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Paying to skip the line: bad example or good business?

Banks http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/photos/uncategorized/2008/04/11/disneyland.jpgThe day was hot, the rides jammed. But the promise of the Treasure Falls flume was enough to keep my young nephews waiting patiently for an hour in line on their Spring Break trip to Legoland.

They were vibrating with excitement when they finally reached the front. Then another family suddenly materialized from a secret side entrance, snagged their log and stole their ride.

“Did they get cuts?” the 8-year-old asked, as the ride attendant waved that family on and held his back. “Maybe we got in the wrong line,” his 6-year-old brother surmised, looking back at the other families still queued up behind them. 

The newcomers weren’t line-cutters, at least not the type whose muscling-in draws security officers. They were simply folks with the money and the foresight to buy their way to the front of the line.  

I guess it’s been too long since I’ve been to an amusement park. When my kids were small, the only way to bypass the wait was to roll in a wheelchair to the front of line. 

Now, it seems every tourist attraction has a way for patrons to bypass aggravating long lines if they’re able  to pay the price.

At Legoland, the Premium Play Pass buys orange wrist bands that take you to the front of the line.  It costs $150 for an adult and $130 for a child.

At Six Flags Magic Mountain, there’s the Flash Pass – regular, gold or platinum, priced from $41 to $89. At Universal Studios, “priority access” to all shows and rides costs $104 if you order online, and $239 if you want a back-lot tour and private guide. At Knott’s Berry Farm, the VIP Tour offers “backdoor admission” for four hours, for six people, and costs $1,000, with a guide.

Only Disneyland doesn’t make money dividing lines. Its FASTPASS program lets anyone use an admission ticket to stake out a spot in line.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Amusement parks are businesses. Premium passes add to profits and keep well-heeled customers coming back. 

So why does the notion bother me so? Is it any different than a Dodgers’ game, where some families can afford field boxes and others look down from the bleachers?  Why waste time standing in line if you can be whooshing though the water on Treasure Falls?

But I’ve always considered amusement parks a sort of leveling endeavor. Even if you had to save for months, bring food from home so your kids wouldn’t beg for $7 hot dogs and skip the games and souvenir shops, once you lined up for Bionicle Blaster, your children were no different from the rich kids behind them.

I’m wrestling with my feelings now, thinking about the look on my nephews’ faces as the orange-wrist-band kids breezed past them in line. Waiting in line is for chumps, they learned; no matter what your teachers tell you.

Would I have bought wrist bands if I’d known? I’ll take that on in my Saturday column:

Is the fast pass system an intrusive reminder of inequality or just a simple pleasure for deserving families?

Help me figure it out. Tell me what you think.

--Sandy Banks

Photo: Lines at Disneyland. L.A. Times file

 
Comments () | Archives (75)

I think the legalized line cutting is unfair but obviously something management likes since they can upcharge a arm and a leg for it.
I like how Disneyland allows everyone to benefit from the system,
except those that do not understand how it works.
If it were up to me, there would be no paid to cut lines options. It makes the lines longer and makes the average paying customer more upset.

The idea that amusement park had a," leveling endeavor," was a silly notion. priority passes and the other tiered admissions prices are just idea they finally dared to try in the search for the bottom line, profits. Money creates your status and business is willing to take it from you, to your satisfaction.

Before I make a comment I will wait for Saturday.


I like the idea of paying to front. I suffer from major anxiety and panic disorder and have serve issues with crowds or when people are around me in a line. Most of the time I am unable to ride with my kids as I feel wrong walking up to the front when the family is close to getting on the ride. If I had the wristband I would not feel bad and actually be able to join my kids in the fun.

We tried to use the Sea World Premium Pass with Preferred Seating at SeaWorld; however, they open the special seating area to everyone about 5 minutes before the show and it gets crowded and I had to escape and was not able to enjoy the show. I know I could get a wheelchair and sit an area that has less people around; however, I do not want people looking at me different.

Having a mental disability is very difficult as people do not see a "wheelchair" and assume I am able to stand in line with everyone else.

As far as the general public being able to get front of the line pass is good as it helps me in getting the same for my medical needs without sticking out like a sore thumb.

There is another way: Go at an off-time -- day and hour. Honestly, it's not difficult. It can be figured out. Or there are books and now tourist websites about how. Or one can ask how for free on such sites as TripAdvisor.com. (I'm not a shill, and don't even really like it because of all its tourism industry shills, but that's for another article...) Anyway, the arguments against doing so are really not substantial. Write them out, then think of the counterpoint to each, then stick a pin in it. Otherwise, it will begin to occur to one that one likes to suffer, afterall. This is meant to be constructive. Honest.

Sandy Banks: Hooray! You point to one of the most obnoxious things that has happened to these "amusement parks": they have become money-grubbers. My response to that is that I will not go there any more. The kids go sailing, we go camping in the Sierra and the desert, we do a bunch of family things that have value beyond what money can ever buy. The money saved goes to great vacations together - their friends invited -and other such enjoyments. These parks cater to egos and get rich off the high-end consumers: even those who really can not afford them. May be there is no tomorrow in their way of thinking.

I think that private amusement parks which charge a fee to enter are glaring intrusive reminders of inequality to all those "chump" kids who have to settle for playing in the street next to an open fire hydrant. Imagine the damage to the psyche of a little kid to see those towering colorful waterslides in the distance that only the privileged can afford to enter.

Is this any different from going to a convenience store and paying twice as much for something as at a Walmart? Or paying to use a toll road?

I have for a long time felt these paid for line passes are simply line cutting. Why is is all of a sudden right simply because they pay an extra fee. it's still line cutting. A family just getting buy and trying to have some form of vacation shouldn't be treated as a lower class citizen in a park, simply because they can get the money out of people doesn't mean it;s right but then that's big business corporate mentality. Money first customers second. Though at least disney offers it to every gust, but they are the exception fallowing its tradition of customer service.

Though if you hate this practice. stop goign to Legoland, stop going to Universal or Six Flags. There are hundreds of worthy small company and family owned parks out there that do not use this practice. They are as in need or more in need of your patronage. Might just want to look elsewhere.

Disneyland does it nicely, but it's a "higher class" (much more expensive) establishment to begin with.

Waiting in a line, and being told by an employee that you have to wait because someone else is going to sit in the seat in front of you because they were able/willing to *outspend* you is pretty awful. Six Flags' system is offensive.

Disney's system is much more egalitarian. Everyone has the same chance once they're through the gate.

Knotts' VIP tour isn't the same as buying a ticket for the day. Disney also offers the same sort of VIP tour with minimal waiting in line. It's a different experience, and at that very high price, it's not going to result in a flood of VIP groups cutting in front of you all day.

Newsflash - they also have first class seats on airlines now. I suggest you talk to your nephews about the value of money instead of blindfolding them when the first class ticket holders get to board the plane first and have bigger seats.

Since when has anything life ever been fair? When did that memo go out?

***Is the fast pass system an intrusive reminder of inequality or just a simple pleasure for deserving families?*** The term 'deserving' is laughable at best. Just because you have extra money, you do not get to be more DESERVING than anyone else. Your extra money was gained by someone else working to create that extra money.

Parks which sell the right to line-cut need to re-word their signs at the entrance of each attraction and remove the rule *No line cutting or space reserving allowed*.
Or they could add *unless you pay extra*.

Send letters; to these parks, which explain how you will take your 'whatever amount' of theme park spending money and use it at.....give names of near-by places which do not sell line-cuts...instead of with them. And of course double your 'whatever amount' so it really gets their attention.
Then follow up with it and send them pictures of your awesome vacation to the competition park which treats all guests as equals.

Paying to go to the head of the line is completely distasteful.

Sadly, it's also very American.

I solve the problem by not patronizing these parks anymore. As a family we find tons of other more fun things to do that don't cost an arm and a leg to get ahead.

"Waiting in line is for chumps, they learned; no matter what your teachers tell you."
Why would they learn that? Why not, if you work hard and earn extra money then you can choose to spend it on things like that.
OR Maybe that family does not have as much time as we do to spend together so they have to go fast through everything, but we get to hang out together and enjoy the day...
I mean I could go on an on... to focus even an ounce of energy on a have or have not mentality is just negative to the core.
I'm not even religious but isn't one of the ten commandments, " You shall not covet your neighbor's...anything."
Find more positive things to teach your nephews for all our sakes.
A Baker
Woodland Hills, CA

I would definitely pay extra to go to the front.

While there are a lot of nice, normal folks and less-well-off people that are standing in line, there are also a lot of trashy people that I could do without (regardless of socio-economic status). Throwing trash around, sitting on rails, sticking gum on the wall, drinking alcohol, screaming...I'd pay good money not to have to stand near them.

Unfortunately, sometimes making things prohibitively expensive can make them a lot more pleasant.

I have mixed feelings about all this. I guess the lesson I would pass on to the kids is the lesson I learned while growing up and seeing the difference between my lifestyle and those of my high end friends. That lesson was if you don't want to be economically second class when you grow up, then go to college, get an education, find a good career, keep achieving and stay relevent in your career.

I did. That's why I won't pay extra to go to the head of the line. I would want my kids to learn the same lesson I did.

"Is the fast pass system an intrusive reminder of inequality or just a simple pleasure for deserving families? "

- Not liking your wording here. It is not "inequality" if you choose not to pay the higher price, it is CHOICE. Nobody is saying that you are less because you bought a cheaper ticket. Is this logic because you are black? Sorry, but "inequality" seems like one of your favorite tag lines - are you now going to say only rich, white people were buying the high priced wrist bands? Same with your use of "deserving" - are you going back down that street? That only rich, white people deserve the right to spent more money and get faster access to a ride.


I, myself, don't think that I would waste the extra money - then again, as someone who lives in Southern CA, I wouldn't go to an amusement park during a busy holiday period. Working at Disneyland taught me that lesson.

I think it's wrong to do this at a park that is aimed at children. Not a problem if it's an adult venture...adults understand what the game is about but kids are still naive and trusting. I think it makes them cynical.

I see this as no different from buying a first class vs. a coach seat on an airliner, or, as you mentioned in your article, being able to afford a better seat at a sporting event. Is it "fair?" No, but neither is life. It's a good lesson in reality.

wha!wha!wha!
i cant afford it.. blah blah blah.
then save more money and take the trip a few months later and treat yourself to the damn VIP pass. dipshit, cant you find something more important to write about?

I have gone to Disneyland, Knotts, Magic Mountain, Legoland, Ragin Waters, Hurricane Harbor, etc... so many times i've lost count. I've seen them evolve from the traditional theme parks of yesterdayland to the premium places they are today. I remember when Disneyland used to cost $23 for Southern Californians and not if its less than $100 a person we consider it a bargain. What a world we live in. I will say that Disneyland's model is the most egalitarian because you can choose which rides you would rather skip the majority of your time waiting for so you can spend more time shopping and eating and enjoying your stay. After all, at $100 a person every minute you waste in line is just eating away at the value you paid for your admission. However, I will note to those that just buy those front of the line passes, that most of the fun of a theme park is waiting in line with your friends and family and enjoying the suspense that leads up to a ride that in most cases is only 30 seconds to a minute or two long. So ask yourself if you could go through an entire theme park without ever waiting in line and be done with all the rides in 30 minutes would you be really happy? When you subtract the suspense I'm sure you'll find it rather boring, as I have found when I went to theme parks that were blatantly empty.

Child-centric events should not allow this sort of cheating the line. Learning to wait in line is a basic skill on which civilized society depends.

I believe that it's very fair as long as everyone has the opportunity to buy these passes (which they do). If I believe that my time is worth the money, then I'll pay the premium. If I choose not to pay the premium, then I save myself some money. To get worked up about it is pointless, after all it's just a place to kill time anyhow.

It's obnoxious. And I can afford those prices. Disney does it right. And it's system is efficient for the whole park. I didn't know about this until I read your article, but now armed with this knowledge, I am even more willing to pay the premium to go to Disneyland.

 
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