What's fair compensation for theme park guests who are evacuated from rides?
Written by Robert Niles
Last week, many newspapers and TV stations reported a story about a disabled man who won $8,000 from Disney in a court case after he'd been stuck on It's a Small World for three hours. (We had it in the Blog Flume Filter last week.) But the story was wrong: The man was kept on the ride for just 30 minutes. And the ride's music was turned off just a few minutes into the ordeal. The
But the whole episode raises the question: What is appropriate compensation for a theme park visitor who has to be evacuated from a ride?
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Let's start with a basic assumption: This isn't the lottery. Theme parks shouldn't be obligated to hand over fat payments to visitors who get stuck on rides. You paid for a day in the park. If something goes wrong, and you're kept from enjoying part of your day in the park because you're stuck on a ride that's not operating properly, the park should do something to compensate you for that lost time. That's all.
So what should that compensation be?
Whenever you are evacuated from a ride, I think that you should get a pass to return to the front of the line for a re-ride later in the day, or be offered an immediate re-ride if the attraction returns to normal operation while you're still there. You've already waited for your ride and didn't get it, so there's no good reason why should be forced to wait again to experience the attraction.
When I worked at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom and had to evacuate people from Pirates of the Caribbean and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, I also offered those visitors a bit of a "backstage" tour as we walked out of the ride. I'd ask if anyone wanted to hear more about the ride as we walked through the backstage areas, and while most did, a few guests would want to get out of there as quickly as possible so I'd honor that and just keep moving quietly. But I thought it simple courtesy to make myself available to answer questions.
If an evacuation delay of an hour or more caused you to miss a meal or show reservation, it's also reasonable for you to ask that the park's guest relations staff help you to make alternate arrangements. (If an evac took more like 15 minutes, and you still missed your ressie, well, you shouldn't have cut it that close. Don't complain.) If you're stuck for close to a couple hours, or more, it might be reasonable to ask for a free one-day ticket to the park, to replace the day that you didn't get to fully enjoy because of the mishap.
All this assumes that you weren't hurt or had any of your property damaged while on the ride. If either of those did happen, though, you should be entitled to immediate help, such as first aid provided at the park's expense, or the repair, replacement or payment for damaged clothes or other property. (The only case of damaged property I ever saw was from hydraulic fluid from a leaking animatronic.) If your injury is the fault of the park, you should be entitled to full medical care for your injuries, at the park's expense. And if what happened was your fault, well, you shouldn't be asking the park to pay a dime.
Remember that not everyone gets off a ride at the same time during an evacuation. Most rides have designated evacuation points and, based upon the ride's design, you might not be taken off your vehicle at the evacuation point nearest you when the ride stops. Someone has to be the last person off a ride, so don't get extra upset if that person happens to be you. Just ask nicely for the compensation you believe you deserve, given the time you were stuck on the ride.
That said, parks aren't allowed under federal law to say that all able-bodied persons get off the ride first, and then we'll worry about the persons with disabilities later. If a ride's evacuation plan doesn't accommodate persons with disabilities in a reasonable manner (or otherwise discriminates against any other certain class of people), that's a fair case for complaint -- to the park itself, or to appropriate state or federal agencies. If you're wondering how to file a complain with a government agency, or even which agency to complain to, look up a phone number or email address for your local elected state Legislature or U.S. House representative and ask for "constituent services." That'll get you put in touch with someone in the rep's office who can help steer you in the appropriate direction.
If you felt unsafe during the evacuation or your wait for assistance, or if you were stuck on the ride for many hours, then it's fair to ask for compensation beyond a free return pass and admission to the park. If local or state authorities aren't already investigating the incident, use that constituent services phone number to ask for one.
The overwhelming majority of the time -- ninety-nine-point-lots-of-nines-percent -- park personnel come through with fair compensation and take care of the people who've been inconvenienced or hurt in their parks. They want happy customers and will make the reasonable effort to help you feel happy at the end of the day. Only when visitors and park managers disagree over what is "reasonable" will cases end up with lawyers, in court.
In those cases, it's up to a jury to decide whether the visitor's request was reasonable or not. Which is why I think it's so important for you to show up next time you're called for jury duty. If we're going to get reasonable decisions from the courts, we need reasonable people on those juries. Don't leave that duty to someone else when you're called to do your part.
Have you ever been offered compensation from a theme park for an evacuation or some other mishap? Have you ever asked for that? Please share your story, in the comments.
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