Six Flags responds to customer input on FlashPass

Six Flags Great Adventure: Here's an example of what can happen when you speak up and make a reasonable suggestion to a theme park.

From Robert Niles
Posted March 15, 2013 at 2:41 PM
I got this email from Bobbie Butterfield, whom you might remember from the front page, writing earlier this month about a Travel Channel roller coaster shoot.

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I am pleased to report that the Flash Pass system at Six Flags parks is slated to undergo a much-needed transformation. As a Six Flags season pass holder for the past two years, I have purchased a Flash Pass (season pass holders get a $10 discount) on numerous occasions because I cannot deal with long ride lines. On each occasion I have had to stand in line and watch the same video explaining how the Flash Pass works – and frankly, I was getting sick of it. I know the drill; how many times do I have to hear an explanation of how to reserve a ride or a warning to the effect that there is a $250 penalty for failing to return the Flash Pass in the same condition in which it was issued?

The other day I posted a comment on Six Flags Great Adventure’s website, saying that requiring Flash Pass veterans to watch this tedious video over and over was entirely unnecessary and suggesting that the park could find a way to keep a record of Flash Pass purchasers, even something as simple as issuing an armband that could be presented on the next visit to the park to allow easy access to one of these passes. I received a prompt response from Chris Allen, director of in-park services at SFGA, to the effect that what I suggested should actually come to pass, no pun intended. He said that Six Flags was “currently updating their system to recognize frequent users as well as developing a loyalty program. These programs will allow guests that are experienced users to by-pass the training video as well as speed up the entire check-in process. We are working to roll this program out throughout our parks within the next few months.”

This is indeed good news, as it will facilitate the entire process and potentiate a visit to the park without the aggro that I have come to expect. Although Flash Passes can be pricey, depending upon which option you elect – the Platinum Flash Pass, which cuts 90% of the waiting time and allows consecutive riding, costs $115 per person – I find that a basic Flash Pass ($45), which involves a wait equal to the actual wait time to get on a ride, is a good investment because it allows one to be doing other things in the meantime.

From James Rao
Posted March 17, 2013 at 11:41 AM
Great news!

I also wish Six Flags would do a better job of patrolling the Flashpass entries - at Six Flags St Louis, anyone can easily use the Flashpass line for Batman about 90% of the time - they just don't monitor it - at least not when the park is crowded.

Also, there needs to be better integration of the Flashpass users into the main line. I like the way Silver Dollar City was operating the Outlaw Run "FlashPass" (Trailblazer Pass) line this past weekend. They were using it like a single rider line. So, people would queue up and as single seats came available, they got on - now, from time to time if a pay-to-skip-the-line passenger was waiting a bit too long, they would interrupt the line to let them on, but it was not happening very frequently.

The best thing about this strategy was I didn't see all the "line cutting" happening at the very front or back seats as usually occurs at a Six Flags park. Plus, ride ops had the added benefit of keeping the train full.

Now, I doubt SDC will continue this operation once the crowds for Outlaw Run settle down, but I liked it - a lot.

Another method to minimize the issue of continually backing up the line for the front or back seats would be to just let Flashpass users skip the "majority of the line" but eventually have to queue up once they reach the main loading platform. Then, if they want the front seat, they will have to at least wait a little bit for it without prolonging the wait for those in the "real" line. At Six Flags St Louis the Flashpass line merges with the loading queue for Freeze and Batman, but the rest of the time ride ops just board folks from the exit area, and the "line cutters" usually pick either the front or back - hence the problem I discussed earlier. If the Flashpass line always merged with the loading queues, it would go a long way towards minimizing some of the pain people who want to ride in front or back suffer because of Flashpass.

And honestly, the "ride-two-times-in-a-row" Platinum pass just needs to go away. Sure, I used it once, but honestly felt bad for the folks who had to wait several cycles to get a ride because I got in their seat first. It is just not necessary, imho.

From Anthony Murphy
Posted March 17, 2013 at 8:58 PM
At SFGA, they give you a punch card so that you don't have to listen to the video again. Plus, you get a free upgrade for every six punches (I think)

From Russell Meyer
Posted March 18, 2013 at 10:30 AM
Personally, if you need to be "trained" on how to use a system, then it's not very well designed. When it comes to not returning the unit at the end of the day, that's easily solved by having users sign a contract when they purchase the pass. All Six Flags would need to do would be to emphasize the cost of damaging or not returning the unit, and make it clear to users that they are serious about collecting that fee if the terms of the contract are broken.

I've never used the Six Flags system, since I routinely visit parks on slower days and arrive early to get rides in before lines form. However, I have experience with the Low-Q system from Dollywood, and they didn't have a required video, and just had a brochure to show guests how to use the system and consequenses of breaking the rules.

Maybe it's the lowest-common demonimator guests that Six Flags draws, or the lack on true customer service, but it shouldn't be that hard to purchase and use a queue avoidance system.

I probably wouldn't call the elimination of a training video as a "much needed transformation". To me, a "much needed transformation" would entail more reasonable prices (more in line with their admission costs), better access to attractions (many Flash Pass queues merge with the standard queue sometimes with as much as 15-20 minute waits before you load), or better technology. Afterall, some of the best queue avoidance technology outside of Disney is a simple punch card or card that can be scanned, not a dangling, expensive, device you have to carry around with you throughout the park and cannot get wet or get dropped on the ground. The Flash Pass system is one of the worst in the industry, so to me, eliminating the training video, is merely an improvement in the time it takes to sign up for one and get into the park (by which time non-Flash Pass users have ridden 2 or 3 rides).

From Mike Gallagher
Posted March 18, 2013 at 8:20 AM

From Bobbie Butterfield
Posted March 18, 2013 at 12:05 PM
In response to James Rao's comments, I have always found the ride ops at SFGA to be very good at monitoring the Flash Pass system. Because Fast Lane access at other parks I have visited - most notably Cedar Point and Michigan's Adventure - consists only of an armband and a Six Flags Flash Pass involves an electronic device, I cannot get through the queue at any Six Flags Park until my device vibrates when placed in contact with the device of the person monitoring the queue. As to the Platinum Flash Pass, it's outrageously expensive and I agree that it's somewhat unfair to those who have been patiently waiting to get into a specific seat. I did purchase one once, on my 60th birthday, because this was a milestone, and the only way to get in 10 rides on El Toro and 2 on Nitro in 4 or 5 hours at the park, but wouldn't do so again.

In response to Anthony Murphy's comments, I have never been given a punch card at SFGA when purchasing a Flash Pass and on each occasion have tried to talk my way out of having to watch that tedious video again, telling the people in the Flash Pass station that I am a veritable expert at using the device, but they nevertheless forced me to watch the video. That's why an overhaul of the system would be more than welcome to me.

From James Rao
Posted March 18, 2013 at 3:06 PM
The fact that SFGA manages their Flashpass lines better than SFStL is no surprise to me. As most of you know, I think the StL park is perhaps one of the worst in the nation. I hold it in the same regard as the local junkyard. These days I will only visit SFStL if they add a major new coaster - and no, a borrowed Boomerang does not count as a major new coaster.

From AJ Hummel
Posted March 18, 2013 at 5:17 PM
I've used Flash Pass several times, but I've never had to deal with the rental procedures because it's always been when I was visiting as part of a large group. I've never had a problem with use of the device and I don't see why they can't just give the guest a one minute explanation of how it works (that's all I got and all I needed) instead of showing them a 5 minute video.

As far as line management, I've seen a few different systems among the Six Flags parks I've used the system at. The most common system, at least on the major coasters, is the merge riders in at the station. You still have to wait for your row, but it cuts the wait time down to only a couple trains (unless you want the front or back). Alternatively, some have a queue merge point similar to what Disney uses with Fastpasses, and while this works it does result in a longer wait (though rarely more than 20 minutes). On the less popular coasters, however, it is more common for guests to enter through the exit and board the ride directly. At some parks, they let them pick any seat (very annoying), while at others they assign seats. On the non-coaster rides, there is usually a separate Flash Pass line and they let in x number of people per cycle or alternate cycles between the two lines on low capacity rides. Other than the free choice when entering through the exit, I've never had an issue with any of these systems and figure that even if you have to wait 20 minutes it's still a lot better than 2+ hours.

As for the tiers, regular and gold are fine as they are (both in terms of price and skipping ability), but the platinum needs to change. The current system is very frustrating to those waiting in line and I've seen people abuse it, sometimes doing as many as four consecutive rides before being caught by the operators (and even then I don't think they lost their pass). I really think they need to either: 1. Eliminate double rides, especially for high priority seats, 2. Wait until they have a large number of platinum users, then load a train with just them, or 3. Remove the tier all together. Even with Gold, I've never had to wait more than 15 minutes for a reservation time, so I don't see the worth of paying significantly more to tick off everyone in line behind you.

From Adrienne McDonald
Posted April 12, 2013 at 7:39 AM
The first time I encounted this 'annoyance' was at SFNE. Other SF parks I've frequented hadn't done this, you just went to the counter & got a flash pass & went on your way. (And please excuse me if this has changed and is now the norm at all the SF parks, the last few times I've been, it's been easy in, easy out & SFNE was the only one I had done that with).

I actually encountered a line jumper in the flash pass video line. I said "Excuse me, we were ahead of you!" He looked at me and said "Oh, uh, I wasn't trying to cut..." Yeah right! I told the guy "well you know the line doesn't start there, you need to go back to where you were" He let us all pass in front of him but c'mon...line jumpers just need to accept long line waits but you see them, apparently, in ANY of the lines, even for flash pass video.

I too thought there should be a better way to do this & SFNE actually gave you one stamped "frequent user" card to bring w/you upon each visit but was only valid at SFNE & only for that season. Since I live in Texas, I frequent the Texas parks, not the new england or other parks. Why can't it also be universal like the season passes? Perhaps it can be a laminated pass showing "frequent user" after the inital use? That, to me, would make more sense than making us wait up to an hour waiting in line for the same instructional video when we could already be riding rides or visiting the park.

Perhaps upon receiving your tickets/passes, you can then watch the video ONCE & receive the flash pass frequent user card & it shouldn't expire, otherwise, you'd hafta sit through the video all over again next season. If you forget to bring the card or lose it, then you should be made to sit through the video again for another card.

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