Can you do a short layover in the Orlando airport (without having a panic attack)?

Can you do a short layover in the Orlando airport (without having a panic attack)?

Although it’s not the best place for making connections, don’t worry. Yes, you can do a short layover in the Orlando airport without stressing out over it. As long as you know how the terminals and concourses are laid out ahead of time, it’s going to be a piece of cake.

Assuming you won’t have to change terminals, short layovers in the Orlando airport can be as little as 35 minutes. If you do have to change terminals, plan for at least an hour at minimum.

Note: if you have difficulty dealing with fully grown adults wearing plastic Mickey Mouse ears, it’s probably wise to add 15 minutes to the minimum times I mentioned above. There are lots of those kinds of people in this airport, and steering clear of them will add extra time to your journey.

Come on. Can you really do a short layover at the Orlando airport?

Yes. You really can do a short connection in Orlando without stressing yourself out. I’ve had many short layovers in Orlando before, and I’ve never once had an issue getting from one flight to the next in a short amount of time.

The shortest amount of time for a connection at MCO that I’ve ever had was 50 minutes, and it was more than enough. It was so much extra time, as a matter of fact, that I was actually starting to feel bored walking from one end of the terminal to the other finding something to do.

The only scenario where a short layover might be a problem at MCO is if you’re coming off an international flight and connecting to a domestic flight. You will need more time for that, which I will explain in greater detail below.

SANspotter orlando airport layover
“I just knew that 45 minutes was going to be too long!”

The reason why short layovers are ok in Orlando

Thankfully, the Orlando Airport Authority does a pretty good job of keeping airlines grouped together in a logical sense. It’s rare to have to connect from one terminal to the other to make a connection at MCO.

Not only that, no airlines use MCO as a hub, so it’s a fairly quiet airport (as far as large airports go). In other words, most of the crowds that you’re going to have to deal with will be families with young children returning home after a fun-filled extravaganza at Disney World.

You will not have to deal with the “connection” crowds here like you would at other large airports such as ATL or DFW.

What is the minimum layover for domestic flights at MCO?

As I said at the top of this post, you could easily do a 35 minute layover in the Orlando airport if you’re connecting to another flight on the same airline.

However, that doesn’t mean that I recommend it. It’s always better to be safe than sorry and I would highly advise you not to take a 35 minute connection if you don’t have to.

If you’re connecting to a different airline than the one you flew in on, there is a chance you might need to change terminals. This will require going through a security checkpoint, which raises the minimum layover time to one hour. If it were me, I’d want an hour and a half.

MCO Alaska Airlines gates
Feeling bored to tears walking around MCO before a first class Alaska Airlines flight to San Diego. I totally miscalculated the amount of time that I’d need (which, if you know me, isn’t all that surprising).

What is the minimum layover for international flights at MCO?

When it comes to international flights, short layovers in Orlando get a little bit more tricky. There’s a big difference between connecting from an international flight to a domestic flight compared to connecting to an international flight from a domestic flight. Let’s discuss both scenarios:

Connecting TO an international flight

Connecting to an international flight from a domestic flight at MCO is just as easy as connecting from a domestic flight to another domestic flight. If both flights arrive and depart at the same terminal, the shortest layover I would feel comfortable with would be about 50 minutes. Remember – federal regulations require all passengers to be on board an international flight much sooner than a domestic flight. So give yourself a little extra time for that.

However, if you have to change terminals, it will require an additional security check. The shortest layover I would be comfortable in this scenario would be an hour and a half. This would give me ample time to clear security and be on board the aircraft as early as required by federal regulations.

Connecting FROM an international flight

Connecting from international flight to a domestic flight in Orlando is going to require a longer layover. Personally, I’d want two hours minimum so that I’d have enough time to go through a passport control and customs before having to go through the security checkpoint again (to get back into the main terminal).

Keep in mind that, while Orlando does have its fair share of international arrivals every day, it’s not a major international hub. This means that it likely won’t take as long to get through passport control and customs as it would in other major airports across the US.

Virgin Atlantic 747-400 at MCO
Speaking of international flights at MCO, remember when Virgin Atlantic used to fly the 747-400 here? I hate progress!

A brief overview of the terminal layout at the Orlando International Airport

I don’t mean this in a bad way, but the layout of the Orlando international airport is weird. It’s highly efficient, but it’s weird.

Basically, there are two main terminals (A and B). Each terminal has two satellite concourses accessible only by a train. I give them bonus points for making the train similar to the tram found just down the road at Disney World.

mco terminal map
Terminal map for the Orlando airport (MCO). Fear not: it’s not as migraine-inducing as it looks!

Important things to note:

  • You will have to go through a security checkpoint to enter both terminals A and B.
  • You will not need to go through a security checkpoint to reach the satellite concourses in each terminal.

For what it’s worth, I actually like this style of airport. Satellite concourses are a great way to break up the space and keep crowds to a minimum. Is matter of fact, I’m a firm believer that this is why 1 hour layovers are easy in Seattle. It’s a design that works.

Orlando airport from the air
Here’s an aerial view of the airport (just in case you want to judge my illustration skills in the terminal map drawing above).

Travel time between all terminals at MCO

The Orlando International Airport is very easy to get around. It doesn’t take long to get from one end to the other, despite how big and gnarly it may seem as soon as you arrive.

I have a lot of family in Florida, and therefore, I have spent a lot of time over the years walking this airport from one end to the other in a desperate effort to kill time between flights. Here’s how long it usually takes me:

Terminal A (main terminal) to:

  • Terminal A Airside 1: 5 minutes
  • Terminal A Airside 2: 5 minutes
  • Terminal B (main terminal): 15 minutes (you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • Terminal B Airside 3: 20 minutes (you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • Terminal B Airside 4: 20 minutes (you’ll need to re-clear security)

Terminal A (Airside 1) to:

  • Terminal A (main terminal): 5 minutes
  • Terminal A Airside 2: 10 minutes
  • Terminal B (main terminal): 20 minutes (you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • Terminal B Airside 3: 25 minutes (you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • Terminal B Airside 4: 25 minutes (you’ll need to re-clear security)

Terminal A (Airside 2) to:

  • Terminal A (main terminal): 5 minutes
  • Terminal A Airside 1: 10 minutes
  • Terminal B (main terminal): 20 minutes (you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • Terminal B Airside 3: 25 minutes (you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • Terminal B Airside 4: 25 minutes (you’ll need to re-clear security)

Terminal B (main terminal) to:

  • Terminal A Airside 1: 20 minutes (you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • Terminal A Airside 2: 20 minutes (you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • Terminal A (main terminal): 15 minutes (you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • Terminal B Airside 3: 5 minutes
  • Terminal B Airside 4: 5 minutes

Terminal B (Airside 3) to:

  • Terminal A Airside 1: 25 minutes (you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • Terminal A Airside 2: 25 minutes (you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • Terminal A (main terminal): 20 minutes (you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • Terminal B (main terminal): 5 minutes
  • Terminal B Airside 4: 10 minutes

Terminal B (Airside 4) to:

  • Terminal A Airside 1: 25 minutes (you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • Terminal A Airside 2: 25 minutes (you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • Terminal A (main terminal): 20 minutes (you’ll need to re-clear security)
  • Terminal B (main terminal): 5 minutes
  • Terminal B Airside 3: 10 minutes

Keep in mind that these times may be a bit longer if you’re traveling with children (or an elderly relative). It’s probably a good idea to add 2 to 3 minutes to each of these estimates just to be on the safe side.

Orlando airport inter terminal train
I have to wonder if it’s a coincidence that the inter-terminal trains here at MCO look like something you’d see at Disney World? Poor kid thinks he’s on his way back to the Magic Kingdom…

How long of a layover do you need in Orlando for a no-stress connection?

For a no stress layover in the Orlando airport, I’d personally want two hours (at minimum). Not because I think that there’s a chance I’d be needing it, but mostly because it’s an airport with lots of great restaurants and I simply prefer to take my time.

  • If I was making a connection to international flight, 2 1/2 hours would be good. 
  • If I was connecting from an international flight to a domestic flight, give me 3 hours. I’m a worry wart, and I’d rather have too much time than not enough.

How does the Orlando airport compare to other major US airports for short layovers?

As I mentioned already, MCO was never really built to be a connecting airport. The terminal layout isn’t as efficient as some of the mega-hubs in the US (ATL, ORD, DFW, etc), but it doesn’t really matter all that much since no airline uses the Orlando airport as a hub. In my opinion, that lack of traffic makes connections very easy. Here’s how it compares:

Tips for making really short layovers at Orlando

Although it’s not always possible to pick the exact amount of time you want for a layover, there are some things you can do to help make things easier when flying in and out of MCO. Here’s what I’d recommend:

  • If it all possible, don’t fly multiple airlines. Flying the same airline will ensure that you will not have to change terminals. Remember: changing terminals means going through an additional security check.
  • Avoid flights in the afternoon (and late afternoon) hours. This is typically when the majority of the international flights arrive and depart, and it’s when the airport is the most chaotic.
  • Bring as few carry-on bags with you as possible. Changing terminals and concourses in the Orlando airport means having to go through security checkpoints and hop on and off trains. The less stuff you have with you, the easier of an experience it will be.

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