ORLANDO, Fla. — Just before noon on a recent Friday, Leann Johnston of Bunnell found herself running her Chevy Suburban up and down row after row at Orlando International Airport.
With only about an hour to spare to catch her flight to a family wedding in Massachusetts, Johnston was getting eager.
“We are really, seriously looking for a place to park and we are not finding one,” Johnston said as she took another turn in one of the MCO parking garages.
At this point, she estimates she took at least 20 laps around the parking complex, and still couldn’t find a spot to park.
Johnston said it’s become a common problem when trying to catch a flight at Orlando International Airport. Traveling about once a month, the mother of four said she had learned this summer about not taking parking risks when getting desperate.
“I was really excited we were going on this epic trip,” Johnston said “… we get back and we’re exhausted, it’s about 12:30 a.m., I have a 1-year-old baby, 14 year old, 11 year old, and 5 year old, we’re all exhausted and I thought for sure I parked there and I did, but it was towed.”
During this roundabout parking spot search, Johnston is keeping her wits and humor. Though other travelers may not be as generous.
There are more than 22,000 parking spots available across Orlando International Airport’s property within three garages and a variety of surface lots.
Kevin Thibault, chief executive officer of Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, said parking is a common complaint among passengers, and it’s a question he gets when out in the community.
“Inevitably I get somebody asking about the parking, so I share with them a couple of data points and I share with them the 55 million passengers, of which lately 35% to 37% of those passengers are people who live here (in Central Florida),” Thibault said. “Never has it been that high; in the past it’s always been in the 20%, and that is one of the reasons we have this surge in the parking needs, because it’s the community growing and traveling through the airport.”
Traffic at Orlando International Airport has grown considerably in recent years and rebounded quicker than early predictions expected during the pandemic.
Airport officials expect to have hosted approximately 55 million passengers by year’s end. With Terminals A and B already maxed out in capacity, the new Terminal C opened one year ago to help ease the flow of passengers. As it’s built now, Terminal C is designed to accommodate up to 10 million annual passengers, but in the last year since opening more than 6.4 million passengers came through Terminal C, hosting more than 48,300 flights.
Knowing there is now more demand on the airport, Thibault said they are working on ways to reduce the parking pressure points by:
- Raising Parking Rates
- Adding additional parking lots
- Offering a new parking spot reservation system
- Upgrading garages and lots with parking guidance systems
New increased parking rates are in effect at Orlando International Airport as of Oct. 1, 2023.
- Parking in Garages A, B, C: Up to $24 per day (previously $19 per day)
- Valet parking: Up to $35 per day (previously $25 per day)
- Economy parking: Up to $14 per day (previously $10 per day)
Parking prices are listed as “up to” as the GOAA Board of Directors recently gave CEO Kevin Thibault the authority to offer sales and discounted rates on parking.
Parking reservation system
Discounts are likely to be offered late this year when MCO wants to roll out a new “parking reservations” program, which will cost up to $32 per day.
“I tell people, if you’re going to Amway Center, or going to Dr. Phillips Center, if you already have your parking, your stress level goes way down because you already have parking space and that’s what we’re going to try to do here,” Thibault said.
The 2023-2024 budget predicts total revenues from parking and ground transportation fees to top $124 million. Car rental fees bring in another $128 million for MCO, which does not receive any taxpayer funding.
Orlando International Airport’s increased parking rates are on par with other major airports in Florida.
Tampa International Airport charges $20 per day for its long-term parking, $14 for the economy lot.
Miami International Airport charges $25 per day in its garage and $12 per day for economy lot.
Additional parking lots
In the short term, Orlando International Airport plans to open 800 additional parking spaces next to the new Brightline station, which should open by the holidays.
“The other things we look at are opportunities,” Thibault said. “New lots, new garages are no longer going to be walking distance into the terminals because those spaces are already taken with garages, so we have to start thinking through where do we put them and then how do I move people to the terminals they need to go and the logistics still have to be worked out.”
Upgrading parking technology
Thibault said they’re also looking at upgrading the technology to make it easier to find parking. This includes soliciting parking guidance systems. These are systems seen in other areas of Central Florida, including Disney Springs, that display the number of open spots by floor, and have green and red lights above each spot indicating if a spot is open or occupied. Systems like this are expected to expedite the time to park, but will probably be a long-term project at MCO.
Thibault and airport leaders hope these short-term and long-term fixes will help steer parking passengers into a few more open spots, with a lot less stress.