how early to get to orlando airport

Navigating Orlando International Airport (MCO) presents unique challenges and considerations for both domestic and international travelers.

Based on my recent experiences, I’ll compare and contrast aspects such as arrival times, check-in procedures, security checkpoints, and additional considerations for both types of flights.

Arrival Times

Domestic Flights: For domestic departures, the conventional wisdom of arriving 2 hours before your flight generally holds.

However, given MCO’s busy nature and my own experiences with longer-than-expected security lines, I recommend arriving 3 hours early, especially during peak travel periods.

This extra time is a buffer against unexpected delays and ensures a more relaxed journey to your gate.

how early to get to orlando airport

International Flights: International travelers should plan to arrive at least 3 hours before their flight.

Based on my observation and the additional steps involved in international travel (such as passport control and potentially more detailed security screenings), I suggest extending this to 3.5 hours before your flight, particularly during busy seasons.

Check-In Procedures

Domestic: Check-in for domestic flights at MCO is relatively straightforward. Many travelers use online check-in to save time.

However, if you have bags to check or need to resolve ticketing issues, the lines can be surprisingly long. During my visit, I noticed that even well-prepared travelers were caught off guard by the wait times at check-in counters.

how early to get to orlando airport

International: For international flights, the check-in process can involve additional document checks, including visas and onward travel proof.

These requirements often mean that even with online check-in, you might spend more time at the counter. Based on my experience, airline staff may ask several questions regarding your trip, which can extend the check-in process.

Security Checkpoints

Domestic: Security at MCO can be a bottleneck, with peak times seeing significantly extended waiting periods.

Travelers with TSA PreCheck have a distinct advantage, facing shorter lines and a quicker process. Without PreCheck, the wait can easily exceed 30 minutes during busy periods.

International: Security for international flights often requires the same procedures as domestic flights.

However, the scrutiny may be higher, and items like laptops and liquids are inspected more thoroughly. The time spent at security for international flights can vary widely, but the expectation should be for a potentially longer wait.

Additional Considerations

Domestic Flights: For domestic travelers, navigating the airport is generally less complex. However, MCO’s layout and the potential for gate changes necessitate keeping an eye on the airport’s app or information screens. Dining and shopping options are plentiful, but queues can be long.

International Flights: International travelers must navigate additional layers of complexity, including customs and immigration upon return to MCO. These processes can significantly extend the time spent in the airport after landing.

For departures, ensuring that all travel documents are in order and easily accessible is crucial. Furthermore, international gates can sometimes be located further within the terminals, requiring additional transit time.

how early to get to orlando airport


Traveling with kids adds another layer of complexity. Kid-friendly amenities, including play areas and family restrooms, are available, but locating them can eat into your time. Packing snacks and entertainment can help minimize detours and keep children happy while waiting.

The Ideal Arrival Time

Based on my experience, for domestic flights, arriving 3 hours early is wise, especially during peak travel times.

This buffer allows for unexpected delays, leisurely meals, and some last-minute shopping. For international flights, consider extending this to 3.5 hours.


While there are commonalities in preparing for any flight from Orlando International Airport, international travel undeniably requires a bit more time and preparation.

For both domestic and international flights, arriving earlier than the standard recommendations can alleviate much of the stress associated with airport navigation, security, and check-in processes.

Especially during peak travel times, the added buffer can make the difference between a frantic rush to the gate and a composed journey through MCO.

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