Will the real Orlando airport please stand up? Airports fight over Orlando name.
Plane travel is soaring to new heights.

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Everybody wants a piece of the Orlando name.

Are Disney-bound tourists confused and ending up in the wrong city, flying into Sanford instead of Orlando?

The Orlando International Airport (MCO) thinks so, and now MCO is stopping a much smaller competitor with a similar-sounding name from getting a trademark.

In the war of words, it’s the Orlando International Airport versus the Orlando Sanford International Airport.

In response, the Sanford airport sued the Orlando airport last week in federal court.

Orlando International, or MCO, is the heavyweight in the fight as one of the largest airports in the country. MCO serves about 50 million passengers annually, while Sanford has about 3 million passengers as a base for Allegiant Air. Sanford is technically an international airport. It serves several cities in Canada, according to its website.

MCO argues Sanford’s name misleads travelers since they aren’t actually flying into Orlando but landing in nearby Seminole County, according to court documents. The Sanford airport is about 30 miles from downtown Orlando or MCO, and about 40 miles from Walt Disney World.

Sanford argues no one is confused (not passengers, not the airlines or its vendors, the airport said in court documents) and added it’s kept its name for the past 27 years without any problems. 

For nearly three decades, the two airports operated in a “long, peaceful coexistence,” Sanford claimed in court documents.

But recently, that has changed.

The history of the Sanford airport dates back to 1996 when it dropped its old name, the Central Florida Regional Airport, and became what it’s known today: The Orlando Sanford International Airport. 

Sanford said MCO initially opposed its name change back then but did not sue or “raise any further objection” until years later in 2017 when Sanford applied for trademarks for its name and logo. MCO opposed the trademark applications. 

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board heard both sides and then ruled against Sanford in March. 

“Orlando is one of the most well-known tourist destinations in the world, so it would make sense that 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 a report.

Orlando airport leaders said passengers have mistakenly contacted them about Allegiant issues, complaints that should have been directed to the Sanford airport. Some passengers said they booked flights at one airport and then mistakenly went to the other airport, not realizing it was different, the report said.

Sanford appealed the trademark board’s decision and lost again in June

Now, Sanford is turning to the federal courts for help.

In court documents, Sanford argued 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.”

MCO fought a similar battle before with Orlando Melbourne International Airport.

The Greater Orlando Aviation Authority sued what was then called the Orlando Melbourne International Airport in 2019 because the Melbourne airport was not located in the greater Orlando area, which MCO called deceiving to passengers. As part of a settlement, the smaller airport agreed to rebrand itself the Melbourne Orlando International Airport.

Florida Politics reached out to the Sanford airport’s attorneys, who did not respond. Both Sanford and MCO airport officials declined to comment for this story because of the pending litigation.

Gabrielle Russon

Gabrielle Russon is an award-winning journalist based in Orlando. She covered the business of theme parks for the Orlando Sentinel. Her previous newspaper stops include the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Toledo Blade, Kalamazoo Gazette and Elkhart Truth as well as an internship covering the nation’s capital for the Chicago Tribune. For fun, she runs marathons. She gets her training from chasing a toddler around. Contact her at [email protected] or on Twitter @GabrielleRusson .


7 comments

  • C’mon Now!

    August 21, 2023 at 2:45 pm

    Follow the Melbourne lead and make it “Sanford Orlando IA.” Quit wasting public money on attorneys.

  • Trumpers

    August 21, 2023 at 4:27 pm

    Sorry it is confusing but since no one wants to come to the fascist state of DeathSantis anymore it doesn’t matter does it. Name it MAGA 2 airport.

    • Gary Bayse

      August 22, 2023 at 8:38 am

      You must be an ex New Yorker democrat?

  • Gary Bayse

    August 22, 2023 at 8:37 am

    The last time I was at that Air Port it was called Mc Coy Air Force Base and B52’s and B47’s flew out of it. The other name was Pine Castle AFB.

  • tom palmer

    August 23, 2023 at 10:50 pm

    I and other Sanford natives resent having Orlando attached to our airport.

  • Omar

    August 27, 2023 at 6:18 pm

    It’s called Orlando Sanford for a reason, my advice is to stay in Seminole county and avoid the crime ridden liberal Shitehole Orlando.

  • My Take

    August 27, 2023 at 10:07 pm

    In Ft. Lauerdale I believe a jet airliner once landed at the wrong airport.

Comments are closed.


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