MCO’s Wonky Sense of Timing

by SharonKurheg

We live in Central Florida, so Orlando International Airport (MCO) is our “hometown” airport.

The airport has its good points and its bad ones. With 3 terminals, it’s a relatively easy airport to negotiate. Terminals A and B can be accessed from the main terminal via an automated people mover called the Gate Link. The main terminal also has a Gate Link to Terminal C.

a diagram of a airport

PC: Greater Orlando Aviation Authority (GOAA)

Terminal C is decades younger than Terminals A and B, and its layout is more modern and user friendly:

a map of an airport

PC: Greater Orlando Aviation Authority (GOAA)

My only complaint? It is a HECK of a long walk to go all the way through Terminal C. But they’re apparently fixing that with some retrofitted moving sidewalks in 2024, as per multiple outlets, as well as a press release from the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority (GOAA) Board.

That being said, MCO has a lot going for it:

  •  According to Reuters, MCO made it into the world’s top 10 busiest airports by passengers, in 2021. It was also the busiest airport in Florida for 7 years in a row (Forbes reported that Miami took over the #1 spot in 2023)
  • After announcing in LinkedIn that it was nominated for the 2023 North America’s Leading Airport award by World Travel Awards, MCO won the award for the 2nd year in a row.
  • The Brightline high speed train just started service a couple of months ago. The new 37,350-square-foot Brightline Orlando Station is in a two-story glass atrium complex at the airport, next to Terminal C, and trains travel towards Miami every hour.

    a group of people at a train station


So yeah, MCO is BUSY. So busy, in fact, that for the past few years, they’ve recommended on their website that passengers arrive at the airport a full 3 hours before their domestic flight.

a blue and white card with yellow text(It says “Subject to change” but I haven’t see that notification NOT be “3 hours” since a few years before the pandemic)

Honestly, I could believe that. Because Orlando is the home of major theme parks such as Walt Disney World and Universal Studios Orlando, MCO winds up with a lot of families flying in and out of it. Families with children, seniors, etc., especially those who don’t travel often, can slow down queues – and it’s part of one of the negatives about MCO. So yeah, 3 hours can make sense. (here’s a guide that can help you decide how early YOU should arrive at MCO or any other airport)

But when we were flying out of MCO the other day, I noticed something I never had before. A new electronic sign at the TSA checkpoint for Gates 1-59 (which had a 38-42 minute wait at 8 o’clock in the morning):

a group of people standing in lineI know it’s kind of fuzzy, but did you catch that? “Only passengers departing in the next 2 hours should proceed.”

a sign with text on itSo you’re supposed to arrive at the airport 3 hours ahead of time. But you shouldn’t go through the TSA security check unless you’re departing in the next 2 hours. Granted, the baggage drop queues at Southwest, Spirit, Delta, Frontier, etc. are intense. But unless it’s a holiday, they’re rarely a whole hour long.

Of course, if you’re not “supposed” to go through the TSA queue until 2 hours before your flight, there are plenty of shopping and dining opportunities at the main terminal for you to spend money on. 😉

Granted, the non-frequent flyers with the grandparents and the toddlers in tow, who are holding car seats on top of everyone’s luggage, are probably going to need that full hour to finally get to the TSA security checkpoint. But really – if I get to the airport 3 hours ahead of time, and I’m not checking a bag, or the bag drop queue is quick, I’m going to want to go through the security checkpoint so I can go to one of the lounges at MCO that I have access to.

Or maybe I just won’t get there 3 hours early ;-).

Feature Image: MCO/ Twitter (whoopsie….X)

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1 comment

Jason S November 13, 2023 - 5:02 pm

I’ve been to MCO a total of 37 times this year in my travels (CLT is home, I’m at 223 flights YTD with about 30 more before year end, this will be a personal record year). I did also sell a condo I’ve had/rented out for years in downtown Orlando off Central which had me go to MCO every Wednesday for a few months (I work remote). Security can be a hassle, even with PreCheck and Clear as more and more families with strollers the size of Chevy Sparks have those memberships too. The only thing more frustrating is the hotel shuttle situation to me. I’ve only flown into C (Redway Air inaugural, may they RIP) but connecting over to the main terminal from there was a hassle especially because of the location of the tram in Terminal A/B (and the removal of the moving walkways that ran down the spine of the main terminal).

I can see how the 2 hours prohibition works and maybe is needed. FLL has had this for a long time… but to be fair its concourses are fairly small, and they have people coming off cruises trying to burn 7-8 hours before their flights home. I usually access one of the various Clubs/Lounges (I have access to DL/AA/UA/Priority Pass – The Club), but I have noticed lately the concessions in the airside are completely overrun at times. The On The Border on Airside 1 (Frontier/Spirit/Silver) runs a 45-60 minute wait for a table in the evenings. I doubt the sit down places out in the main terminal are quite that bad. Spreading the load amongst all parts of the airport may be a goal.. and also to help meter the TSA lines since that is most departing passengers’ instinct is to go straight to security after check in.


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