After a rough year for travel, Orlando International Airport handles holidays crowds smoothly

Wheelchair assistance workers still stretched thin

ORLANDO, Fla. – Sherry Kemp was already scarred from her last hassle with Southwest Airlines, caught up in the meltdown that led to thousands of cancellations nationwide earlier this month, hundreds just at Orlando International Airport.

Tuesday, however, was surprisingly smooth, Kemp said.

“Compared to what I went through with Southwest, (Tuesday) was great,” Kemp said.

[TRENDING: Cancer specialists in Florida see dramatic results with new clinical trial | Walt Disney World suspends sales of most annual passes | Become a News 6 Insider (it’s free!)]

Tuesday before Thanksgiving is one of the busiest airline travel days of the year at MCO.

MCO said nearly 135,000 passengers will pass through just on Tuesday, more than in 2019, which was a record-setting year.

International visitors, like Peter Gage from the U.K., are now allowed back into the U.S., adding to the holiday travel rush.

“Today’s great, very good, no problem at all,” Gage said.

MCO CEO Phil Brown said earlier this month the airport would be ramping up for the holiday crowds.

“So now we needed to keep providing the Orlando experience and helping people to come to the best destination in the world,” Brown said on Nov. 8.

To deliver on that Orlando experience, the airport said Tuesday it has ramped up, adding workers on the curb and ambassadors inside to direct people.

The Hammonds from Connecticut said they’re seeing the difference.

“And if you ask for help, someone is always available to help you,” the Hammonds said. “We had some questions, it’s a very large airport, and they were able to get us where we need to go.”

Southwest, Spirit and American Airlines said after their meltdowns this summer and fall they would be hiring.

Today, Southwest said it has hired 85% of the 5,000 people it was looking for. And the TSA, with all agents under a federal mandate to get vaccinated, has also brought on more people. A TSA spokesperson said today TSA is confident it can handle the holiday crowds.

Some passengers said they waited in wheelchairs for longer than they expected. Last week, the wheelchair assistance workers at MCO went on strike for the afternoon.

Tuesday, spokesman Raul Vidaurre said the workers are still feeling the stress from being stretched thin.

“All workers did get back to work thankfully and will be working throughout the Thanksgiving holiday,” Vidaurre said. “As far as impact on passengers, we don’t have exact info, but we do know that the company had to call in workers from other shifts and were scrambling to cover passengers’ needs. We even saw managers pushing wheelchairs.”


About the Author:

Erik von Ancken anchors and reports for WKMG-TV News 6 (CBS) in Orlando and is a two-time Emmy award-winning journalist in the prestigious and coveted "On-Camera Talent" categories for both anchoring and reporting. Erik joined the News 6 News Team in 2003 days after the tragic loss of space shuttle Columbia.