Spring break’s end may be Orlando International Airport’s busiest ever, says acting CEO

Is arriving 3 hours early enough?

ORLANDO, Fla. – There is no busier time of day at the Orlando International Airport (MCO) than the early morning hours when passengers first flood the terminal to pack into all of the planes that were parked overnight.

And there is no busier time of year than spring break, especially this year when the security lines appear endless to the point that some passengers are missing their flights.

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Tom Draper, current MCO Chief of Operations, was the airport’s acting CEO over the past couple of months.

“Well I don’t know that it’s worse than it’s ever been,” Draper said. “I know that you’re seeing lines and I know that there’s a lot of video out there, a lot of complaints online. We constantly monitor that, we have staff that’s out here working.”

Draper said last Saturday was MCO’s sixth busiest day in the history of the airport, with nearly 84,000 passenger departures.

The busiest day ever could come in the next few weeks, with spring break travel peaking April 9.

There are so many planes in the skies over MCO lately that passengers are getting notifications their flights are delayed “because congested airspace over Florida is limiting the number of planes the FAA will allow to land each hour at MCO,” Draper said.

“The problem is the facility was never built to accommodate the loads of passengers going through it,” Draper said. “That’s why we’re trying to move to the South Terminal as quickly as we can.”

While crews work on finishing the new terminal so it can open later this year, at the old terminal, the airport is trying to get back to full staffing. TSA however is fully staffed, according to Draper.

Early every morning, airport staff is stationed alongside the lines of passengers waiting to be screened, reminding vacation travelers especially they’re slowing themselves down when they don’t empty their water bottles or their pockets.

“It takes more time when you’re dealing with your family and when you’re dealing with your kids,” Draper. “You see the business traveler that comes through all the time, they know exactly what they’re doing, they’ve emptied out their pockets, they’re moving. You bring that same person and add a stroller and a child or you just put them on vacation, and they’re like stunned.”

MCO has also partnered with the airport security service Clear so passengers can use the service to avoid the entire line -- for free -- as long as they make a reservation.

Draper said the airport has been urging passengers to arrive three hours before their flight, which should be enough.

“We have not seen any lines that are three hours long, standing in the security checkpoint line,” Draper said.

Airport staff also routinely asks passengers who have arrived too early to step out of the security screening line and allow passengers taking the first flights to go through the line, according to Draper.

If you’ve arrived early enough and the security line isn’t moving and you’re afraid you’re going to miss your flight, Draper said just ask someone for help.

“If you’re having an issue, rather than trying to put it out on social media or something, just stop them (airport staff) and ask a question to see if they can help you because we’re more than happy to help,” Draper said. “The staff is out here, the aviation authority staff is out here in full force.”

Former FDOT Secretary Kevin Thibault was hired to take over for former MCO CEO Phil Brown, who retired in February. Thibault’s first day as CEO was Monday. Draper was acting CEO in the interim.

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.