Home Airports Why Orlando International Airport (MCO) Is Such A Mess

Why Orlando International Airport (MCO) Is Such A Mess

by SharonKurheg

If you look at the upper right corner of the main page of Orlando International Airport’s website nowadays, you’ll see something you don’t typically come across.

Yup…they advise passengers to arrive 3 hours before departure time. That’s not for international travelers…that’s for everyone. (here’s a guide that can help you decide how early YOU should arrive at MCO or any other airport)

I mentioned that fact online, and never expected to get so many responses about, essentially, how horrible people thought 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 the other week 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, not that long ago. 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 19.5 years and yes, it’s gotten more and more crowded as time has gone on. But with having TSA PreCheck for the past 8ish years and CLEAR for a few less years than that, we haven’t paid as much attention to the regular line. Well, 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, in 2018, it was ranked as the busiest airport in Florida and the 10th busiest in the country. By 2021 it was the 7th busiest, not just in the country, but in the world! They’re in the final stretch of a huge multi-billion construction of another terminal (Terminal C – here’s how it’s looking right now) as well as putting the finishing touches on 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 knows 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 who 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 their Mears Connect or Sunshine Flyer shuttle bus 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 (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 40.4 million passengers (in 2021) 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.

Feature Photo: MCO/Twitter

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14 comments

Laura Stuart May 19, 2019 - 9:07 am

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.

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SharonKurheg May 19, 2019 - 10:48 am

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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AngryFL April 15, 2022 - 5:05 pm

MCO is a mess because its piece of crap outdated airport and terminal c is already outdated the day it opens. I will bet good hard cash that terminal c doesn’t change what makes MCO horrible.
A 2hr wait for your bag due to rain.
Born and raised in Orlando and will never visit MCO if my life depended on it. I will literally drive to the next city instead
MCO is garbage, I had a great trip that started and ended bad and all due to MCO.

It’s not kids or tourists who caused the mess we experienced, it was 100% MCO.

Garbage.

Hey everyone, be sure to arrive 2hrs early for your 4 hr delay.

You can open 10 dang terminals and MCO will always be hot garbage.

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SharonKurheg April 15, 2022 - 8:48 pm

I suppose everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I stand by the reason I listed. Also, it’s not the rain…it’s the threat of lightning within an X-mile radius, according to radar. I’m willing to wait if it will keep the workers safe.

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Robert Huss May 29, 2022 - 11:45 pm

You’re not waiting 2 hours because of rain, you’re waiting because of lighting in the area – and the ramp closes. That happens in ALL airports with lighting in the area. So, you won’t escape it anywhere else.

Terminal C, which will be home to JetBlue, is NOT going to be outdated when it opens, in fact, it will be one of the most technologically advanced terminals in the country.

Get your facts straight and don’t say stuff that isn’t true. If you don’t want to go to MCO, don’t, but don’t spread MISTRUTHS.

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Dave Edwards May 28, 2022 - 6:40 pm

You nailed it with the people who don’t understand how TSA works. Add in they ran up the credit cards and are now facing the reality of the debt they created going to Disney, so they are in a bad mood. Avoid MCO at all costs!

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Lynn May 28, 2022 - 7:13 pm

I just flew out of Orlando and since I am a Clear member I tried to use the Clear line. Waited for about 20 minutes in the Clear line and was funneled into regular security. So what’s up, Orlando Clear??

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SharonKurheg May 29, 2022 - 12:45 am

The Clear lane only gets you bypass the queue before the security screening (read: where the TSA agent would compare your ID to your boarding pass). Once you get past that, you get funneled into the regular queue for X-ray. However if you have TSA PreCheck, you would get funneled into the PreCheck lane, which tends to be shorter and faster.

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m May 29, 2022 - 7:50 am

I fly out of MCO as my main airport. To be honest, I don’t notice this airport to be any worse than other major airports. I find airports such as ATL or JFK, to be worse and more chaotic. To me, this airport is just typical of most of the major airports and how the process of going through security and TSA is by far the worst part of flying. It’s definitely the part I hate the most.

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Shaun May 29, 2022 - 8:27 am

We’ve been to WDW 4x since October 2021. Having Clear & Precheck make such a difference. We almost always fly home Sunday afternoon when it’s a zoo. From stepping into the Clear lane to boarding the tram to the AA gates has been roughly 10m each time. All four times the regular lines were insane.

I agree the airport is out of date…but the AA Admirals club has made a big difference for regular AA flyers.

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Martha May 30, 2022 - 9:18 pm

I think you’re right that the high proportion of infrequent fliers makes the difference between MCO and other high-volume airports. I think MCO could do a better job of getting the word out about the free Clear security reservations also. And finally–better signage/routing for the pre-security lines would help also. The last time I was there, I encountered a giant mob the security gates. The mob eventually resolved itself into lines, but if you’re way at the back, it’s very stressful because you can’t be sure you’re in any line much less the right line.

Because of this, I actually waited in the wrong place for about 15 minutes. It turns out that there are TWO Clear lines, one for paid customers and one for the free reservations. The paid line (rightly) turned me away and the free line was hard to find. The online signup said to look for a sign that said Clear, and the for-pay Clear employees said, “Look for the green sign” but there was more than one green sign and none of the green signs (not even the right one) said “clear” on it. Once I figured out where I was supposed to be, the lines moved pretty fast though.

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Tim June 1, 2022 - 5:20 pm

The primary issue is that for there are currently only TWO terminals, which means all those passengers being funneled through just TWO screening lines. Many other airports have multiple terminals that are more spread out, with their own screening lines. Hopefully the new terminal will help with that, we’ll see.

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SharonKurheg June 1, 2022 - 7:57 pm

There are many reasons that MCO is the way it is. You’re right – only having 2 terminals, on top of lots of growth, is one of the reasons. That’s why we mentioned that one first. 😉

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JenniferB June 20, 2022 - 3:29 pm

I use MCO often and the workers are always rude and yelling at people. It’s ALWAYS slow but I know this going in and just go with the flow. However, this time I had 4 children with me and the TSA checkpoint was pulling from 3 different lines this weekend. The worker refused to let us come up together to check or ID and passes. Literally put 2 people between me and each of my 4 kids.. (I had already witnessed him let other groups come up together so I really didn’t get it). Who Separates a mother from her children? yes, they were older than 10 but I found this completely unacceptable. Then when I stepped aside to wait for them I got yelled at and forced to go thru security without them.

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