When should someone by banned from a theme park?
Published: September 2, 2011 at 1:11 PM
That's the question running through a Chicago Tribune story about visitors who have been given lifetime bans by Six Flags Great America, outside Chicago. The story focuses on Brian Gill, who was banned from the park after an employee caught him trying to sneak into the parking lot without paying (earning a season-long ban) then trying to sneak back in later in the day (violating the season ban, and earning him the lifetime one).
The entrance to Six Flags Great America
Let's get out of the way that Great America's $20 parking charge is ridiculous. Industry leader Disney charges $15 a day to park in a modern parking garage in urbanized Anaheim, where land use is much tighter than in sprawling Gurnee, Illinois. The parking fee is one way that Six Flags has been nickel-and-diming its customers to get back money after offering low up-front annual pass and day ticket prices.
But that doesn't give anyone the right to skip out of paying the fee. If you don't like it, take your business elsewhere. That's the fastest and best way to get Six Flags to change its ways. If Gill actually did try to sneak into the parking lot (in the story, he disputes Six Flags' version of what happened), then the park has every right to toss him from the premises and even to have him cited for attempted petty theft.
But banning him for life? The story notes that the park has banned people for other offenses, including assaulting park employees and sneaking into restricted areas where they could be hit by high-speed roller coaster trains. (A Six Flags visitor in Georgia was killed when he hopped a fence into a restricted area and was hit by the Batman coaster.)
I've got a couple of questions. First, how does a park enforce a lifetime ban? Walt Disney World, which requires a fingerprint screen to enter its theme parks, could do this pretty easily. But Six Flags, and other parks that don't do ID checks, wouldn't be able to stop someone from coming in the front gate and spending the day in the park anonymously. Maybe the park could flag that person's name if he or she tried to book a ticket online or used a credit card at a ticket booth, but that wouldn't stop him or her from coming in with someone else who paid for them. Essentially, the park's "lifetime ban" is just telling the person, "if we catch you doing something bad inside our park again, we're going to charge you with criminal trespass, on top of whatever else we catch you doing."
Personally, I think a stronger deterrent is to be aggressive with criminal charges. Prosecute those who get in fights inside the park, or put themselves and others at grave risk. Confiscate tickets and season passes, too. But unenforceable lifetime bans seem silly to me.
Are lifetime bans ever justified? If so, for what? I'd like to hear what you think, and I'd especially like to hear from current and past theme park employees.