Fly out of Orlando International Airport on any given day, and you’re likely to see a real difference in the security lines in the two-sided main terminal.
The line on the east side — which funnels passengers to the airport’s four busiest airlines, Southwest, Delta, AirTran and JetBlue — is often packed with people. By contrast, getting through security on the west side — serving older-but-smaller airlines such as American, Continental and US Airways — generally takes much less time.
“Our concern is that right now we have this imbalance, that 70 percent of our passenger traffic is going to the eastern airsides, and that’s causing lines at the security,” acknowledged Steve Gardner, executive director of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority.
That’s about to change.
The authority is wrapping up a $230 million project to renovate, update and enhance OIA’s two older airsides — the satellite terminals where passengers board or get off airplanes and then take trams to the main terminal — on the west side. And in a parallel effort aimed at equalizing passenger traffic, the airport wants to embark on an airline shuffle.
Among those slated to shift: JetBlue Airways, the airport’s fourth-busiest airline in terms of passengers, which right now flies domestic and international passengers out of east-side Airsides 2 and 4, respectively.
JetBlue is likely to consolidate its flights at Airside 1, on the west side. Lufthansa, which has corporate ties with JetBlue, also may move from east-side Airside 4 to be alongside its new partner.
Northwest Airlines, which recently merged with Delta Airlines, is expected to abandon its west-side gates at Airside 3. Continental Airlines, now on the east side, will move into that space.
The result of that shuffle would change the passenger balance to 55-45, still favoring the east side. But the deals are not yet closed — in part because it will cost up to $3.5 million to move everything around, and GOAA wants JetBlue to pay a share.
JetBlue isn’t saying no — but it hasn’t said yes yet, either.
“What we are looking for is to grow. We’re looking for ease of connectivity, and how quickly you can move from the ticket counters to the gate,” said JetBlue spokeswoman Jenny Dervine. “I think that [gate-shuffling plan] is still at the proposal stage. We haven’t come to any terms.”
Gardner said one incentive for the airlines to move will be completion of a major overhaul of the two west-side terminals.
The east-side airsides, built in 1990 and 2000, offer airy, well-lighted space as well as restaurants, taverns and shops near the gates.
The west-side terminals were designed and built 30 years ago, when such amenities weren’t considered all that important. GOAA is seeking parity.
“If [passengers] got over [to the west-side terminals] early and had time to eat, we not only didn’t have sufficient numbers of facilities, we didn’t have the variety,” Gardner said.
The renovations are nearly finished at Airside 3, with a new food court and stores, anchored by a table-service Ruby Tuesday restaurant in the terminal’s hub. There are new large skylights, updated utilities and new floors.
Similar work is under way in Airside 1 and should be finished in October.
“You could never make them look like the new sides without demolishing them, but the word parity means close,” Gardner said. “So we got them to be as close as we can.”