By Kellilynn Hann
The Orlando International Airport (MCO) is one of the busiest in the world, ranking seventh by passenger volume. On average, it’s visited by more than 135,000 travelers every day; in 2022 the airport saw more than 50,000 passengers pass through its gates.
Despite the airport’s size, it’s surprisingly simple to for travelers with disabilities to get around.
“MCO has a designated ADA coordinator, and all construction-related projects are screened for ADA compliance,” said Matthew Conrad, Assistant Vice President of Airport Operations Landside for the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority. “MCO also has a robust Ambassador Program with uniformed staff in the terminal to assist travelers with questions and directions. They are trained to speak multiple languages and monitor any trends that unfold so we can better assist travelers with disabilities in the future.”
Aria Verano, a frequent visitor to Orlando who uses a manual wheelchair, appreciates the layout and design of the airport. “I think something MCO does better than other airports is that it’s very easy to navigate,” she said. “The terminals have everything so there's no need to go too far for amenities, restaurants, or facilities. I love how wide and open it is, and that there are so many spaces where we can wait. It's really a beautiful airport.”
Another initiative includes the Sunflower Lanyard Program, which allows travelers with hidden disabilities to signal to airport staff that they may need special consideration or assistance. “The Sunflower Lanyard Program is taught to all new employees of the airport,” said Conrad. Sunflower Lanyards can be picked up at the Main Terminal Information Booths near security between 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m.
Inside The Airport
Whether you’re arriving in Orlando or headed home, here’s information about the airport to help you plan ahead. For the exact locations of all accessible amenities, refer to the airport’s Accessibility Services Map.
Orlando International Airport has three terminals, A, B, and the recently opened C Terminal. Signs are color-coded; Terminal A is orange, Terminal B is green, and Terminal C is blue.
Terminals A and B are different sides of the Main Terminal building, connected by a central atrium. Terminal A is on the north side and hosts two airsides with gates 1-29 and 100-129. Terminal B on the south side hosts two airsides with gates 30-59 and 70-99.
The Main Terminal building has three levels. Level 3 is the drop-off location for departures and contains the ticket counters, restaurants, shops, the Hyatt Regency, security, and gate access. There are also shops and restaurants post-security. Baggage claim is on Levels 1 and 2. Level 1 is where you can rent a car or access commercial ground transportation (think taxis, shuttles, resort transportation and the like).
Terminal C is in a separate building with its own parking, drop-off, and pick-up areas. It hosts gates C230-C245. Arrivals are on Level 6 along with Passport Control (Customs and Immigration), and baggage claim. Ticketing, security, and gate access are on Level 2; ground transportation is on Level 1.
All public restrooms have a wheelchair-accessible stall. For Terminals A and B, Companion Care restrooms with adult changing tables are located near the entrance doors on Levels 3 and 1, and post-security in each gate concourse.
In Terminal C, Companion Care restrooms are on each level, before and after security checkpoints, and in the gate concourses. On Level 4, they are located near the Train Station that takes you to Terminals A and B.
Service Animal Relief Areas
Terminal A has a Service Animal Relief Area outside on the far east side of the building, and Terminal B has one on the far west side. There are no signs directing you, so refer to the Accessibility Services Map to find them.
After security, you’ll find one in each concourse. For gates 1-29 and 100-129 it’s to the right as you leave the tram station. For gates 30-59 and 70-99 it’s straight ahead as you leave the tram station, towards the end of the corridor. In Terminal C, all pet relief areas are post-security; one at the entrance of each concourse and one near gate C242.
Food and Drink
With the large number of visitors to the airport, it’s no surprise there are over 100 places to satisfy your cravings. Some of the quick markets can be challenging for wheelchairs, but restaurants and seating in the food court are wheelchair-friendly. There are also dozens of sit-down restaurants that will happily assist you. The airport’s restaurant list will give you more information on each restaurant, including location. In Terminal C, there are snacks and drinks pre-security, but full restaurants are post-security in the Palm Court.
If you need to spend a night or two at the airport, you’re in luck. The Hyatt Regency at Orlando International is conveniently located right in the airport. The entrance is in the Level 3 atrium between Terminals A and B. They offer 20 accessible rooms, but it’s best to reserve in advance if possible. Bellman assistance can be requested by dialing 52 at the main entrance.
Hearing and Vision Assistance
Pay phones, page phones and emergency phones all have volume control settings and are compatible with hearing aids. Text telephones (TTY) are available in each terminal. Visual paging displays are in the atrium between Terminals A and B, and in each of the gate concourses. In Terminal C, these displays can be found in the main lobby, the Palm Court, and gate concourses.
Travelers who don’t use a wheelchair but still have trouble walking long distances should know that Federal Law requires airlines that operate in the United States provide a wheelchair and attendant for any passenger who asks, with no proof of disability required. Call your airline 48 hours in advance to make the request. The Orlando airport is large and has no electric cart transportation, so plan for wheelchair if you have any question about your ability to stand or walk for long periods.
Step-by-step: Arriving at MCO
Terminals A & B - Domestic Arrivals
To get from your gate to the Main Terminal, follow the signs to Baggage Claim. You’ll have to take the tram (called the APM). The trams are easy for people in wheelchairs to navigate, with no barriers or changes in elevation.
Once you exit the tram, follow the signs to Baggage Claim for Terminal A or Terminal B, depending on your airline. Baggage carousels 1-16 are in Terminal A; carousels 20-32 are in Terminal B. There are digital signs over each carousel to let you know what flight is being offloaded. There are usually porters waiting nearby to help with your luggage, but you may want to arrange for them ahead of time through your airline.
Terminals A & B - International Arrivals
The Air Carrier Access Act requires that airlines return any mobility devices to you at door of the plane, not at customs. If you’re concerned, ask the flight attendant to radio ahead to ensure your devices will be waiting when you arrive.
After disembarking, you’ll travel down a long corridor to Immigration and Customs. There is a separate line for travelers using wheelchairs. Once you clear Customs, follow the signs to Baggage Claim to pick up your luggage. Go up one level to get to the APM (tram) station which will take you to the Main Terminal. You’ll arrive on Level 3; go to Level 2 to get picked up curbside or make your way down to Level 1 for rental cars and ground transportation.
Terminal C - Domestic Arrivals
Passengers arrive on Level 6. Follow the signs to Baggage Claim. Note you’ll have to go down one level and back up again, but elevators are conveniently located. Terminal C isn’t as busy as the other terminals, so there may not be porters waiting to help. If you think you’ll need assistance, arrange for baggage assistance with your airline in advance. Curbside pickup is on Level 6, Ground Transportation is on Level 1.
Terminal C - International Arrivals
International and domestic passengers will arrive on Level 6, which is where baggage claim is also located. International travelers will get to experience the new U.S. Custom and Border Protection’s “Bags First” system where they can claim baggage before heading into Customs & Immigration. Once you clear customs, head directly outside on the same level for curbside pickup or to Level 1 for Ground Transportation.
The airport website has an incredibly helpful page with a complete list of car rental companies and ground transportation options, including phone numbers and pick-up/drop-off locations for each. It also has detailed information for trains, busses, transportation companies, and shuttles to hot spots like Port Canaveral, Daytona Beach, and Tampa. Be sure to call ahead to make sure whatever transportation option you choose can accommodate your specific needs.
The Orlando public bus system is called Lynx.
Opening sometime in 2023 in Terminal C will be a train station that connects to the SunRail, Brightline, and other transportation options.
Step By Step: Departing from MCO
Accessible parking is available in all airport parking lots near elevators or shuttle service pick-up areas. Parking is free for vehicles with specialized mobility equipment, a Florida Toll Exemption Permit, or disabled veteran plate. Designated loading and unloading zones are located on the departures level of each terminal (Level 3 for Terminals A and B, Level 2 for Terminal C).
Accessible parking is also available in the economy parking lots and includes accessible shuttles to the terminals.
Valet parking is on the departing flight curb at all terminals, or at the Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport at the Main Terminal.
For more detailed parking information, visit the website.
Departing from Terminals A or B
If you’re being dropped off by private car, follow the overhead orange signs for departures from Terminal A and green signs for Terminal B. Check airline locations to see which terminal you need, but don’t worry if you get it mixed up; once inside, the two terminals are only 525 feet apart.
If you are using ground transportation and are dropped off on Level 1, take an elevator to Level 3 for check-in, security, and gate access.
You should return your rental car to the same place from which you picked it up. MCO has a notoriously challenging road system, so it’s best to plan ahead so you’ll know which lanes and exits you need. Once you’ve returned your car, take the elevator down to the tunnel level and cross under the street to reach the Main Terminal. Then proceed to Level 3 for check-in.
Security is also on Level 3. There is a special line for passengers in wheelchairs; however, with the high volume of travelers at MCO, it is much easier to get through security with the help of a skycap who knows exactly where you need to go. Skycaps are usually waiting at the entrance, you can request one at your airline ticket counter, or you can arrange for one in advance through your airline.
To get through security more quickly, check out TSA PreCheck, CLEAR, MCO Reserve, and Global Entry. If you need special assistance or consideration while going through security, contact TSA Cares a minimum of 72 hours before your flight.
“Contact TSA Cares a couple weeks prior to flying if you will need to bring medically necessary liquids, equipment, food, or medications in your carry-on bag,” says Aria Verano. “Print out their response and bring it with you to avoid issues on site.”
Once through security, you’ll go a short distance to the APM tram station. Check the signs to see which tram you’ll need to get to your gate. The trams are wheelchair friendly and have seats if needed. In just over a minute, you’ll be at your concourse and can make your way to the gate.
Departing from Terminal C
If being dropped off by private car, follow the blue overhead signs to Terminal C. Note that Terminal C is a separate building over a mile south of the Main Terminal Building. Curbside drop-off is on Level 2, as is ticketing, check-in, security, and gate access.
Rental cars must be returned to the same parking garage from which you picked them up. Only Sixt rents cars directly from Parking C, so all other car rental companies will require you to drop off your car at Terminals A or B. After returning your car, take the elevator to Level 3. The public (pre-security) tram station is located near the Hyatt Regency hotel; make your way in that direction then follow the signs to the APM for Terminal C. Once in Terminal C, take the elevator down to Level 2 for check-in, security, and gate access.
Final Advice: Get to the Airport Early
Aria Verano offers one bit of advice for departures for travelers with special needs. “I would say give yourself extra time. MCO is a very busy airport and at times there can be long lines at security, especially if you can’t walk through the body scanner and need a manual pat-down. I like to get there at least 2 hours before boarding for domestic flights. Even if you do speed through security, there are so many shops and different things to see, you won't be bored waiting.”
EXPLORE FUN NEW THINGS TO DO IN ORLANDO: https://www.visitflorida.com/travel-ideas/articles/fun-things-to-do-in-orlando/