So, you’ve done your research and found a cheap flight to Orlando International Airport (MCO). All that’s left to do is show up at your local airport, have a fun vacation, and fly home…right?
Well, almost. MCO is a sprawling airport. It’s the busiest in Florida and the seventh busiest in the U.S. The hustle and bustle can disorient and exhaust arriving and departing flyers alike. Before arriving at the airport, it’s important to have a game plan.
Here are six tips for getting through Orlando International Airport like a pro.
1. Download the MCO App.
Not only is MCO crowded — it’s also huge. At 21 square miles, it’s one of the biggest airports in the country — big enough to make you wish you had a map in your pocket.
Luckily, there’s an app for that!
In addition to helping you get around the airport, the MCO app provides estimated security wait times and updates on your flight. You’ll also find information on shopping, dining, and ground transportation options. The app is free and available to both Android and iPhone users.
2. Make sure you know your terminal and gate.
With the opening of Terminal C last year, MCO now has three terminals split between two buildings.
Each terminal can only be accessed via one of the airport’s Automatic People Movers (APMs). If you board the wrong APM, you’ll wind up spending precious time backtracking. And depending on where you end up, you may need to go through security again to get where you need to go.
The moment you arrive at the airport, verify your terminal and gate information on the airport display system. Then use the MCO app to navigate to the right place.
3. Pack those souvenirs wisely.
Many travelers view their Orlando vacation as a chance to shop ‘til they drop.
As you pack your sweet souvenirs away, remember that some items need to go in checked luggage.
One of the TSA’s best-known rules is the 3-1-1 rule, which states that you can bring a single 1 qt. bag of liquid goods on the plane with you. Each item in that bag needs to be 3.4 oz (100 ml) or less.
Of course, 3-1-1 applies to things like perfumes, wine, and bottled water.
Gels like fruit preserves or some deodorants also fall under the rule.
Other liquids may not be so obvious. For instance, your standard magic eight ball holds 3.5 oz. of liquid and will need to go in a checked bag. Glowsticks you picked up at the parks will count toward the 3-1-1 rule. And any snow globes in your carry-on will need to be 3.4 oz. (about the size of a tennis ball) or smaller.
When packing up your new finds, also consider the following:
- Inflated balloons are not allowed on airplanes. But you can always deflate your Mickey balloon and have your local party supply store refill it.
- Many toy weapons, like foam swords and Nerf guns, need to go in a checked bag. However, Harry Potter wands and lightsabers are allowed in your carry-on.
- Wait until you get home before wrapping any presents you bought in Orlando. Otherwise, you may find a hardworking TSA agent undoing your hard work.
Another option is to wait and buy your souvenirs at the airport. Disney (terminals A and B), Universal (A, B, and C), and SeaWorld (A, B, and C) each have shops at MCO.
4. Arrive early for your flight home.
In 2022, MCO served over 50 million guests, making it the airport’s second busiest year ever.
Earlier this year, the Orlando Business Journal projected that 2023 could smash all records, with up to 55 million passengers using Orlando International Airport. That’s a lot of people, and many are young flyers who are still learning the ins and outs of air travel. As a result, getting through security can take longer than usual.
The general rule of thumb is to arrive at the airport 2 hours before a domestic flight’s departure time.
MCO officials, however, recommend getting to the Orlando airport 3 hours in advance. Doing so will ensure you have ample time to check any bags, get through security, and find your gate.
5. Bring your appetite.
Eating at the airport can save you time and gives you something to do if you make it to your terminal early.
MCO has some great dining options that reflect the culinary diversity and quality of the city at large.
Terminal A features familiar favorites like Burger King, Chipotle, On the Border, and Starbucks. But it’s also home to Cask & Larder, a brewpub owned by culinary power couple James and Julie Petrakis. Camden Food Co. serves custom and pre-made salads and sandwiches in Terminal B. That terminal also has casual dining options like Ruby Tuesday, Outback Steakhouse, and Bahama Breeze.
Over in Terminal C, you’ll find loads of local flavor. MCO’s newest terminal has a second Cask & Larder location, Sunshine Diner by Chef Art Smith, and other exciting options.
6. Skip the security line with TSA Pre-Check or Clear.
With so many awesome stores and restaurants in Orlando International Airport, you’ll want to minimize your time in the security line and maximize your time in your terminal.
Luckily, MCO offers a few options to get you shopping and snacking in no time.
TSA PreCheck lets qualifying flyers zip through security, usually in 5 minutes or less, without having to take out your 3-1-1 bag or laptop or remove your shoes, belt, and jacket.
This members-only program is open to U.S. citizens and nationals and lawful permanent residents.
To join, you’ll need to visit an application center close to home. The application costs $78 and entails a short form, background check, and fingerprinting. Most applications are approved in 3-5 days, at which point you’ll receive a Known Traveler Number (KTN). When booking flights with a participating airline, provide your KTN when prompted.
Your TSA PreCheck membership lasts five years, at which point you’ll fill out a new application and pay a $70 renewal fee.
Citizens of the United Kingdom, Mexico, Brazil, and 11 other countries may qualify for Global Entry, a program that grants you the same benefits as TSA PreCheck.
In 2010, Orlando International Airport became the first to adopt CLEAR Plus, a biometric program that gets you to the front of the security line.
CLEAR Plus membership costs $189 per year, but some flyers may qualify for a discount. You can register online or at a participating airport. When you get to airport security, approach a CLEAR kiosk and scan your boarding pass, then your fingerprints or irises. You’ll be escorted to the front of the line and then complete the security screening as usual.
RESERVE by CLEAR
While TSA PreCheck or CLEAR Plus can be a worthwhile investment for frequent flyers, those who rarely fly may not be able to justify the cost.
Luckily, Orlando International Airport is one of seven American airports that have adopted Reserve by CLEAR.
This free program allows you to reserve a specific time to go through a CLEAR-only security lane. You can choose your appointment time up to 72 hours before your flight, and one person can make a reservation for up to 10 people. Once at MCO, your group can enter the CLEAR lane up to 20 minutes before or after your chosen time.
Prepare for Takeoff at Rosen Plaza
Once your plane touches down at MCO, head to Rosen Plaza to check into your peaceful and spacious guestroom.
Our Orlando hotel is in the heart of the city and offers a free Universal Orlando shuttle, making it easy to explore. When your time in the City Beautiful comes to an end, you’ll be just 15 minutes away from Orlando International Airport.