Why Orlando International Airport (MCO) Is Such A Mess

When I posted my article about MCO’s press release advising passengers to allow more time at the TSA screening due to new security measures, I never expected to get so many responses about, essentially, how horrible that airport was. I mean, we heard things like…

“Orlando airport is the worst!!! That line for screening is horrible. The longest line I had ever seen.”

“We went through MCO last Wednesday and it was insane, took almost an hour to get through TSA.”

“Sanford sounds better and better every day.” (Note: Sanford International Airport is a small airport in Sanford FL, about 45 minutes northeast of MCO)”

“In November we were over 2 hours!”

“I love Orlando but MCO is the worst airport. I’ll take either Chicago one over MCO.”

“MCO is a nightmare. Sanford takes 10 minutes.”

“It was already long, now I guess even longer!”

“Great! Leaving Disney last year was awful.”

“The place is in turmoil”

“I flew out of Orlando on Monday and it took us around 2.5 hours from entering the airport to being on the plane with only a few minutes to spare to use the toilets before boarding. It was hectic and incredibly stressful”

“Being that it’s MCO however it’ll take forever to get through security now. That airport is always asses to elbows packed.”

“The people who work at TSA at Orlando Airport are awful. All they do is yell.”

“I’m hoping the new terminal will open soon to relieve some of this security congestion.”

MCO19.05.09
MCO queue, Terminal A, Wed, May 8, 2019. Zig-zag queue 100% full and overflow reaching towards the food court that’s halfway between Terminal A and Terminal B // PC: Jamie K.

Granted, Joe and I have lived in Central Florida for about 16.5 years and yes, it’s gotten more and more crowded as time has gone on. But with having TSA Pre-Check for the past 5ish years, we haven’t paid as much attention to the regular line, short of a “Wow, look how long it is!” in passing. But when you think about it, there are plenty of reasons why MCO can sometimes be more challenging, and take up more time, than other airports:

  • It’s grown like wildfire. In 2008 Orlando International Airport was ranked the 22nd busiest airport in the United States. 10 years later (2018 are the latest stats available) it’s been ranked as the busiest airport in Florida and the 10th busiest in the country. They’re in the midst of a huge multi-billion construction of another terminal (Terminal C) as well as a massive renovation of terminals A &B, but for now the best they can do is put as many X-ray machines and TSA officers as they can into a limited space. Even the in-airport Disney store got relocated to make more room for TSA.
  • It’s not a businessperson’s airport. When you think of other large airports like LAX, JFK, ORD, etc., they’re in big cities where lots of people come and go for business on a regular basis and who know what’s expected of them when they fly. That’s not the case, at least not nearly to the same extent, for MCO.
  • The bulk of its passengers are people who don’t fly often. Most of the people who fly in and out of MCO are tourists who fly a small handful of times a year. Maybe even less often. They don’t know the ins and outs of going through the TSA checkpoint, so they dig their driver’s license out of their wallet only when they get up to the TSA agent. And then they check each pocket for their boarding pass. But oh, their partner has it for safekeeping whoopsie, so sorry! They don’t take their jacket off until they get to the X-ray machine. They pack their bag o’liquids down in the bottom of their carry on bag. They bring 2 ounces of shampoo in a 12-ounce bottle and argue with the TSA agent who tells them to throw it in the bin. They have tight double knots that they need to loosen in order to remove their shoes, etc. That all takes extra time. Add to that a bunch of grandparents who are going to Disney with their families; they’re older people that don’t understand technology and who may move slower, and/or might not hear or understand the instructions the first time and that’s also going to cause the line to go at a snail’s pace.
  • A lot of the people who go through MCO are children. Granted, kids 12 and under don’t have to take their shoes, jackets and hats off. But all their stuff (toys, blankets, strollers, car seats, backpacks, etc.) still has to be screened. So you have to take the teddy bear away from the 2-year-old for a minute and that might be the cause of a tantrum that’ll stop the line. Plus, the reality is that it’s going to take 1 or 2 adults having to get themselves, their stuff, their kids and their kids’ stuff through the X-ray process a whole lot longer than 2 adults with no kids. Multiply that by many, many families, and you’ve got yourself a slowdown.
  • Traveling is stressful and when you’re stressed, you shut down. It doesn’t matter how much the TSA people yell, when people are stressed from traveling and overstimulated because of all the bodies in one place, and tired because Disney’s Magical Express picked them up at 6am for their 10am flight, some people are just not going to hear the instructions. Well, their ears will hear them but their brain won’t process them. And if they can’t process the instruction, they can’t follow them. And again, that leads to waiting until the last second, until when the TSA officer has yelled in someone’s face to remove his/her bag o’liquid and laptop out (after being told 5 previous times in the 40 minutes in the queue), that will cause more slowdowns at X-ray.

I think once Terminal C opens, it’ll help, at least in having those 47.7 million passengers (in 2018) people who go through MCO every year spread out between 3 terminals instead of 2. The rest of the reason? That’s not really MCO’s fault; it’s moreso a lack of a whole lot of people (tourists who don’t fly much, families with kids, older people) being prepared. Maybe if my How To Get Through X-Ray or TSA Pre-Check As Quickly & Easily As Possible post can go viral so everyone reads it and takes it to heart, it’ll help. Hopefully, you can share it with someone who needs to read it.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

2 thoughts on “Why Orlando International Airport (MCO) Is Such A Mess”

  1. Love the article and the justifications but the bottom line is, the airport is a mess. Sorry to say. I am frequently in an out of there and do see attempts to alleivate the long lines but you still need to give yourself the extra hour to clear TSA.

    1. We live 15 minutes from MCO and you’re absolutely right – it’s a mess. But sometimes when people know why something is a mess (or think they know why), it help bring the blood pressure down a little. “Well, you got mom and dad and the 3 kids and the grandparents and they don’t fly much so they don’t know and….” Instead of, “Why is this line so flippin’ LONG?”

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