Orlando International Airport

Orlando International Airport (MCO  IATA) is the primary airport serving the Orlando metro area. It is the second-busiest airport in the state of Florida, and the largest airport serving Central Florida.

The Orlando area is the most popular travel destination in the United States, with over 50 million visitors every year. As a result, Orlando International Airport serves a large number of destinations nationwide, including almost every large and medium-sized city east of the Mississippi River and several major hubs in the Western United States. International flights are limited, unless flying to Canada or the U.K. International connections are made by flying through an airline’s hub or by connecting (or driving about 3½ hours) to Miami International Airport—which ranks second in the U.S. by international passenger traffic with its extensive connections within the Americas and to Europe.

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The airport is southeast of downtown but is conveniently located close to the region’s attractions.

The airfield was established in 1942 as Orlando Army Airfield #2, a supplement to operations at Orlando Army Air Base (originally Orlando Municipal Airport, now Orlando Executive Airport). It was renamed Pinecastle Army Airfield a year later. After the end of World War II, it was transferred to the city of Orlando, but with the advent of the Korean War, the Air Force retook possession in 1951 and named it Pinecastle Air Force Base. In 1959, the base was renamed McCoy Air Force Base in honor of Colonel Michael N. W. McCoy, the commander of the base’s B-47 bomber fleet, who was killed in a crash the year prior.

In 1962, with passenger flights to Orlando exceeding what Orlando Herndon Airport (now Orlando Executive) could handle (both in passenger volume and aircraft size), the Air Force agreed to share the McCoy airfield (and its longer runways) with the city of Orlando. Orlando–McCoy Jetport opened in 1964, its terminal a converted missile barn. With the ORL airport code assigned to Orlando Herndon, the new Jetport was given the code MCO, for McCoy. The opening of Walt Disney World in 1971 brought enormously increased traffic, and the civil facilities were greatly expanded in response.

With the end of the Vietnam War, McCoy AFB was among dozens slated for closure. The airfield was transferred back to the city in 1975, and in 1976 the Orlando–McCoy Jetport became Orlando International Airport. The U.S. Navy took over some of the military facilities for a Naval Training Center, which remained active until 1999. Today, the only military presence remaining on the grounds of the old base is an Armed Forces Reserve Center, a Florida Army National Guard armory, and a Navy Exchange retail store serving the area’s large number of retired military personnel.

Orlando International’s massive main terminal opened in 1981, with the original Jetport terminal going through several subsequent tenants before being demolished in 2006.

A Delta Air Lines aircraft on the tarmac at MCO.

Orlando International Airport is a focus city (or minor hub) for Frontier Airlines (serving about 10-12 cities), JetBlue Airways (20-25 cities), & Southwest Airlines (40-45 cities), all of which fly numerous routes to/from Orlando. MCO regularly sees Boeing 747s from Virgin, British Airways, & Lufthansa; however, and despite being one of the first prepared to handle it, there has yet to be an A380 seen on routes to/from MCO.

Orlando has a clever hub-and-spoke layout that’s quite easy to navigate. One large building houses all of the landside functions (ticketing, baggage claim, etc.). Signage divides it into Terminal A and Terminal B, with the dozens of airlines spread evenly between them. Broadly speaking, the larger mainline carriers — American, Delta, and United — are on the B-Side with a few others, while most low-cost and international carriers are on the A-Side. In any case, check signs to find your airline’s ticketing and gates. All ticketing is on Level 3, but major U.S. airlines also have check-in on Parking Level R-1.

In between the terminals are two separate security checkpoints, depending on which gate you’re going to. One leads to gates 1–59, the other to gates 70–129. Security lines can become extremely long (1 hr), especially during the summer tourist season and near holidays. Combined with long check-in lines, it is advisable to arrive 2-3 hours before your scheduled departure.

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