acostomed to TSA protocols and reason for Security Checks…However Retunring to USA from France with Wife, Daughter and 2 young Toddlers w/infant grandbabies on Sunday thru JFK was the THE most horiffic experience. 1stly, Short Staffing at American AL inbound Gate delayed parking plane for 40 mins after landing/ They BS’d about “mechanical issues” with GangWay, but reality was that NoOne was staffing it…TSA Delays, even with ‘Express Connection’ support caused us to miss our last Flight back to CMH… After 20+ Hrs of travel, TSA showed great deal of incompetence… If this was a Business..Heads would Roll. — Had to Transfer to Laguardia for last Flt home…disaster in traffic. I have come to rally HATE NYC… Never will go thru JFK…EVER again…even if it means added indirect flts thru optional Airports. We definitey are being ripped off with the Add Fees for TSA tax… Needs High Level Exec to Improve Systems.
    T.D. from Columbus, Ohio — Go Bucks!

  35. Try calling American Airlines and you really think our country is going down the drain. The uneducated rep could literally care less. Why doesn’t this person pass these tips to the CEO? Because the CEO loves uneducated people – it’s that simple

  36. What do you expect from the TSA? Before 9/11 these people were all working part time at McDonald’s for minimum wage. No one with an average IQ or even mediocre career prospects would do the job, especially for the pittance they get. Yet somehow you still can’t get the feeling that they’re overpaid whenever you encounter these halfwits in uniform.

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