Last updated: 01:00 AM ET, Mon November 21 2016

TravelPulse 100 Best US Airports 2016: The 'Orlando Experience' Makes MCO Highly Regarded

Airlines & Airports Rich Thomaselli November 21, 2016

TravelPulse 100 Best US Airports 2016: The 'Orlando Experience' Makes MCO Highly Regarded

Photo via Flickr


Or is it?

Orlando International Airport (MCO) finished second in the TravelPulse survey of the best 100 airports in the U.S., which was something of a surprise given that many people regard Orlando simply as a tourist destination.

But few realize that the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority several years ago did just that – set out to make the airport one of the best in the country.

“A couple of years ago our board established a full customer service department and we went through a process of looking at what we needed to do to be among the best airports in the country,” Carolyn Fennell, senior director of public affairs for the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority.

Fennell said the GOAA settled on four areas to concentrate on – safety, comfort, ease of access and speed.

Lo and behold, Orlando International shot to the No. 2 spot in the TravelPulse survey thanks to extraordinarily strong showings in three of our seven categories used in the methodology of the survey – terminal comfort, ease of access and family friendliness.

Orlando International had a desire to appeal to a range of passengers – vacationers, obviously; infrequent travelers; and business travelers coming to the second largest convention center in the country outside of Las Vegas.

According to Department of Transportation data, MCO is the nation’s 14th largest airport, processing more than 36 million passengers in 2015. Based on data from the first 10 months of this year, Orlando International will finish 2016 with nearly 41 million passengers having passed through its terminals.

Pretty impressive for an airport that is 95 percent origin destination – only five percent of passengers use MCO as an airport to connect to other destinations. So with that familiarity it was important for the GOAA to establish a connection with its customer base, even going so far as to trademark the catchphrase "The Orlando Experience."

“I think in large part because anybody’s trip starts with this airport as part of their experience,” Fennell said.

“We feature our employees in the engagement process,” she said. “For instance, right now we are going through a major construction job, and it started by asking ‘what do passengers want and what do they want to see.’”

Orlando International is humongous. Within the confines of the airport property, MCO could fit itself, JFK and LAX. That has allowed it to create an environment where passengers can see outside open spaces from almost any vantage points. Its concourses are wide. The board created sub-committees to test virtually every aspect of the airport, including whether wheelchairs and strollers could navigate shops and restaurants.

It created affinity seating tables for families so they could sit together and play board games while waiting for their flights. In July, the airport built a stage and brought in the Orlando Philharmonic to play.

MCO even has the mayor of Orlando and the head of the county seat as members of its board, helping to immediately answer any questions about logistics and zoning and highways in order not to delay the process of coming up with an idea and then taking it to the authorities.

“It’s the aesthetics,” Fennell said. “It’s the focus on the customer due to a constant effort on the part of our staff.”