Orlando Intl. Airport Spotting Guide

Orlando – the gateway to every child’s dream: Walt Disney World. The city of Orlando is just a joy to explore with so many attractions to see so thus many visitors. All these vacationers probably make their way into Disneyland via Orlando International Airport, short: MCO.

It is Florida’s second largest city by population being situated in Central-Florida. The airport is very busy, too, by handling more 36,000,000 passengers a year – Yes you’ve got that right. 36 million. That’s as much as Tokyo Narita or Sydney for example. By the way, this airport ranks 29th of the world’s busiest airports.

Orlando Airport was not always for commercial use. Until 1975, the airport, then named McCoy Air Force Base (this is where the codes MCO comes from) was primalarily used as an Army Air Field but closed in the late 70s following the end of the Vietnam War.

Ever since that year, Orlando Airport expanded tremendously and is now used by civil air traffic as well. There are also a lot European carriers which serve the city, being Lufthansa which saves a connection to Germany, British Airways which competes the busiest UK holiday carrier Virgin Atlantic, as well as Thomas Cook Airlines UK, also bringing looots of Britons into Florida. Also Emirates makes a reeeally long journey all the way from Dubai onboard a Boeing 777 jet. Icelandair and Norwegian Air Shuttle cover the north of Europe with sunny Florida holidays.

But the yet more interesting airlines at MCO are usually those from the south of The Americas. Bahamas Air, Azul with their absolutely special A330s and Gol for example make Orlando Airport a very exotic place!

Enjoy!

Written by Marlin Lehmann (Last visit November 2015), Adam Juriga for Spot7, Bharat Lakshmanan for 8&9.

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Airline Variety
Photo Locations
Weather 
Runway Information Runways 17R/35L 17L/35R
3,048m (10,003ft) 2,743m (9,000ft)
18R/36L 18L/36R
3,659m (12,004ft) 3,659m (12,004ft)
Terminals at MCO General Info Orlando MCO airport has got 2 Terminals. However, those to terminals spit in 2 concourses each.
Terminal A Split in two concourses (Airside 1+2), gates 1-29 and 100-129 are located in Terminal A. The vast part of airlines using T A are from the Americas.
Terminal B Airside 3 and 4, mostly hosting major international airlines. Gates 30-59 and 70-99 are situated in T B.
Airside 1 Airside 1, also called the JetBlue concourse is home to aplenty of airlines mainly from Latin America but also from Canada and one European carrier: Aer Lingus. Airside 1 is used by Azul, Aeroméxico, Air Transat, Avianca, Alaska Airlines, CanJet, WestJet, Volaris, Frontier, Sunwing, Norwegian Air Shuttle, Miami Air International, JetBlue, Gol, Copa Airlines, Caribbean Airlines and a few more
Airside 2 This is the Southwest Airlines concourse – as its name implies the hub of all Southwest Airlines flights from and to MCO Airport. Airside 2 is used by Southwest Airlines only with one single exception – Virgin America Airlines to LAX.
Airside 3 Airside 3 fully belongs to United Airlines. As MCO’s busiest carrier this concourse mainly serves and dispatches UA-flights. American Airlines, Icelandair as well as Silver Airways, Bahamas Air and Spirit Airlines use Airside 3.
Airside 4 Delta is the official host of colourful Airside 4 also offering a SkyClub there. Airside is also home to the most international airlines from Europe and Asia being British Airways, Emirates, Lufthansa, Virgin Atlantic*** and Thomas Cook Airlines. Air Canada, Air Canada Rouge, Sun Country as well as LATAM*** use Airside 4.

*** = Check-in and baggage claim is in Terminal A.

 

Spotting Information  Ladder Not needed at the spots below
Car Very advisable and necessary
Restrooms In every publicly accessable building like restaurants or hotels and inside of the terminal building.
Drinks/Food There are aplenty of restaurants, shops and food courts nearby the airport, offering supply of food and drinks. Check the particular MISC box at each spot for detailed info.
Hotels There are lots of hotels close to the airport as well as in in the further airport’s area and neighbouring towns. Some of them do offer a view onto the approaching aircraft, for further info just leave a comment unterneath this post and we’re happy to give you info about that.
Season The vast part of the MCO’s destinations are seasonally served only. However, the aircraft movements surprisingly keep rather steady as some airline operate into Orlando during summer season only but the others then operate Orlando during the winter, so for special airplanes is already being catered.
+++ SECURITY INFORMATION +++
Spotting in the United States is not always tolerated. There have been several reports from fellow spotters that police checks were performed. Also in Florida, police and airport security is present to iron out any potential terror activity. Our members have also been experiencing police checks by the Florida State Police or Airport Security. Spotting at some places is not tolerated. Please be also aware of following facts: The police is quite harsh of endangering the streets safety. If you are standing beside a street and you are visible to drivers, police may ask you to leave as you may distract drivers from keeping their attention onto the road traffic. Some police officers may react rude to our hobby as they suspect terrorism by photography of airplanes. Always stay polite and stay in car when a police officer stops for a check. Do not leave your car unless you are told to do so! The spots underneath are believed to be safe but check the MISC box for further info. We have summarized security experiences at each spot. Spotterguide.net is not liable for any inconvenience and misbehaviour towards the police of fellow spotters.
Runway Usage  General Info The runway usage at MCO is usually dependent from the wind. There are some procedures which apply as described below. However, MCO is a busy airport with leads into short-term changes made by ATC due to traffic density.

The runway usage system at Orlando is very difficult to understand. We have learned some fact and procedures which we brought together:

17L Arrival runway – Azul flights usually land here. It is a 99,9% chance that it will land on 17L/35R. Exceptation: Delayed flight. Despite the short runway, most of the widebody jets arrive here, including Virgin 747s, Emirates 77Ls… (this is not a rule, VS, BA, LH, EK, etc. sometimes use other runways as well but it is a 95% chance)
35R Arrival runway – Azul flights usually land here. It is a 99,9% chance that it will land on 17L/35R. Exceptation: Delayed flight. Runway 35R operations are more likely due to strong winds which rarely change direction. Despite the short runway, most of the widebody jets arrive here, including Virgin 747s, Emirates 77Ls (this is not a rule, VS, BA, LH, EK, etc. sometimes use other runways as well but it is a 95% chance)… 35R-landing operations are very common and usually the rule along with a 36L landing operation.
17R Departure runway – Departures here only, arrivals into this runway are extremely rare. Heavy jets also take-off from here.
35L Departure runway – Departures here only, arrivals into this runway are extremely rare. Airplanes usually bank left/right shortly after departure. Heavy jets also take-off from here.
18L Departure runway – Heavy jets also take-off from here. United usually uses this runway because of the short taxi time from the Airsides. During peak-times on the arrival runways, some jets also use 18L for landing. Unfortunately, some United flights also land here during off-times because of shorter taxi-times as we have witnessed several times.
36R Departure runway – Heavy jets also take-off from here. During peak-times on the arrival runways, some jets also use 36R for landing. Unfortunately, some United flights also land here during off-times because of shorter taxi-times as we have witnessed several times.
18R  

Arrival runway – Departures from here are very rare, usually used for arrivals only, if any, as 36/35 operations are more likely due to constant winds.

36L Arrival runway – epartures from here are very rare, usually used for arrivals only. 36L-landing operations are very common and usually the rule along with a 35R landing operation.

Spot #1 – Bear Rd
WHERE Bear Rd is a street in the northwest of the airport area which runs next to runway 18R/36L. At the very northern tip of the street there is a small unused parking lot from where you can see airplanes quite beautifully. It is very difficult of explanation very this spot exactly is, so we ask you to check the map above for detailed info. However it is very easy to find. If you are travelling from the airport’s terminals, leave the airport via Jeff Fuqua Blvd and exit at the first exit. This is being marked with a brown sign ‘Cargo Road/Economy Parking/EXIT ONLY’. Take this exit and once you have vacated the highway, turn right onto Cargo Rd. Follow the street’s course to its end and turn right. Continue northbound on Bear Rd for about 0.4 miles until the unused area appears to your left. There is also a huge airplane parking space, so you actually can’t miss it when an aircraft is parked there as well.
WHAT Some airplanes are parked right behind the fence over night or for a particular time offering you a great oppurtunity to take photographs of them. You can also see airplane departures from runway 35L. Some of the departed planes bank to the left immediately after lift-off.
TIME The light is lovely from sunrise to mid-day.
MISC. Parking is allowed here but make sure that you keep a low profile and check the red warning box above. This place is regularly being check by police and airport security, you must keep a low profile so that you can circumvent any checks. The officers may ask you to leave. Obey this instruction, otherwise you’ll get in massive troubles. The American Airlines Boeing 737 was shot from a place which is believed to be safe, however, the distance to the departing airplanes is greater. Spotters with 400mm lenses should be ok. The spot is not marked in the map above but it is situated exactly next to the B-52 Stratofortess plane.
FOCAL LENGTH Photography with a 70-300mm lens is absolutely enough here.
Spot #2 – Heintzelman Boulevard
WHERE Spot 2 is located at a small lay-by along Heintzelman Boulevard which overs a view onto different scenes of the airport. Heinzelman Boulevard is a long street running parallel between runway 35L and 35R enabling some photo possibilities along this road. Spot 2 is at about the half of both runways. You can either come from the south or from the north of the airport as there is a u-turn possibility directly at the spot where no crash barriers separate both lanes from each other.
WHAT Arriving aircraft into runway 36R (runway view possible but limited if the grass is not cut) as well as airplanes using the bridges to get to the Airside concourses. You can also photograph aircraft departures from runway 35L – smaller aircraft may are high up in the air already.

The Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 depicted below is using the bridge on taxiway F whlist the LAN A319 in the pictures below is taxiing on J. Keep that in mind for the light situations.

TIME The best time depends from the angle you photograph. Planes on the runway can be shot from around 12pm in winter months. Planes on Taxiway F can only be shot on cloudy days as sun won’t make the round to be suitable on winter days. Taxiing aeroplanes can be photographed throughout the entire day. From sunrise to 12pm, planes leaving via 36L are best to be shot from here.
MISC. We recommend not to leave your car as it is a lay-by only which is possibly not designed to have a rest here, I guess. Keep a low profile, as always in the United States and fake a glitch or something in case of a check.
FOCAL LENGTH 70-300mm is absolutely enough.
Spot #3 – Lay-by Heinzelmann Boulevard
WHERE If you are travelling from Spot 2 to Spot 3, don’t worry if you can’t get to the other way across the contraflow’s lane, there will be a u-turn possibility after a few yards further down the street. Heinzelman Boulevard is a long street running parallel between runway 35L and 35R enabling some photo possibilities along this road. Spot 3 is shortly before/after (depends from which direction you are travelling) the southern tip of 35R. You can either come from the south or from the north of the airport as there is a u-turn possibility near the spot where no crash barriers separate both lanes from each other. This U-turn possibility is marked in the map above.
WHAT Arriving airplanes into runway 35R as well as departing airplanes on 35L.
TIME Line-ups onto 35L can be photographed from sunrise until about noon in good light conditions, whilst arrivals into 35R are best to be shot from afternoon till sunset.
MISC. You must remain on this lay-by for spotting. There is a sign which prohibits you from going further across the field as trespassing behind this lay-by is not allowed. We don’t know whether this is because of the airport’s security zone or due to wildlife areas. Keep a low profile, as always in the United States and fake a glitch or something in case of a check.
FOCAL LENGTH A 70-300mm lens is totally appropriated for this spot.
Spot #4 – Heintzelman Boulevard Departures on 35L
WHERE There is another lay-by right between Spot 2 and Spot 3 representing another good departure view onto runway 35L – Spot 4. It is also situated at a lay-by on Heintzelman Blvd. Spot 4 is difficult of explanation so better check to map above to receive more information.
WHAT Departing planes on runway 35L as well as taxiies to this runway. You should be able to see arrivals into 35R also, we don’t know as there were no plane to arrive into 35R at the time we were here.
TIME Spotting from here is advisable from sunrise to approx noon. If RWY35R inbounds are visible from here, they can be photographed from afternoon to sunset.
MISC. We recommend that you better not leave your car as it is a lay-by only which is possibly not designed to have a rest here, I guess. Keep a low profile, as always in the United States and fake a glitch or something in case of a check. You can also stop on the northbound lane, there is a small service lane as well.
FOCAL LENGTH A 70-300mm lens is totally appropriated for this spot.
Spot #5 – Terminal access roads
WHERE Spot 5 is just along the terminal access roads to both, Terminal A and B. These roads are along almost all concourses of Orlando Airport which sometimes offer good views. Unfortunately, Airside 3 and 4 are very blocked by trees or bridges so you cannot get good photographs of that. However, if aircraft are parked very comfortably at their gates or are being pushed back while you drive past, good photographs are possible. If you want to take a quick photo
WHAT Parked or taxying planes at the concourses.
TIME Airside 1 and 2 are best to drive past in the morning hours whilst you can not photograph planes at Airside 3 or 4.
MISC. We do not recommend this spot for a longer stop. It is very likely that security will pop-up after a certain time since they also check the access roads regularly. But as long as you stay in your car and you turn on you hazard flasher, you’ll be safe. If you want to be on the safe side, fake a glitch or at least act as you would plan your route or whatever.

Of course, this spot recommendable with a car only.

FOCAL LENGTH A 70-300mm lens is totally appropriated for this spot. Boeing 787: 95mm; Boeing 737-800: 145mm; A380: 70mm; Boeing 777 from the front: 100mm; Boeing 757: 110mm
Spot #6 – McCoy Rd
WHERE Probably Orlando’s most famous spot around the airport – McCoy Rd. McCoy btw is the old airport’s name, that’s where the MCO code comes from. You can get there if you leave the airport terminals to the north on the Jeff Fuqua Blvd and always follow signs to Downtown Orlando on FL-436. After this huge motorway intersection turn left at the TGI Fridays restaurant. Then just follow the street’s course until N Frontage Rd (the road you are on) runs parallel to the Turnpike. McCoy Rd will appear to your right.
WHAT Arriving airplanes into runway 18L and 18R only. You drive a bit further down on McCoy Rd to get closer to 18R arrivals, both spots are marked as Spot 6 above.
TIME Spotting from here is advisable from sunrise to around noon. In the afternoon, simply drive down McCoy Rd until you cross the runway approach path and place anywhere you like.
MISC. There is nothing special to mention here, lots of restaurants are in close proximity. This is a famous spot also for MCO locals and families. You can park somewhere off the road. Security will most likely not come along here, Spot 6 is totally legal.
FOCAL LENGTH A 70-300mm lens is totally appropriated for this spot.
Spot #7 – Cellphone Waiting Are/South Parking
WHERE This spotting locations is within the south cellphone waiting area, also called the south/red parking lot. From the terminal follow the Jeff Fuqua Blvd/South Access Road southwards and follow the signs to the parking. Turn left into the lot and drive all the way to the perimeter fence.
WHAT Aircrafts departing on RWY17R rotating in front of you.
Taxiway photos for aircrafts arriving on 17R or heading to the departure for 35L. You need a truck to stand in the bed or ladder to shot over the fence but latter is not recommend!
TIME From afternoon till sunset
MISC. Nothing nearby. You can park up to 2hrs for free. $4 for 2 to 3 hours, then $10 per 24-hour period (maximum stay 120 days)
FOCAL LENGTH 55-300mm lense, depends on taxiway or departure
Spot #8 – Walmart – 17L arrivals
WHERE Pretty easy to find. There is a Walmart Supercenter north of the airport along the South Goldenrod Rd. Find your place on the parking to get the prefered angle.
WHAT Arrivals on RWY 17L only.
TIME From afternoon till sunset.
MISC. Everything you need is nearby!
FOCAL LENGTH Depends on where are you standing but 150-250mm is fine.
Spot #9 – Murphys Express – 17R arrivals
WHERE Just on the opposite site of the Walmart (Spot 8) there is a gas station called ‘Murphys Express’. Just park in the dead end road next to it.
WHAT Arrivals on RWY 17R only.
TIME From sunrise till noon.
MISC. Everything you need is nearby!
FOCAL LENGTH 200mm for a 789

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8 thoughts on “Orlando Intl. Airport Spotting Guide

  1. Alan B

    Airport Lakes Park at end of Forbes Place has a terrific walking trail down by a lake. From the dock you can catch numerous approaches from final to about the numbers. I have seen american and delta heavies along with several other liveries. Best spotting location by far, and very tranquil. Until of course those thrusts kick in.

  2. Bob N.

    I thought they closed off spot 6 shortly after 9/11. I used to go there a lot and park directly under the approach to 18L when it was active with a lot of landings. Now most are on 18R. I would take my scanner and listen to the tower.

    They put up a chain link fence to block that area and I don’t think it will ever open a again. It was the best spotting area, even after dark.

  3. Adam Juriga

    The best spot by far is the south cell phone lot, commonly referred to as the “red lot.” You can park there free for 2 hours and if they’re in south flow the aircraft off 17R will rotate right in front of you. A 55-300mm lens is perfect. If any aircraft land on that runway they will taxi right in front of you as well. Here is one of mine from that lot.

    http://www.jetphotos.net/photo/8333633

  4. Lesh

    Hi

    I am not sure if I can post a link here, but I was checking the Orlando Airport website under “F.A.Q” and “While You’re Waiting”, they are ok with spotting as long as spotters fill out a “Use of Facilities Form” which will permit the Level 9 of the Terminal Top Parking Garage.

    Also the South Cell Phone waiting lot, I heard is a good spot.

    I have flown out of Orlando Airport before. Mostly spot at Tampa.

    1. MarlinMarlin Post author

      Hi Lesh,

      thanks for your comment. Unfortunately I cannot click the FAQ page as this is a unsafe connection.
      We’ll check this link when possible and will add it to the guide as soon as possible.

      Have you got spots for Tampa Airport?

      Marlin

  5. Jay G.

    The narrative on MCO is incorrect. Disneyland is in Anaheim, CA. Walt Disney World is just SW of Orlando, west of the airport.

    1. MarlinMarlin Post author

      Hi Jay,

      thank you for your comment. You’re so right! The concerned phrase has been edited by the staff.
      Do you live in the Orlando Area?

      Marlin

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