What is the most difficult and confusing airport to return a rental car?


Travel is disorienting. To make matters worse, driving an unfamiliar rental car never helps, especially when heading back to the airport. However, some airports make it harder than others.

Here is an overview of some of the most confusing airports that I have experienced when it comes to returning rental cars Some of these are doozies.

At Kahului Airport in Maui, the rental car return is past the airport. This means, as you’ve passed the airport, that it is very easy to assume you’ve missed the turnoff.

(I warn first-time clients about this airport rental car return, and have heard stories of more than a few spousal arguments on this one that go like this, “I TOLD you to let me know where to turn…” etc.)

Other airports, like Los Angeles International, can be confusing due to all the companies being off the airport grounds. (Although at LAX most companies give maps to clients explaining how to get back to their locations and GPS systems can help.)

At San Diego, they add the wrinkle of only three companies being on the airport grounds. And at Dallas Fort Worth, the airport is so big that travelers who filled their tank a few miles away might actually see the indicator drop off full by the time they get to the return lots.

But, I have to say, even as a former Central Florida resident, that the most difficult overall just might be Orlando International Airport.

First, travelers have to know the area well enough to know that there are no gas stations right near the airport when approaching from many directions.

Coming on Rte. 528 from the Disney area, for example, the best thing to do is gas up at one of the two exits before the airport, since taking the airport exit and finding a station requires going some distance in the opposite direction from the terminals,

(To add insult to injury, the two closest stations on that street, Semoran Boulevard, are infamous in Orlando for gouging customers. Editor’s note: If filling up on Semoran drive about two stoplights away from the airport past the first two gas stations and the prices drop to normal. Put another way, drive to the first gas station that displays its price and fill up there.)

Alternatively, the airport exits lead directly to the terminals, where rental car companies will charge nearly $10 a gallon to refill the car.

Even for those who have pre-paid gas, the airport is incredibly confusing. There are two terminals, each with a rental car return exit, which the car companies share with arrivals.

Terminal A is somewhat easier, as it’s the first. Terminal B, which I usually use as a United flier, is nearly past the airport. So, by the time a driver gets there, they are seeing more airport exit signs than terminal signs.

But both rental car return locations are left exits, and an immediate sharp left upon taking the exit towards a parking garage. Plus, there are very small signs near the ceilings directing travelers to the individual car locations on various floors.

Now, all of this is doable and not rocket science for anyone paying close attention. But, considering that a very high percentage of Orlando travelers are tourists and often foreign ones at that, the whole system strikes me as confusing at best.

It’s probably too much to ask to have signs warning travelers “last gas option before airport” (though that would be nice). But more and bigger signs at the airport itself couldn’t hurt.

What do you think, Consumer Traveler readers? Are there any airports where you regularly dread dropping off a car? Or any others that you’ve tried once and vowed never again? I would love to hear your opinions in comments.