Orlando International Airport is a major international gateway, especially due to its proximity to world-renowned attractions such as Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, and SeaWorld.
To accommodate its approximately 50 million passengers annually, MCO has three main terminals; Terminal A, Terminal B and Terminal C. Each of these is then divided into various gates serving domestic and international travellers.
Given this, we recommend arriving at Orlando International Airport (MCO) at least 2 hours before a domestic flight and at least 3 hours before an international flight.
However, personal circumstances might necessitate an even earlier arrival. Considerations include travelling with young children, transportation means to the airport, and the time of your flight.
What Time Should You Arrive At MCO?
We typically recommend arriving at Orlando International Airport (MCO) at least two hours before departure for domestic flights (flights within the US) and at least three hours before departure for international flights (flights outside of the US). This should provide you with enough time to;
- Check-in for your flight
- Drop your luggage
- Navigate through security
- Reach your gate well in time for boarding
In our opinion, it’s always better to arrive at the airport a little early and have some extra time browsing the stores or grabbing a bite to eat rather than arriving late, feeling rushed and running the risk of missing your flight.
Why Do You Need To Arrive Earlier For International Flights?
It’s often recommended that when travelling to international destinations (outside the US) you arrive at Orlando International Airport at least 3 hours before the flight departs.
This is often recommended to allow for extra time for checking visas, entry requirements, immigration control and clear customs.
Some of these things will only apply to international passengers leaving the US, while others will only apply to US citizens.
International flights also often have larger aircraft with more passengers which subsequently have a longer boarding period (starting earlier) to allow for all passengers to board the aircraft with enough time prior to the scheduled departure time.
How Are You Travelling To Orlando International Airport?
One of the first things to consider when deciding how early to arrive at Orlando International is how you are getting to the airport. The traffic conditions not just around MCO but across Orange County are notoriously bad.
As such it can easily take in excess of one hour to travel from Walt Disney World, or Universal Orlando to Orlando International Airport in a car or longer if you’re coming via public transport.
We recommend using Google Maps in advance to check the distance and estimated travel time to the airport based on your mode of transport.
Keep in mind that if you check Google Maps on a Sunday at 1pm, then the travel time may be very different to the reality you face if you’re actually trying to complete the journey at 7am on a Monday.
If you’re driving to Orlando International Airport and returning a rental car at the airport then I recommend arriving at the airport at least 30 minutes earlier.
That’s because depending on the time and the rental car provider you have used, you may be required to wait in line and complete some paperwork before returning your vehicle.
In addition to this you’ll also then need to walk from the rental car drop-off location over to the terminal – all of which increases the amount of time you’ll need for getting to the airport.
The Time of Year
The time of year in which you’re travelling can have a significant impact on how busy Orlando International Airport is and subsequently how long you may have to wait to park your car, check in, drop your bags and get through security.
National holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Spring Break can lead to some of the busiest travel days of the year, especially on weekends.
If you are travelling during one of these peak times, then you may want to look at arriving at the airport at least one hour earlier.
Checking in For Your Flight
The majority of airlines now allow you to check in for your flight using either the mobile application or web application up to 24 hours before departure.
Checking in using this service should provide you with a digital boarding pass and therefore only require you to use the bag drop service (if applicable).
However, if you’re unable to check in for your flight before arriving at the airport then you’ll want to make sure you arrive at the airport with enough time to do so.
The majority of airlines provide both self-service check-in kiosks and check-in counters at Orlando International Airport (especially in the newly opened Terminal C) which allow you to complete the check-in process quickly and easily.
However, keep in mind that airlines will close the check-in gates before the flight departs (exact times vary, however, it’s usually around 45 minutes – check with your airline).
If you have not checked in before the designated time then you will be denied boarding – even if you’re at the departure gate on time for the flight itself.
Dropping Checked Bags
Much like checking in for your flight, another factor you’ll want to consider when determining what time you should arrive at Orlando International Airport is whether or not you’ll need to check your luggage.
The bag drop will close roughly one hour prior to the flight’s departure (exact times vary depending on the airline and destination so be sure to check your flight information) so you’ll want to make sure you arrive at MCO early enough to accommodate for this where applicable.
If you do not have any checked bags then once you have your boarding pass (either digital from checking in online or physical from checking in at the airport) you’ll be able to head straight through to security.
TSA Precheck / CLEAR?
If you have TSA Precheck or CLEAR then moving through security should be a significantly quicker and easier process.
As such you should not need to allow for additional time at the airport when compared to infrequent travellers moving through the regular security checkpoints.
Which Orlando International Airport Terminal Do You Need?
There are currently three terminals at Orlando International Airport. While airlines do occasionally change the terminal from which they fly the following typically applies;
- Alaska Airlines
- Avelo Airlines
- Avianca Airlines
- Copa Airlines
- Frontier Airlines
- LATAM Airlines
- Southwest Airlines
- Spirit Airlines
- Virgin Atlantic
- Air Canada
- American Airlines
- Bahamas Air
- Delta Air Lines
- LATAM Airlines
- Rouge (Air Canada)
- Silver Airways
- Spirit Airlines
- Sun Country Airlines
- United Airlines
- Viva Air
- Aer Lingus
- Air Transat
- British Airways
- Caribbean Airlines
- Lynx Air
- Sunwing Airlines
Orlando Travel Planning Guide
🏥 Should I Buy Travel Insurance for a Trip to Orlando?
If you’re travelling to Orlando for vacation, then travel insurance is recommended. Basic travel insurance coverage with Safety Wing averages between $5 – $10 per day and offers peace of mind.
However, if a trip to Orlando isn’t part of a vacation. For example, you live locally. Then travel insurance isn’t likely to be necessary.
🚘 Do I Need to Rent a Car for a Trip to Orlando?
You don’t need to rent a car for a trip to Orlando (you can use rideshare services instead). However, a hire car will make your trip to Orlando significantly more convenient.
🏨 Where to Stay in Orlando?
Deciding where to stay in Orlando can be incredibly overwhelming. Having visited Orlando several times over the past decade, I’m going to try and make it as simple as possible.
- If you’re going to both Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World and don’t want to hire a car, then stay in an Orlando hotel with a shuttle to the theme parks.
- If you are travelling with kids and plan to do pool days, then book one of the many Orlando hotels with waterslides.
- If you are going to Walt Disney World on a budget, then stay in a hotel with both a free breakfast and theme park shuttle.
- If you are only visiting Universal Orlando, then spend a little extra for the perks of staying in a hotel onsite.
🎟️ Where To Buy Orlando Theme Park Tickets?
If you are visiting a theme park in Orlando, then you’ll need to purchase theme park tickets. If you’re based in the US or Canada, I recommend Klook for your Orlando theme park tickets.
Klook consistently has the most competitive prices. There’s also a range of different ticket options to suit all budgets and requirements.
Meanwhile, if you’re based in the United Kingdom. Then I recommend buying your Orlando theme park tickets from AttractionTix.
I personally use AttractionTix when purchasing theme park tickets. That’s because AttractionTix has the most competitive prices and incredible customer service.