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Orlando Sanford International Airport's Name Could Confuse Passengers Going to Orlando | Frommer's Orlando Sanford International Airport

Orlando Sanford International Airport's Name Could Confuse Passengers Going to Orlando

Sanford's small airport has Orlando in its name and flights from Allegiant Air and Sun Country Airlines, but it's twice as far from Walt Disney World as Orlando International (MCO).

A small airport an hour away from Walt Disney World has trademarked its name to associate itself with the tourist powerhouse of Orlando—and that inclusion can cause confusion when theme park visitors book flights online.

Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB) is actually closer to Daytona Beach (about 40 miles) than Walt Disney World (50 miles), but that hasn't stopped officials from going to federal court to cement the word "Orlando" into the airport's name so that it can get a piece of the estimated 74 million visits to Orlando annually.

Partly because of the Orlando in its name, online booking engines are returning results for the airport during searches for Orlando.

Frank Kruppenbacher, the former chair of the board that oversees the main airport, Orlando International, indicated that airport authorities were well aware of the confusion. "When you put in 'Orlando Airport,' to have that pop up and create massive confusion, there's a problem with that," he told a local news program in 2017.

Some customers who think they're flying to the main airport for Orlando, Orlando International (MCO), which is just 23 miles east of Disney, actually wind up somewhere else—at SFB, in a quiet patch of Florida between Orlando and the Atlantic Coast, twice as far from the attractions. Until 1996, Sanford's airport was called Central Florida Regional Airport.

The error can be costly for travelers. Uber from Sanford's airport costs about twice as much to reach Disney's Magic Kingdom as does an Uber from MCO.

In court filings, lawyers for Sanford's airport have argued that the words in its name are "generic for international airport services in the Orlando, Florida market" and that the two airports have "have coexisted in the Orlando metropolitan area using their respective names... for almost thirty years."

Sanford Airport is easy to use but it hosts only 5% of the passenger traffic (2.9 million) that Orlando International does (57 million), with a corresponding limitation on taxis, amenities, operating capacity, and opening hours. If you drive by the curb at Arrivals on any given evening, at least a couple of people will be on mobile phones, trying to sort out ground transportation because of their error—I observed it myself after a family member made the same mistake.

And because no-frills carriers Allegiant and Sun Country use SFB, many customers who think they've found a great airfare to Orlando leave the Sanford terminal to realize that they have landed miles away from where most other people do. Some unwitting visitors accidentally make rental car reservations for the wrong airport, too.

For millions of tourists not familiar with Florida's geography, it's not easy to realize during the ticket booking process that the word "Sanford" refers to an outlying town you'll be flying to and not the official name of Orlando's biggest airport.

MCO's board went after the similarly renamed Orlando Melbourne International Airport on similar grounds. That airport's name was subsequently shuffled to Melbourne Orlando International Airport.

SFB saw its traffic grow steadily, year-on-year, from 2011 until the Covid-19 pandemic, after which passenger numbers have been slightly lower. Competition with MCO has been cutthroat—many European vacation companies and Icelandair used to fly to Sanford, but switched after MCO slashed landing fees to attract them to the more popular airfield. The smaller airport has had to be creative to keep its operations healthy.

Tellingly, the organization that runs the smaller airport is still called the Sanford Airport Authority, without "Orlando."

MCO vs. SFB: If you're flying into Orlando, be warned there are now multiple airports with "Orlando" in the name. Know which one you want.