Visitors to the new terminal at Orlando International Airport should wear sunscreen, sunglasses and a floppy hat.
Sunbeams streaming through the windows of its high ceilings don’t just peck at passing passengers — they practically cuddle them like they’re spending a day at the beach.
Accompanied by realistic-looking artificial indoor palm trees, giant LED screens depicting underwater sources, and skylight views of blue skies and billowing clouds, Terminal C lets passengers know they’ve arrived in Florida. And that’s the point, as the world’s seventh-busiest airport has a $2.8 billion bet when the 1.8-million-square-foot (167,225-square-meter) terminal opens to the public this week that Florida’s Tourism is moving well beyond the pandemic slowdown and has a bright future.
“They can see the sunshine so they really know they’re in the Sunshine State,” Greater Orlando Aviation Authority CEO Kevin Thibault said of passengers arriving at the terminal. “It really is a facility for generations to come.”
With 40.3 million passengers last year, Orlando International Airport was the busiest airport in Florida, according to Airports Council International. However, this number was still a fifth below the number of passengers in 2019 before the corona pandemic. For 2022, the airport had a rolling 12-month total of 47 million passengers at the end of June, just below the 50.6 million that arrived in 2019.
The addition of Terminal C gives the airport the ability to handle an additional 12 million passengers at the terminal’s 15 new gates in a first phase, increasing the airport’s capacity by a quarter. Airport officials say it will alleviate some of the crowding that had increased in the airport’s 10 other terminals before the pandemic began as central Florida became the busiest travel destination in the United States.
The Orlando area had 59.3 million visitors last year, two-thirds more than 35.3 million in 2020, when central Florida’s theme parks were closed for several months and international travel was restricted to halt the spread of the virus. However, Orlando-area visitor numbers last year still fell short of the pre-pandemic high of 75.8 million in 2019.
Like Orlando, the state of Florida is on track to match its pre-pandemic tourism numbers this year after restrictions on international travel were lifted. Florida had 122 million visitors last year, still down from 2019’s 131 million. But the first two quarters of this year brought Florida’s 2022 visitor numbers to the level of three years ago.
Orlando International Airport officials said the new terminal is one of the most technologically advanced in the United States.
Suitcases and other luggage in Terminal C are deposited in large tubs with embedded chips tracked by radio frequency technology. The trays reduce the likelihood of wheels or belts causing jams in the maze of conveyor belts that move luggage, and the system allows bags to always be tracked. The goal at Orlando Airport, which has the most strollers and golf clubs of any US, is to get bags from a gate to the baggage carousel in five minutes, airport officials said.
“We no longer need to track the bag. We’re tracking the transport device,” said Scott Goodwin, Assistant Director of Airport Operations.
Registered passengers on international flights can match their passport photos with face scans at departure gates, speeding up the boarding process. At security checkpoints leading to the gates, passengers can place their carry-on baggage in bins on automated conveyor belts instead of pushing it across tables until they reach the x-ray machines, speeding up the screening process by allowing travelers to bypass slow ones in the series.
“You can go ahead, grab a trash can, and you won’t seem rude to anyone,” said Sari Koshetz, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration.
Terminal C is across from a newly built train station that will serve Brightline, a high-speed line that will run between South Florida and Orlando early next year. Airport officials believe this will open Orlando International Airport to Europe-bound South Florida passengers who may have previously used Miami International Airport.
Thibault said Orlando International Airport officials are currently in talks about seamless ticketing between Brightline and the terminal’s airlines, which include Aer Lingus, British Airways, Emirates, JetBlue and Lufthansa.
More than 90 percent of the terminal’s restaurants and shops, including mandatory Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando Resort and SeaWorld Orlando stores, are located behind security checkpoints to give departing passengers time to shop and eat after clearing security .
Arriving passengers are flooded with sunlight as they are located on the top level of the skylighted Terminal C, a departure from the traditional design where arrivals are on the lower level and departures are on the upper level.
“We want them to feel the sun. We want them to feel the palm trees, the flora and fauna,” said Curtis Fentress, whose office was the terminal’s design architect. “It brings light into the building in a way like the light that used to flow through the orange groves.”