Arriving in Orlando (MCO)
Orlando International Airport is one of the most attractive and modern airports that we have visited. It is the second busiest airport after Miami, the 13th busiest airport in the USA, and the 29th busiest airport in the world, based on passenger traffic. It was originally built as McCoy Air Force Base, which gives it its airport code, MCO.
It is built round a central concourse, which houses shops, restaurants and a hotel, with two terminals, one on each side of this central area. There is a food court right in the middle of the concourse which can be accessed from both terminals. If you are flying in with Virgin then you will arrive in Terminal A, whilst British Airways flights arrive in Terminal B. The two terminals are mirror images of each other.
Getting through Immigration and Customs
How quickly you can exit the aeroplane (or ‘debark’ as the Americans call it) depends, to a large extent, on whereabouts you are sitting on the ‘plane. Obviously, the further forwards you are, the quicker you will be able to leave the aircraft, and thus be at the front of the queue at Immigration.
When you leave the ‘plane you will enter a long corridor, which winds its way along to the Immigration Hall. This large hall contains numerous immigration booths and self service machines, where immigration officers wait to process your documents. Thankfully, you no longer have to fill in the ‘Green Forms,’ as now you must fill in an ESTA application prior to your departure from the UK, so this saves time, as there is no opportunity to mess up the green forms. Do make sure that you do your ESTA application in good time, and take care to carry a copy of the number you will be given when your application is successful. This has considerably speeded up the process of Immigration.
When you leave the ‘plane make sure you have all your luggage with you, but leave any fruit or meat products before exiting. The importation of these products is strictly forbidden and there are heavy fines for anyone caught doing so, so don’t risk it. You must also not use your mobile phone or take photos whilst you are in the Immigration Hall.
There is a new system in place in the Immigration Hall, as now, instead of queuing up at a booth and taking a chance on which queue will be the quickest, there is one central queue, and when you reach the front of it you will be directed to the next available Immigration Officer or one of the new self service machines if you qualify. The self service machines can be used by anyone that has a machine readable passport and has visited the US in the last couple of years. Once you have finished with the machine, you then go to an immigration officer to get your passports stamped and your customs form. We think this is a great improvement, as there is no longer a lottery as to which line is the quickest. We can recall many times when we joined what we thought was the shortest queue, only to be held up behind a group, whilst the longer line beside us proved to be the speedier of the two.
You should find that the Immigration Officers are more welcoming. They have received training from Disney, to try to ensure that they are not too fearsome, but of course, they have a very important job to do, so this is one place where joking may be inappropriate. You must hand the Officer your passports and the Customs Form. He will then swipe each passport, one at a time, and ask each person to stand in front of the fingerprinting machine. The index finger of one of your hands is scanned, and if all is well you will then be asked to look into the camera for a photograph to be taken. This photograph is updated each time you enter the USA.
The Immigration Officer may ask you the reason for your stay, and, in our experience, they usually wish you an enjoyable vacation before waving you onwards.
Now it’s on to Baggage Claim and Customs. Soon you will be in the Florida sunshine!