Navigating Orlando International Airport (MCO) as a Wheelchair User

Orlando International Airport (code MCO) is one of the busiest airports in the United States.  In 2017, approximately 72 million people visited Orlando — breaking the previous record of 68 million people in 2016.  It’s home to Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, Sea World, and a wide variety of other venues for family entertainment. MCO is also only an hour away from Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center, as well as St. Augustine, Daytona Beach, and excellent Atlantic Coast beaches. Florida is also a magnet for snowbirds, senior citizens, and people just looking to escape the winter cold. Wheelchair accessibility at MCO is excellent with only a few exceptions.  Here is an airport guide for wheelchair users who plan to visit Orlando by air in the future.

Airport Layout

MCO has a hub and spoke layout. The main terminal building is divided into two areas — Terminal A on the north side and Terminal B on the south side.  Each terminal is further divided into two Airsides where passengers can reach their gates.  Terminal A houses Airside 1 and Airside 2. Airside 1 has gates 1-29, and is a secondary international arrivals concourse. Airlines operating from Airside 1 include Aeromexico, Avianca, Azul, Copa Airlines, Frontier, JetBlue, and Silver Airways.  Airside 2 has gates 100-129, and operating airlines include Alaska and Southwest.  Terminal B houses Airside 3 and Airside 4, which houses the primary international arrivals concourse used by many European airlines.  Airside 3 has gates 30-59 and operates flights for American, Spirit, and United.  Airside 4 has gates 70-99, and operates flights for  Aer Lingus, Air Canada, Air Canada Rouge, AirTransat, Bahamasair, British Airways, Caribbean Airlines, Delta, Edelweiss, Emirates, Eurowings, Icelandair, LATAM, Lufthansa, Norwegian, Sun Country, Sunwing, Thomas Cook, Virgin Atlantic, Volaris, and Westjet. All four Airsides are connected to the main terminal by fully wheelchair accessible trams.

The main terminal building has four levels. The bottom level contains the tunnels for passengers to move between the terminal building and the parking garages for each terminal.  Level 1 contains baggage claim and access to ground transportation, level 2 contains baggage claim, and level 3 contains airline ticketing counters and access to all gates. There is a sizable food court and shopping area connecting Terminal A and Terminal B.  All restrooms in the main terminal and the Airsides have a wheelchair accessible stall, and Terminal B has a separate family and accessible restroom with a fold-down changing table.

Departing from MCO

If you live in Central Florida and will be taking your own vehicle to the airport, both parking garages for Terminal A and Terminal B have wheelchair accessible parking spaces. However, be aware that some of the parking spaces have rubber posts screwed into the access aisles to prevent other cars from parking there. While the intention is good, it can prevent wheelchair van users from deploying ramps out of the sides of their vans in the right spot.  If you are returning a rental car, you will also do this in the parking garage. From the parking garage, you will take an elevator down to the tunnel level and cross under the street to reach the terminal building. Then you will take another elevator up to level 3 for check in. If you arrive in a taxi, you won’t need to use the tunnel. Just take the elevator if necessary to level 3 to reach the check-in counters.

If you arrive with your own mobility device, you will take it all the way to the gate with you. However, if you only need assistance moving within the airport, level 3 in front of the airline check-in counters is where you can request wheelchair assistance. There are dozens of manual wheelchairs located throughout the concourse.  If you require an aisle chair in order to board the plane, you should request it upon check-in.

Once you check in and have your boarding pass, you will need to go through security. There is a dedicated line for passengers in wheelchairs. If you can walk a few steps, screeners will ask you to go through the metal detector for another scanner. If not, you will receive a manual pat-down by a TSA screener unless you have TSA pre-check. In the latter case, they will manually check your mobility device and swab your hands and device for explosives. I usually travel alone and the TSA screeners at MCO are usually very helpful with helping me get my belongings onto and off of the x-ray belt.

After going through security, you will have to take a tram to reach your gate at the appropriate Airside. The tram is completely level with the platform, and the gap is only approximately one inch.  From the tram station, you can either proceed directly to your gate or do some shopping and have a snack at the food court in the Airside hub. At your gate, the agent will arrive approximately one hour before the flight’s departure. I would check in with him or her once again to confirm that an aisle chair and assistance has been requested for you. You should be one of the first people to board the plane, in accordance with the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). Please become familiar with your rights under the ACAA as someone flying on an airline departing the United States as this could help you if you run into any problems.

Arriving into MCO

Domestic Arrivals

If you are arriving into Orlando from another US airport, the process for leaving the airport will be pretty straightforward. Under the ACAA, airlines are required to return your mobility device to you at the door of the plane. Make sure you do not get off of the plane until your mobility device is returned to you. You may want to alert a flight attendant about 30 minutes before landing to radio ahead to ensure the ground crew knows that you need your mobility device returned. From your arrival gate, you will take the accessible tram to the main terminal.

Make sure you follow the signs to the appropriate terminal (A or B) where you can find either your car, your checked bags, or both. If you have only carry-on luggage, you can either proceed to level 1 by elevator for ground transportation or to the tunnel to reach your vehicle in the parking garage. If you are picking up a rental car, those will also be located in the parking garage. If you do have checked luggage, you will take the elevator from the main terminal to level 2. There are LED signs on the ceiling to help you find the proper belt for your airline. There are also several porters on the level who can help you take your luggage to your taxi or your vehicle.

International Arrivals

MCO is currently undergoing a considerable amount of construction until 2020, which can make international arrivals complicated for wheelchair users.

Under the ACAA, airlines arriving at US airports are required to return your mobility device to you at the door of the plane. Make sure you do not get off of the plane until your mobility device is returned to you. You may want to alert a flight attendant about 30 minutes before landing to radio ahead to ensure the ground crew knows that you need your mobility device returned.  Do not let them tell you that your device will be waiting for you at Customs, because that is where they will take it by default. Tell them immediately that you need it at the door of the plane in accordance with US law.

Once you get off the plane, you will roll down several long corridors towards US Immigration and Customs. Someone from MCO wheelchair assistance will take you to a separate line for passengers in wheelchairs, which should help you move through the process more quickly. After going through immigration, you will collect any checked luggage at customs baggage claim and pass through a customs checkpoint. Usually you just roll right past the officers and you don’t have to do anything.

What happens next depends on the customs and immigration checkpoint you just went through. MCO has two main checkpoints, but one of them can be used if traffic is busy. Exiting from the checkpoint at Airside 1 is straightforward. Everything is level and you just have to go through several sliding doors in order to reach the tram that will take you to the main terminal building.  Airside 4 has two customs areas. After going through immigration in the primary customs area, you will take an elevator down one level in order to board the tram for the main terminal building. If you are connecting to another domestic flight, you will need to place your baggage on another belt to recheck it with your airline.

If you go through the secondary customs area, construction has rendered the primary elevator inaccessible. You will have to be escorted to a secondary elevator that will take you to a TSA checkpoint. There, you will have to undergo a manual pat-down and will have to surrender any liquids that were in your checked bags. If you don’t wish to do this, you will have to recheck your bags on the belt just outside of the customs area. You will then retrieve your bags at MCO baggage claim approximately one hour later. After exiting the TSA checkpoint, you will find yourself in the domestic portion of the Airside, from which you can take the tram to the main terminal building.

Make sure you follow the signs to the appropriate terminal (A or B) where you can find either your car, your checked bags, or both. If you have only carry-on luggage, you can either proceed to level 1 by elevator for ground transportation or to the tunnel to reach your vehicle in the parking garage. If you are picking up a rental car, those will also be located in the parking garage. If you do have checked luggage, you will take the elevator from the main terminal to level 2. There are LED signs on the ceiling to help you find the proper belt for your airline. There are also several porters on the level who can help you take your luggage to your taxi or your vehicle.

You can CLICK HERE for maps and more detailed information about wheelchair access at Orlando International Airport.

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