Orlando Airports Wage War in Federal Court So Disney World Guests “Land” in the Right Spot

orlando skyline and orlando sign with planes flying overhead
Credit: Pix4free/Canva

Disney World-bound tourists aren’t always making it to the Most Magical Place on Earth as they’ve planned, and Orlando International is laying the blame on its competitor.

orlando international airport

Credit: Orlando-Airports

Representatives for Orlando International Airport (MCO) say that visitors flying into the Central Florida area with the intention of going to Disney World aren’t always flying into the right city, and they say it’s because a competitor airport has a name that’s too similar to MCO’s, and now, the MCO airport is attempting to block its competitor from trademarking that name. The entire debacle begs the question: Will the REAL Orlando airport please raise your hand?

Orlando International Airport (MCO) and Orlando Sanford International Airport are engaged in a war of words at this time, and that war has escalated to include a lawsuit in federal court. The MCO airport is the heavyweight in the fight, as it remains one of the largest and busiest airports in the United States. Each year, Orlando International Airport serves approximately 50 million passengers. Orlando Sanford International, by comparison, serves three million passengers and is a base for Allegiant Airlines. Though it’s smaller, Orlando Sanford services several cities in Canada, making it technically an international airport.

orlando sanford international airport

Orlando Sanford International Airport/Credit: Airportix

But in court documents, MCO argues that Orlando Sanford Airport’s name is misleading to visitors because passengers arriving at Orlando Sanford aren’t actually landing in Orlando–but in Seminole County, some 30 miles from downtown Orlando and 40 miles from Walt Disney World.

Orlando Sanford, however, says that no one–not passengers, the airlines, the vendors, those picking up passengers arriving at the airport–is confused. Further, the airport points out that it’s had the same name for nearly 30 years–and without any problems. In fact, in court documents, Orlando Sanford claims that the two “Orlando” airports have enjoyed a “long, peaceful coexistence” over the years. But lately, that “peaceful coexistence” has morphed into something of a different kind.

In 1996, the Central Florida Regional Airport changed its name to the Orlando Sanford International Airport–and it’s kept that name ever since. At the time of the change, MCO was initially opposed to the airport’s new name, but nothing more came of the opposition, according to Orlando Sanford, until Sanford applied to trademark its logo and name in 2017.

orlando international airport

Orlando International Airport/Credit: Orlando-Airports

In March 2023, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board heard both sides of the argument and ultimately ruled against Orlando Sanford Airport, saying that Sanford changed its name to stand on the proverbial shoulders of MCO.

“Orlando is one of the most well-known tourist destinations in the world, so it would make sense that [the] Applicant would want to capitalize off of its proximity to Orlando, and it is not hard to see why Sanford intentionally added Orlando to its airport name to create confusion with–and gain the benefit of–the reputation of the much larger and more well-known Orlando International Airport,” the trademark board said in its report.

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The board further said that Orlando International Airport leaders receive calls from passengers flying with Allegiant Airlines who have had issues with the airlines–issues that should have been directed to Sanford, the hub for Allegiant Airlines. The report also said that passengers sometimes book flights at one airport but arrive at the other airport, not realizing the two are separate locations, operating independently of one another.

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Orlando International Airport/Credit: Omni Hotels

Orlando Sanford didn’t agree with the Trademark Board and appealed the decision but lost the battle with the board once again in June 2023. So now, Sanford has enlisted the help of the federal courts.

Per Florida Politics:

In court documents, Sanford argues the trademark board’s ruling “is in error and is not supported by either the law or evidence in this matter” and said it “has invested considerably in its Orlando Sanford International Airport mark in the 27 years (Sanford) has used its mark.”

Sanford is asking a federal judge to vacate the trademark board’s ruling and declare Sanford isn’t infringing on MCO’s trademarks. Sanford also wants the courts to declare the term “Orlando International Airport” as generic since it describes “an international airport in Orlando, Florida.”

orlando international airport sign

Credit: Orlando International Airport

This isn’t MCO’s first battle with another airport. Orlando International once battled Orlando Melbourne International Airport over a similar disagreement. The Greater Orlando Aviation Authority sued the then-named Orlando Melbourne International Airport in 2019 since it was not located in the Greater Orlando area, and MCO said that Melbourne’s name was deceptive to passengers. In the end, the two settled, and the Melbourne airport agreed to rebrand itself as the Melbourne Orlando International Airport.

At this time, litigation is pending, and the final decision will be shared when that information becomes available.

About Becky Burkett

Becky's from the Lone Star State and has been writing since she was 10 and encountered her first Disney Park when she was 11. It was love at first Main Street Electrical Parade. Joy is blank lined journals, 0.7 mm pens, and all things Walt, Woody and Buzz, PIXAR, Imagineering, Sleeping Beauty (make it blue!), Disney Parks history and EPCOT. At Disney World, you'll find her croonin' with the birdies at the Enchanted Tiki Room or hangin' with Woody and the gang at Toy Story Land. If you can dream, you really can do it!